Conquering Stage Fright

I was asked to play last night at a little "adult soiree". It was very informal. It couldn't have been a better opportunity for me to ease into paying in-front of people. And the timing was perfect too because I had just polished up Debussy's 1st Arabesque for the Music of France Challenge.

 

Unfortunately things didn't go as planned (that's actually a bit of an understatement). My heart was racing the whole night and then when I get up to playing my hands couldn't stop shaking. I could barely get good sound at all trying to control the shake. Then of course because that was happening my brain stupidly decided to think of the section that I find more difficult and I literally forgot where I was playing in the middle of the piece. I made up some modulation and tried to recover. Didn't work so I just moved to a different section.

 

Things started to go well then and I almost felt relaxed... until I got to the ending. I don't think I have ever messed up the ending at home. I always nail it. And then of course I just completely blank on what to play and have to skip again. It was so disappointing. 

 

I really would like to be able to show what I am cable of in front of people. I mean it's nice that I can make music which I enjoy for myself. But it would be good to be able to share it with others.

 

Anyone else have similar experiences and have been able to overcome?

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  • Same for me Michael. I experienced it in the last tonebase concert. Same reaction as you had. Pre-pandemic I managed it by participating in a lot of informal adult recitals and by mentally lowering my expectations- telling myself it鈥檚 ok to make mistakes to lower my pressure. I haven鈥檛 played live for anyone (except virtually for my teacher) in 2 years and all the nervousness came back as I played last week. I literally played my piece about a 100 times the week going into the concert (short 2 min piece). Didn鈥檛 matter. I plan to have friends and family listen to my playing in the future to at least get out of my comfort zone. I welcome suggestions also.

    Like 2
      • Gail Starr
      • Recently retired MBA (international consumer products/luxury goods/classical music mgt.)
      • Gail_Starr
      • 7 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Vidhya Bashyam You sounded fabulous in the tonebase concert!

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    • Gail Starr Thanks Gail!馃檪

      Like 1
  • This is a great topic! I can relate as well. Sometimes I get a little bit nervous, and other times I have felt the more extremes witch you are describing. It can be very frustrating not playing at a level as one is capable of! 

    There are several things I do to at least be as prepared as I can be. Here are some points from the top of my head. 

    1. Make sure to practice some different kinds of memories with the piece. (motor, analytical, auditory, visual). This helps exercising the whole brain, and you will feel a little more secure. 

    2. Do some visualization. Picture yourself playing the piece in your head. One can also picture the venue and crowd listening. 

    3. The nerves can be frustrating, but remember that it's totally natural. I try to calm myself with relaxed breathing, and just feel all the emotions, and I tell myself that I know this piece very well, and that I'm going to give the audience a wonderful experience listening to it. 

    4. When playing the music, focus more on the music itself rather than playing the correct notes. Chances are your hands and fingers will go where they need to go naturally if you just let it flow.

    5. You will get more comfortable if you play more often in front of people. Like Vidhya mentioned, after Covid and a long time not playing in front of people, I was a little more nervous then I used to be before. So it will be helpful to not let it go too much time between each performance/concert. 

    6. I get more nervous with more difficult pieces (of course). So playing some easier pieces in front of people can boost the confidence level. Remember, it's better to play an easy piece well, than a difficult piece not so well. It can be helpful to play a more difficult piece at times, but if a piece is at the level of my my technical capabilities I need to be extra well prepared. Maybe slow down the tempo a little, to feel more comfortable. But I think a difficult piece (something at the egde of technical abilities) needs "more run-throughs" before it's ready for a more serious performance.  

     

    Again, this is a great topic, and an important one I think. Maybe Tonebase will offer more resources in the future. There already are some live sessions that touches on this subject, like this one Dominic did on "preparation away from the piano". Here's the link: https://app.tonebase.co/piano/live/player/preparing-for-performance-piano

    Like 4
    • Sindre Skarelven Great advice. Thanks!

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    • Khaled
    • Khaled
    • 7 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    That is a great post and such an important topic to discuss here. I am not a professional pianist but I performed many times in public with many good performers and some bad experiences so I will share what I think.

     

    Before performing a piece, the most important thing before anything is that you should really have learnt the piece very well and inside-out. If you are not 100% comfortable playing the music to yourself at the right speed then maybe it's not performance-ready yet. Knowing it inside out mean姆s that you should be able to pick up and start playing from literally any section, without relying on your muscle m脹emory t媒o guide you from the beginning to the end. 

     

    Performing a piece will always invo艅lve stress which will definitely take from5 your focus and from the level you think you can play it at. Therefore it makes a lot of difference if you record yourself and listen to your mistakes and to what you can do better.

    Like 4
      • Jacqueline
      • Jacqueline.2
      • 7 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Khaled 

       I couldn't agree more.  I've had an experience similar to Michael's, and I've had many successful performances as well.   In retrospect, I had to admit to myself that the piece was not yet performance ready, even though the piece was not difficult. 

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    • Gail Starr
    • Recently retired MBA (international consumer products/luxury goods/classical music mgt.)
    • Gail_Starr
    • 7 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Sindre has excellent suggestions!

     

    I rarely (never!) play solo repertoire in public because I do so much chamber music.  BUT, I did lots of concerto competitions when I was growing up and the one thing that a judge told me that has helped SO much was that our ONLY job when we play for people is to share how beautiful the music is.  That has calmed me down a lot in performances!  Hope it helps.

    Like 1
    • Gail Starr Great point! It鈥檚 mind over matter, so simple advice like this can really make things click.

      Like 1
      • Gail Starr
      • Recently retired MBA (international consumer products/luxury goods/classical music mgt.)
      • Gail_Starr
      • 7 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Vidhya Bashyam This way of framing the issue of stage (or meeting presentation or lecture) fright is pretty useful.  Mostly, I just try to remember the goal of my AUDIENCE.  They generally want to learn something and/or be entertained (and not bored).   They are not thinking about me at all!

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    • Janice
    • Janice.1
    • 5 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    This is an important topic for me as well. I suffer from severe stage fright as do both my parents. Perhaps there is a gene partly responsible for this....well, we can only hope it will be discovered and a cure found. That being said, the only time I "got over" this affliction is when I had to perform every night for a show. The performance began every night at 8 pm, and in the earliest performances I was unable to eat beforehand. By the end of the "run", I was enjoying my dinner and checking my watch with "well, it's almost time to 'get to work' ". I was amazed at how at home I felt. The bad news is, with a hiatus from performing, the nerves came back. Now I need a booster to get my courage up again. 

    Some lucky individuals never struggle with this. It would be truly helpful if they could share their perspective on what makes that possible for them. 

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      • Hazel
      • Hazel
      • 5 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Janice Hi, I didn鈥檛 perform in front of anyone for years but then I joined a local piano group and we meet once a month and I get to play for maybe 15-25 people.  The first time I played my hands shook so much I could hardly play but I have found that as time as passed I have got more used to it and now tend to give better performances.

      I still have terrible nerves beforehand and often feel I am short of breath when walking to the venue and often wonder why I put myself through it. The high I get when I give a good performance though and when people compliment the music makes it worth it and also helps to build my confidence for the next time.  

      I never know when exactly I will be performing as the leader usually just picks people at random or asks who wants to play next. I found if I play near the beginning of the session I鈥檓 usually still really nervous and often don鈥檛 play that well.  

      A couple of times though, I have waited until the very end to play and interestingly found that I give a much better performance as my nerves have subsided quite a bit by then.  It鈥檚 almost as if my body can鈥檛 maintain such a high level of adrenaline for that long.

       Sometimes my performance starts off well but then I might start to feel nervous again and still get the shakes in the middle but then I can often recover from it. It鈥檚 almost like waves that come over me and bits of the piece that you thought were well rehearsed go wrong for no apparent reason.  

      I tried all sorts of things to get rid of nerves like following certain routines or eating certain foods and even Bach Flower Remedies but none of them worked.

       There are  a few  things that have helped me recently though and that is not to fight the nerves before hand and just accept them and realise that it鈥檚 just a natural response or 鈥減attern of energy鈥 I think one of the Tonebase teachers called it.  Also when I play, I try to sing along to the melody in my head and that keeps me focused on the music and not the audience. I also make markings on my score and mark key sections or bars so that if things go wrong I can find my place easily again which helps me not to worry so much.  I hope that helps.

       

      Best wishes

      Hazel

      Like 1
    • Hazel I have a lot of nerves too. I really like the idea of singing the melody in your head to shift the focus to the music and not the audience! Will have to give it a try next time.

      Like 2
    • Janice
    • Janice.1
    • 5 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Hi Hazel,

    The feelings you described are exactly what I go through. It's almost a relief to know that I'm not the only one who goes through this, and I too wonder why I put myself through it all. But I love music, and its power over me is stronger than my fear. 
    Thanks for sharing what helps you during performance. I truly appreciate it!    

    It's odd, but singers also have their version of nerves. I recall in school right before exams they would all get severe colds or laryngitis, despite drinking gallons of tea with lemon and honey and wrapping their throats with scarves. 

    Like 1
      • Hazel
      • Hazel
      • 5 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Janice I agree that the power of music is stronger than our fear and I  feel that I invest so much time and energy practising, it is a shame if no one ever gets to hear it. I鈥檓 lucky that the group I go to are very friendly and supportive of everyone and acknowledge that we are all nervous and that helps a great deal.  I heard Seymour Bernstein say in an interview that in his opinion often a lot of professional pianists don鈥檛 get nervous enough!! I also sing in a choir but never suffer from the same level of nerves when singing in a group which is odd, although it probably has a lot to do with safety in numbers.  I rarely sing solo and find that even more challenging than playing the piano with regard to nerves but have found when I have had to do it for auditions etc. I just have to grit my teeth to go for it and usually it works out ok. 馃槵 馃槉

      Like 1
    • Janice
    • Janice.1
    • 5 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Hazel

    Your comment about "safety in numbers" hit the mark. That's why I do a lot of accompanying, which I love. I'm not the main focus of the audience and have the music available so no fear of memory slips. 

    Talk about synchronicity, here is a youtube video with Seymour Bernstein speaking about, among other things, his terrible stage fright: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YW4o5RhGY4.

    Really, it takes a lot of courage to feel the fear and do it anyway(which is a title of a book, but unintentional).

     

    The answer is to perform more, much more, not less, to conquer this. 

     

    If we think about this rationally, what's the worst that could happen if we really mess up a performance? We won't have to face a firing squad. Our pride is hurt. But really, so what? Why should that be such a big deal? We're human, and we want to do our best. But we're always learning, and as children we learned to walk by falling  many, many times. How can we be good at performing, which is a separate skill from the instrument, unless we practice it? A poor performance could be seen as nothing but feedback in our journey to master our instrument, as well as ourselves.

    Like 2
    • Michael M
    • Michael.16
    • 2 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    One thing about performing that has helped me is...performing and practicing in public more! Casually playing pianos in public or even running some practice notes in a music store really does help. I think changing one's mindset from this is a performance to, I am playing piano and its fun really does help. I also sing and once I started to sing in public much more that helped greatly. I have pretty bad anxiety and excitement beforehand, but that's a tip that I didn't see mentioned.

     

    I am planning on pulling out a keyboard and just jamming out classically sometime in public...pray for me and the listeners.

    Like 1
    • Michael
    • Art Historian, Musculoskeletal Radiologist, Former Harpsichordist
    • MichaelP
    • 2 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    I broke out in a cold sweat just reading through this discussion.

    Like 1
      • Hazel
      • Hazel
      • 2 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      馃ぃ

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