Stage Fright! My Top Five Tips In Dealing With It

Hi there folks. It’s been another busy one for me this week, on my travels around the country. This has given me a chance to catch up on some reading however, including an article sent through to me earlier this week (thanks Rick).

This particular article was a rather interesting one on the subject of stage fright. Stage fright is something that most of us experience to a greater or lesser degree, when performing to small groups in an informal setting, exams, recitals and larger more formal settings. And it can afflict professionals just as much as amateurs. The article states that a survey undertaken in 2012 of German orchestras found that a third of musicians were feeling the nerves affected them so much they were taking beta blockers to control their nerves. Personally, I often feel more nervous performing to smaller groups of people in a small setting than I do to lots of people in a larger, more formal setting. Go figure!

So stage fright and nerves really does affect all sorts of musicians, amateur and professional, solo and orchestral, to differing levels. So there’s absolutely no shame, I say, in recognising this fact and embracing the nerves! Well, at least recognising that we have nerves, rather than trying to bury and deny, is the first step in discovering how you personally can work on controlling the stage fright or bringing it to your advantage somehow.

Have a read of the article for yourself:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/classicalmusic/10920925/Stage-fright-classical-musics-dark-secret.html

The article was particularly interesting for me this week as I’m working with a group of non-musicians at the moment on delivering a presentation – rather like stepping up onto a stage to perform, showing folks what you’ve been working on and laying out your thoughts and feelings. I’m finding now that my work, knowledge and training from my musical life can really cross over and benefit in other areas. And I can also help teach and coach others with this too.  Ahh music – the skill that has so many facets I’m still discovering them!

These were my top five tips to my colleagues this week in dealing with their stage fright:

  • Accept that you have nerves and that it’s a “thing”. There’s no shame in it, you’re a human being with feelings, not a robot. It’s OK!
  • Do your preparation leading up to the main event. Go into something knowing you’ve worked very hard, and you’ve put the effort in. Don’t go in there wishing you’d done a whole bunch more!
  • On the day remind yourself of all that hard work. You don’t have to recall every single detail of what you’ve done, but remind yourself to feel safe in the knowledge that you’ve worked to the best of your ability. That’s all anyone can ask of you!
  • Trust yourself – easier said than done, oftentimes, but start thinking on (1) and (2) and know that you know what you need to do. You do. Trust me.
  • I was going to say relax, but that can be a difficult thing to do, and even an abstract concept to the brain, when preparing to go out on stage. Instead focus on deepening your breathing (get some oxygen to parts!), smile (that seems to make me feel a little better) and check to make sure your shoulders are not up round your ears!

 

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The Importance of Performance Practice

Practice, practice, practice – that’s something I whittle on about a fair bit on this blog. It is very important if you want to progress on the classical guitar, or any other instrument, or any other skill really. Consistent, regular, targeted practice. Can’t beat it!

There is one more thing that you also need to be doing, particularly if you’re looking to take an exam, or perform for others in some capacity.

What is it? Performance practice.

Practicing the act of performing is so important and I was reminded of this by a friend of mine this week who has just attained his Diploma in Piano Performance. He commented that practicing performance, practicing in front of friends, strangers and basically anyone that would listen made a huge difference for him when it came to taking the exam. From my own point of view, I couldn’t agree more and have experienced the same for myself.

It’s a bit like a professional athlete – training and working out in the gym day in and day out or rehearsing set pieces or moves is undoubtedly going to make you (a) very fit and (b) well across how, when and where you need to move. This fitness is not “match fitness” however. There’s something about getting into the fray that does make all the difference – it’s the getting out there and committing, learning from the experience and developing from it. This makes you a true athlete.

In the same way, as a guitarist putting yourself into “match” situations is really going to sharpen up your playing game!

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Why is it important?

You will undoubtedly experience some physical and mental feelings and sensations that you wouldn’t necessarily experience in the practice room when it’s just you, the guitar and the dog. By practicing your performance skills you expose yourself to, learn to go with and even use to your advantage the differing feelings and sensations of live performance. There’s no substitute for doing this really.

You can also practice other elements of your performance – practicing how you will walk to your chair, how you will set yourself up, how you will tune, and importantly how you will accept your rapturous applause in what is quite possibly a new or different environment to that you used to in your daily practice.

How?

See if you’re able, particularly in the lead up to your next exam or recital, to work some performance practice sessions in. Play for your family one Sunday afternoon, play for your friends one evening, join a local musical group or guitar society and find out when their social gatherings are, busk, play for hospital patients. There are opportunities everywhere. It doesn’t really matter where, or for how long (or even playing what in the early days whilst you’re getting used to it), the important thing is just to give it a crack.

Nervous?

There’s only really one real sure fire way of blowing your nerves out of the water, and that’s to get lots of performance in! Do it over and over and over again. Accept and allow yourself to feel nervous. It’s OK.

By getting up there and doing it, allowing yourself to feel the sometimes oddly different experience of playing for others will help dissipate your feeling of nerves over time. Getting your performance practice in now will allow you to experience and manage these experiences, feelings and so on in relatively “safe” environments.

And just like your day to day practice, the more you do of something (generally) the easier it becomes and the more natural it becomes too.