ClarinetMike’s Performance Anxiety Tips

ClarinetMike says, “Hey! Come to the Orfeo Music Festival in the Italian Alps! Great Performing and Learning Opportunities in July 2017 with Lessons, Coaching and Fun with ClarinetMike!”

Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

Auditions! Music Juries! Finals! One of the most common questions I get in lessons, master classes, clinics, etc. is how to deal with the normal stress of performing. Therefore, I’ve decided to repost some common-sense tips on dealing with performance anxiety. Further help on coping with performance anxiety can be gleaned from the ideas of John Wooden – CLICK HERE.

Performance Anxiety Tips by Michael Dean, Ph.D. 

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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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!
  1. Be Confident/Be Positive. The key is to act or “be” confident whether you feel confident or not.
  1. Have a Routine. Most success is planned, so having a performing ritual will help.
  1. 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!
  1. 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.
  1. 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.”
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Relax in your Body/Concentrate in your Mind. Usually we do the opposite.
  1. 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.
  1. 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?)
  1. 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.

ClarinetMike says, “LOAD the music carefully with lots of SLOW PRACTICE and then UNLOAD fearlessly – GO FOR IT!”

[NOTE: The above information is based on the lecture presentation, “Perspectives on Performance Anxiety,” given by the author at the UMEA conference in February 1998]

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.)

About ClarinetMike

Carnegie Hall, Eastman, Royal Northern College of Music, NACWPI, and ClarinetFest recital and master class appearances headline Dr. Michael Dean’s extensive and versatile career. He is featured on four commercial CD’s: Mysteries, Desertscape: New Music for Clarinet, Woodwind Music of Robert Fruehwald, Vol. 1, and Red Mesa Trio. Two more CD releases featuring Michael Dean are upcoming: a second CD of Fruehwald's music for woodwinds (Vol. 2) (2014/15) and a new solo CD, Postcards from Silver Lake (2015/16).... He has performed with the Southwest Symphony Orchestra, Nevada Symphony Orchestra, Abilene Philharmonic Orchestra, Garland Symphony Orchestra, Mesquite Symphony Orchestra, Southeast Chamber Players, and the Red Mesa Trio. He recently performed for 11 years with the Paducah Symphony Orchestra.... His articles have appeared in journals such as Southwestern Musician, WINDPLAYER, NACWPI Journal, and The Bandmasters' Review. As "ClarinetMike," he actively writes for his own widely-read clarinet blog, clarinetmike.wordpress.com.... Michael Dean is an active clarinet performer, teacher, and consultant based in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas Metroplex. He was recently a tenured Associate Professor of Clarinet for 11 years at Southeast Missouri State University. He returned to his native Texas in 2012 due to family illness. He maintains a large private clarinet studio in L.D. Bell Cluster (HEB) and Grapevine-Colleyville. He is a past president and former National Board officer of the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors (NACWPI).... Dr. Michael Dean studied clarinet performance at Texas Tech University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Texas at Arlington. His web page, clarinetmike.com, features video and audio of his teaching and performing as well as information on his CD's and other publications. He lives in Hurst, Texas with his wife, two children, and golden retriever, Andy.
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5 Responses to ClarinetMike’s Performance Anxiety Tips

  1. “Learning to perform well is more like exercising than turning on a light switch” – I like that statement and I plan to “steal” it from you when I talk to the music students at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts next month. Thank you! 🙂 The topic of my talk is Audition Strategies to Mitigate Performance Anxiety where I will use actual audition situations from the thousands of clients I’ve worked with as a performance anxiety coach to infuse my presentation with reality. I’m being given 2.5 hours and I know from long experience that I may make only the slightest impact on a few students. Those truly suffering with performance anxiety will not likely be relieved, and reading a list of tips is usually even less effective. That’s why I don’t write tips! While I’m glad you brought up the topic at all, my own viewpoint is that an article, in depth, about one or two aspects regarding performance anxiety might be more helpful. Helen Spielman, Performance Anxiety Coach, PerformConfidently.com, Author, A Flute in My Refrigerator, Celebrating a Life in Music

  2. Unfortunately for me none of the above worked no matter how hard I practiced or try those techniques back in the 1990s-early 2000s when anti anxiety prescription was the only way I could perform successfully. My high school music teacher and later when I met my husband can confirm that some people hardly believe it’s the same person performing, yes my performance anxiety was that extreme now it is usually almost to completely non existent and have gotten standing ovations in recent years. Use what works even if it means a drug when nothing else does.

  3. Pingback: Lecture Notes for ClarinetMike Presentation at Texas Clarinet Colloquium 2017! | ClarinetMike Blog

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