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?
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’s ok to make mistakes to lower my pressure. I haven’t 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’t 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.
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
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 meanķs that you should be able to pick up and start playing from literally any section, without relying on your muscle mÛemory týo guide you from the beginning to the end.
Performing a piece will always invońlve 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.