That Little Thing Called Stage Fright

Sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach, and mental pictures of freezing up on the stage – these are all telltale signs of that little thing called stage fright. Waiting your turn in a recital hall with a packed audience and nowhere to hide can be an intense and somewhat frightening experience for students, especially those first-timers who don’t know what to expect. These useful tips will help students to understand and overcome performance anxiety.

1. Just Breathe.  While you are anxiously waiting your turn, take steady, deep breaths. Deep breathing can help to calm your heart rate and nerves. You can practice deep breathing in lessons by counting a steady 5 beats as you breathe in, hold the breath for another steady 5 beats, and then control the release of the breath for a final 5 beats. This is a great way to practice both regulated breathing and keeping a steady beat.

2. Focus Your Energy.  Being nervous is actually a good thing. First of all, it means that you care about the way you present yourself before an audience. Second, the adrenaline rush that you experience when you are nervous heightens your senses; and you can use this to your advantage as you focus on the task at hand – performing your piece. Your preparation for a performance coupled with your excitement can result in a fun and memorable stage experience.

3. Carry Yourself with Confidence.  Did you know that the way you carry yourself can affect your mood and outlook on a situation? You can improve performance anxiety simply by holding your head high and putting a smile on your face. Remember, you’ve prepared diligently for the performance, so you can be proud of the work you’ve already done. The stage is your place to show off what you’ve learned, and self-confidence can make a lasting impression on the audience.

4. Imagine It.  Imagine yourself performing your piece successfully in front of an audience. Go through a step-by-step mental play of your performance: walking onto the stage, putting your hands in position, playing the first note, ending the piece with confidence, and taking your bow. It’s fun to imagine the applause coming from the audience, and it’s important to imagine all the good feelings you have walking off the stage. You can even take this a step further in lessons or in practice by pretending you are a world renowned artist performing at Carnegie Hall. Mental imagery can help you focus on a positive outcome.

5. Performing takes practice, too.  Performing in front of an audience is a skill that takes practice. It’s important to note that this is a separate skill from learning how to play an instrument. However, these two skills are similar in that with time and experience both playing an instrument and performing on the stage greatly improve. So, perform as often as possible – for family and friends, at school and community events, at recitals and gigs. Even though you may never completely get rid of the “nerves” you will become a better performer; and you may even begin to really enjoy it!

Allison J Boyd, MT-BC
Private Piano Instructor
Music Therapist, Board-Certified
President, Metro Music Makers

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