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:

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!



Performing In Front of Others & Overcoming Stage Fright – Part Two

The promise of performing in front of others is a promise of experiencing that butterflies in the tummy feeling. That nervous tension, a nervous energy, a teetering on the edge, sometimes almost regardless of the size of audience, the nature of the audience, the size of the space.
And I think this is a good thing. It demonstrates that you care about what you’re about to do and share with others. You care enough that you want to show yourself in the best light, you care enough that you want to do justice to the wonderful music you’re playing, you care enough thaGo With The Flowt you want your audience to enjoy themselves.
There is a fine line though to this degree of caring. Yes, a dedication to our craft is good, but not to the point where our “fight or flight” response completely takes over, demonising our mind and body and incapacitating us!
As I highlighted earlier in the week, a few of us from the CGSV Guitar Orchestra were sharing our thoughts about this subject following a successful performance. We were all of a similar mind in approach and in our experiences in dealing with stage fright, or performance anxiety or whatever you choose to call it. So I thought I’d summarise and share.
From my own point of view, leading up into the concert I was in no way concerned, or nervous. Really thoroughly prepared, could probably play a lot of the music without thinking about it. Until I got to about an hour or so from the performance and I noticed the heart rate picking up a little, a little light perspiration on the nose (yeah, I get that on the nose and not on the brow like most people!), that slight wobbly tummy feeling. Others in the group were also feeling this too.
Which is silly when thinking about it logically – what’s the worst that could happen to us in a church in Toorak playing Bach and Telemann for an audience of about 50 Bach-loving people with an average age of about 60? Let’s say our lives were really not in any imminent danger.
So in dealing with my own nerves, I gently reminded myself of this fact. I also reminded myself that I had done HEAPS of preparation and I could play the music quite beautifully in fact and to just trust myself, let go, play and enjoy the moment. I also told myself to just focus on playing with a beautiful tone and making beautiful shapes with the music.
And that calmed things down for me A LOT. The nervous energy was still there a little to a small degree, but I like a little bit of that – it heightens the senses, helps me get lost in the moment and focus on making a beautiful sound.
Trusting myself, letting go and enjoying the moment – this is the important bit in addressing stage fright for me. And my Guitar Orchestra colleagues were also expressing that they believe in the importance of letting go (even if it feels like going out on a ledge a little!), and have found themselves in other situations where they let the well-trained, almost subconscious process take over and quiet down the analytic part of the mind (which in these situations can just interfere with its incessant questions and doubts and get in the way!).
Trusting yourself and letting go can also be the bit most difficult to quantify and explain how to do also! I think it’s one of those things, however, that you just need to have a go at.
Commit to giving it a go in your next performance, accepting that it may not feel too different from normal (or previous situation normal), but is the first step, a leap of faith if you will, in a journey towards addressing your stage fright and performing at your best. And with most things the more you do it, the easier and the more embedded those neural pathways become.
Try these things for your next performance:
(i) Remind yourself of your environment and the situation– you’re playing music not completing life-altering brain surgery, you’re playing music for an audience of music lovers (most probably), you’re playing music for an audience of music lovers who are “on your side”. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Are you in danger? (If the answer to that is yes, you may want to look at the types of places you’re playing!)
(ii) Keep your breathing deep. When we get a little stressed our breathing becomes shallow which limits the oxygen flowing around the body and can cause undue tension in the neck and shoulder.  Breathe deeply and slowly. This keeps the oxygen flowing round your body and brain and helps to relax you.
(iii) Eat something small an hour so prior to the performance for energy – a light fuel stop will help keep your energy levels up.
(iv) Focus on your tone, phrasing and shaping perhaps (or some other larger focal point) rather than individual notes. This will start the process of helping you to trust that you really do know what you’re doing.
(v) Anticipate that you’re going to enjoy your performance! If you’re not sure, a bit of “fake it till you make it” can actually work and – hey presto! – you may just find that you are actually enjoying yourself!