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Five Ways to Turn Performance Anxiety Into Performance Excitement

Dana Fonteneau on January 3, 2012

For most performers, “stage fright”, “nerves” or “performance anxiety” is the thing we dread most about going onstage. Trying not to feel nervous is impossible—it’s like trying not to feel tired when you’ve only gotten an hour of sleep, or trying not to feel hungry when you haven’t had a meal all day. Instead, the goal is to turn that nervous energy into a resource that works to your advantage. For high-caliber athletes, this is called a “Peak State.” So how is this to be done?

1) Be as prepared as you can

Preparation is essential. Make sure you know the piece you are performing as well as you possibly can. Set realistic goals. Have a deadline for learning all the notes and rhythms, the style, the phrasing, etc. That should be at least two to three weeks before the performance, no later. Know if you’ll be using a music stand or not, standing or sitting while performing. Be clear if you are performing from memory or not.

2) Practice Performing

Most people take for granted that whatever they practice will hold up on stage, but they don’t actually practice performing! Know the performing space you will be performing in. Is it a hall, a church or a living room? Get a sense of the size and space of the venue. I recommend knowing in advance what you will be wearing, so you know how the clothing feels. (Women, be aware that wearing high heels changes your posture.) The week before the performance, practice performing. Really use your imagination: Imagine the hall and the stage you will be performing on. See the audience – your teacher, friends, family, or make it up as you go. Each day before the concert, do a mock performance even if just for one person. Practice your stage presence, walking on and offstage, bowing, cueing, performing straight through with stopping, talking, etc. If you make a mistake just keep going!

3) Expect to get nervous!

I suggest you reframe your mindset from feeling nervous into feeling EXCITED! Feeling excitement means that you care about your performance and that you are invested in the outcome. The trick is how you use the energy you are now calling excitement. Practice getting nervous in your mock performances. Know your style: do you get the shakes or do you get cold? Dry or sweaty hands? Do you feel faint or nauseous?

4) Be aware of your body

Especially if your tendency is to get into your head and think scary thoughts, feel your feet on the floor. Breathe in your nose and out your mouth. Physically connect to your instrument.

5) Set a realistic outcome

Expect to make mistakes. Mistakes happen; it’s how you recover from a mistake that is essential. The goal is to do the best you possibly can. This does not mean sounding exactly like the CD you’ve been listening to, but doing the best you are able to at this time. Remember why you love what you’re doing and have fun!