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How do you survive the ordeal of a performance? Overcoming stage fright, is that even possible? As a beginner adult pianist, you may feel overwhelmed and nervous when it comes to performing in front of an audience. It's completely normal to experience stage fright, but the good news is that you can learn to manage it.
Managing rather than overcoming the fear of performing is a skill that you can learn as any other skill. But, as with any skill, it needs to be practiced! Here are practical tips and techniques for managing stage fright for musicians to help you get started!
You can not eliminate stage fright since it is an automatic response to a stressful situation. Still, you can learn how to use and manage it to your advantage.
The adrenaline build-up you feel when getting nervous makes your heart beat faster and can make you feel out of control. But there are also some positive effects: Adrenaline rush makes your senses more alert. It helps your body to get ready and gives you extra energy.
Consequently, your playing can become much more powerful, passionate, and engaging if you learn how to control it! So, instead of fighting this natural response, you can learn how your body reacts under stress and how to use it to improve your performance!
One of the most essential tasks when working on overcoming stage fright is to start a long time in advance to prepare yourself and to practice managing rather than overcoming stage fright.
A book I really recommend to help you practice and prepare your music is The Musician's Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness by Gerald Klickstein. It is filled with great tips for musicians.
Another important tip is selecting performance pieces at or below your current level. If the pieces are too hard, you will naturally get nervous because there are too many possibilities for something to go wrong.
When we get nervous, our pulse goes faster. And as your pulse goes faster, your sense of speed changes.
This means that something you practiced the day before a performance at a regular tempo, you will probably play faster under stress - even though it might feel like the same tempo...
But knowing this, you could choose to play at a slightly slower tempo when performing under stress. Because of your faster heartbeat - even though you might feel that you play slower- it will finally turn out to be the same tempo you played when you were relaxed!
Here are some super-effective tips that help overcome stage fright in "count down" order:
1. Make sure your pieces are ready way in advance. At least a week (or a month on a more advanced level). Actually, it would be great if you could make yourself believe the date for the performance is a week earlier. This includes memorization.
2. Practice performing your repertoire for friends and family- every chance you've got. (This is a lot of fun!) if you feel embarrassed- tell them that you need to use them for this practice and that you might make many mistakes. They could even try to disturb you as you play- so that you can practice focusing despite noises.
3. Record yourself and/or video film yourself repeatedly until perfect.
4. Visualize yourself successfully performing your pieces every night before you sleep. Try to play through each piece in your mind and make sure it "sounds" fantastic.
5. Slow motion practice. The day before the performance, play through each of your pieces the very last time EXTREMELY slowly. Play through each piece in slow motion, but with all details correctly. Before that, you should practice at performance speed- but the very last time you play through the piece: play super-slow! Then: Don't touch until the performance. Your nerves will automatically "take care" of the speed!
6. Take care of your body. Make sure to eat well (pasta is good!) and get a good night's sleep by getting to bed early. Visualize how great it feels to perform before you snooze away… Or listen to a relaxation or self-hypnosis CD for overcoming stage fright.
7. DO NOT change anything! On the same day as the performance, you can practice all you want, but NOT your performance pieces! Play your performance pieces slowly and carefully, only on selected difficult parts, maybe only once or twice.
8. Get oxygen. An hour or so before the performance: Take a brisk walk to get rid of some extra adrenaline and get some oxygen. Do some stretching and bending- but don't overdo it.
9. Eat a banana. A half hour before the performance, eat a couple of bananas!! Yes, you heard right! Bananas are a natural beta blocker.
10. Take away self-focus by feeling generous. Before you play, remind yourself that you are sharing with the audience this gift of yours- your pieces and a musical journey. Take away the focus on you, and imagine you are presenting them with lovely gifts. Like the drawings, you made for your teacher when you were a child. They might not have been perfect, but they were the best you could do. Same now. This is the best you can do. This time…!
Give yourself a pat on the back for all the hard work, and take some time to think about what you could do even better the next time!
Remember that telling yourself not to have stage fright will not help. Overcoming stage fright means learning how your body reacts under stress and planning and preparing a lot of time in advance and practice, practice! (Who knows- you might realize that you finally enjoy the extra adrenaline rush!)
Overcoming stage fright entirely might not be possible to do. But instead of fighting it, learn how to manage it. The key is to practice this as anything else, way in advance. So, start already now preparing for your next performance!