Defeating Stage Fright by Gary Ewer
If you don't suffer from stage fright, I hope you know how lucky you are. For some musicians, the thought of standing up in front of an audience and performing leaves them feeling weak in the knees, shaky, sweaty and miserable. It's a debilitating situation, one that has prevented many fine performers from becoming all they could be. But don't despair if it has you in its grip- it is curable!
If you suffer from stage fright, or performance anxiety as it is also called, you need to know that a certain amount of nervousness is normal. It is natural to feel angst when having to demonstrate your musical abilities in front of others. Public speaking is another area that people get jittery over. But having the jitters is one thing; actually being so afraid that you can't do it - that's quite another, and very important that performing musicians solve it. The first thing you should note is that you are likely always going to experience nerves when you perform. Nerves are normal. You will likely always feel the jitters at least a bit. But most people can handle the jitters. And in fact, a bit of nervous tension makes performing exciting to most. It becomes a problem, however, when those nerves eat away at you and make you feel almost sick to your stomach!
The second thing to note is that performance anxiety is almost always curable. But it takes a bit of psychology and a dose of ego to defeat it. You need to deal with it head-on starting at least one week before a performance. The technique described below can be done at home, at work or school, in a park... anywhere that you have a few moments of peace.
Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes and relax. Imagine yourself going through the process of getting ready for the concert. Imagine the day. Picture getting dressed for the concert. Now imagine walking out the door of your house, getting in the car, and driving to the performance venue. Then imagine taking your instrument out, warming up, and finally, walking out onstage to perform.
Through every step of your imagined concert, remind yourself to always remain calm. If at any point you feel your body tightening up, or your breath or heart rate increasing, pause your imaginary story, slow your breathing down and relax yourself physically. When you feel calm again, resume your pretend concert day preparations. Then imagine walking out and playing. Stay calm and you will begin to feel a confidence you've perhaps not felt before.
The imagination is a wonderful tool. If you do this every day, at least once a day, starting a week or two before your concert, you are going to surprise yourself with how well you do in the real situation. Keep in mind that you will not feel completely nerve free in the concert. That is not a reasonable goal. Musicians should feel a bit of nervous stress; that is healthy. Throughout your imagined concert scenario, you need to boost your ego. You need to keep reminding yourself that you can play that music. Tell yourself that there is no one in the audience who can play like you, and that you are going to now demonstrate to everyone how this music should sound. You may not be accustomed to thinking in such arrogant terms, but you must! You will find that the confidence you show in yourself will help defeat the fears you have. And one last suggestion: try to find friends you can play for from time to time.
"Part of solving performance anxiety is to put yourself in the performance situation as often as possible. You will find that with time, performance anxiety will be replaced with performance excitement, and you will love the feeling!"
About the Author
Gary Ewer is the author of The Essential Secrets of Songwriting and Gary Ewer's Easy Music Theory. He is currently an instructor in the Dept. of Music, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.