Performance Anxiety Tips by Michael Dean
[NOTE: This information is based on the lecture presentation, “Perspectives on Performance Anxiety,” given by the author at the UMEA conference in February 1998]
Successfully dealing with the concerns of playing or singing in stressful situations, such as recitals, contests, auditions, etc. is an important part of being a good musician. I have found the following tips useful with my students and in my own performing.
- Nervous is Normal. This is very important. The goal is not to eradicate nervousness. It is to perform well without letting nerves get in the way.
- There is a Tomorrow. Very few times in our lives do our careers hinge on a single performance. Also, not too many people die while performing!
- Be Confident/Be Positive. The key is to act or “be” confident whether you feel confident or not.
- Have a Routine. Most success is planned, so having a performing ritual will help.
- Prepare Music Well with Good Fundamentals. Music must be thoroughly practiced with sound basics of relaxation/body position, tone, rhythm, and technique. So, turn off that TV [and INTERNET!] and get to the practice room!
- Make Music. Understand that the point of performing is to make music. Careful reflection on this and related topics are an essential part of dealing with performance anxiety and good music-making in general.
- Avoid Alcohol, Drugs, etc. Be wary of chemicals that alter you. My band director would always tell us that, “Performing and alcohol do not mix.”
- Breathe. Spend the first few minutes on stage thinking about your air use. Further, make sure the breath marks are well-conceived and clearly marked on your music.
- Eat Bananas. Chop up a few of them on your cereal on the morning of a big performance. They have natural ingredients that help deal with stress.
- Eat Right/Exercise/Sleep 8 Hours A Night. Eating burritos at 1 a.m. the night before an 8 a.m. audition is usually not a good idea. Also, “Every hour of sleep before midnight counts as two” is a good old rule to follow.
- Relax in your Body/Concentrate in your Mind. Usually we do the opposite.
- Get in the Hall Before the Performance. The day before would be best, but playing a little on the stage even an hour or two before “Showtime” helps.
- Check your Clothes Before You Walk on Stage. Make sure your performing clothes are not too tight and/or restrictive. (I think we all know why clothes we have not worn recently might be too tight, don’t we?)
- DO IT!! There is no magic formula for dealing with performance anxiety. Learning to perform well takes time. It is more like exercising than turning on a light switch. Try to make small improvements every time you perform. Always be looking for opportunities to perform.
This article originally appeared in and is © InterFACE (Journal of the Utah Music Educators Association) Fall 1998 (Volume 44, No. 1). (NOTE: This journal is now call The Utah Music Educators Journal.)