I’m revisiting one (a part of one at least) from the archives today folks on one of my favourite topics on the blog and that’s performance anxiety. I’m revisiting as I believe that what I had to say on the subject a couple of years ago is still very much true. Having said that there’s one element missing that I’ve experienced directly as being very helpful in a performance situation. Read on and I’ll make my new addition at the bottom…..
I, of all people, know what it is like to be an adult student of the guitar and facing a performance situation ….It’s bloody scary! Although I’d had quite some training in the performing arts (dance as well as music) throughout my youth, when I came back to my classical guitar studies some time in my mid-ish twenties, when I picked up the guitar again a few years ago the idea of performing again at once excited me (getting to share my rekindled passion with others again) and bloody scared the pants off me!
What if I sounded terrible? What if I couldn’t do it? What if I stuffed up? What if people hated it and I should really just forget this idea of picking up the guitar properly again? What if I forgot what I should be playing? What if I lost my place in the music? There were some serious levels of anxiety and nerves there.
Over the last five years or so, however (Oct 2014 – clocking in for seven years now!), I have tried and tested numerous techniques for dealing with that anxiety. Some of them have worked really well for me and I still use them today; some have worked less well for me and I have consigned to the “errrr, not quite for me” bin.
There are a heap of things I could share with you about dealing with performance anxiety, but wanted to share some without turning this into a book of Ben Hur proportions. So I have condensed down some crucial thoughts and ideas on techniques that have been more successful for me.
What is making you anxious?
Can you identify what is the most prominent or over-riding cause of your anxiety? Recognising the answer to this question can help you address it.
One big issue for a lot of people is worrying about “stuffing up”. However, that in itself is not really a considerable issue, as most people, myself included, are pretty happy playing along in their lounge room or bedroom when we fluff a note or two. “Ah well”, we say to ourselves, “no great shakes”, and keep on playing.
Most often the key source of anxiety related to “stuffing up” is the embarrassment factor and worrying about what people might think of you. We don’t want to look or sound bad in front of our audience. We don’t want them to judge us badly.
Have a think on these:
- So you fluff a note or two – big deal! It’s the whole piece that counts. You don’t tend to look at every single brushstroke of a luscious Monet landscape; you admire the image as a whole. Similarly, I’ll bet your performance of the whole is gorgeous and fantastic and you! In five minutes time no one will even have remembered any fluffs or stumbles (or what you think is a stumble or fluff…).
- Chances are, the mistake is super-amplified in your own mind; I’ll bet you it doesn’t sound nearly as bad as you think it sounds.
- Most people probably won’t even have recognized that you made a little fluff. Just don’t screw your face up and start swearing! Just tell yourself that’s how it sounds.
- And even if they do recognize a little fluff, so what?! Your audience are hardly likely to say to you during or after the performance “oh my god, you so stuffed up that section!” are they?
- If it were you listening to someone in your position performing, you enjoy listening to the whole thing. As a listener you’re probably not really worried at all about a few glitches here and there are you?
- What is the absolute worst thing that could happen if you stuff up? Are you going to die? Are you going to be injured? Possibly not.
Accept your anxiety and nervousness
It is not a bad thing to be nervous or anxious. It is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of or something you need to try and hide. How can it be when it is programmed into every single one of us?! Everyone feels it to a greater or lesser degree. A lot of professional performers have learnt to harness the energy and channel it into their performance.
Simply give yourself permission to be nervous; accept that it is there. Blocking it out is not the way forward! I do this by actually saying out loud to myself “yes, I feel slightly nervous – hello my old friend- and that is ok”. You might feel a bit of a banana saying that to yourself, but I find it helps me to accept those feelings.
How long have you been practicing and playing your piece or pieces? Chances are it has been a reasonable amount of time, in that you feel you can play it reasonably well. It flows, it moves along, you really enjoy playing it. We’ll come to the subject of piece selection in another blog post.
Trust in yourself that you can play the music. You know you can and you’ve proved it to yourself countless times.
And remember that your interpretation or way of playing something is just as valid as anyone else’s. It doesn’t really matter what others think about your interpretation. How you play it is your unique style. That’s what ultimately makes it “good” and a heartfelt performance.
We are all different and act and behave in different ways so you may find different techniques work better for you than others. There is no silver bullet to dealing with performance anxiety; its a process of discovery about what works for you personally.
And the October 2014 addition?
I’m not saying you suddenly have to conjure up self-assuredness from thin air. I am saying though go out there in a whole-hearted manner. Put your whole heart into your performance. Embrace what you’re about to do. Give it your full focus and energy. That may help a little. And then pretend! Pretend that you’re a super-confident performer, slip into a character that’s confident even. In my personal experience I’ve found that confidence begets confidence. In performance situations where I’ve acted confident has really helped to settle the nerves, given my brain evidence that I can do this and am quite good in spite of feeling like a trembling jelly on the side with my heart threatening to pound through my chest! The next it wasn’t nearly so bad (the brain-evidence thing at work there), and so I felt a little more confident. And so on and so forth.
Give it a whirl – slap on your best cheesy grin, puff out your chest and hold you head high as you walk next time you walk onto the stage!