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Performance Anxiety

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#1 Barry Williams

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Posted 31 December 2019 - 15:45

This subject is so very important that i have started a new thread.

 

It affects almost everyone.  Indeed, I have heard it said that if it does not in some way, then the performance may be lacking.

 

As a late starter in music, (I was fifteen and half years of age before I had my first music lesson), I have never quite overcome performance anxiety.  As a result, I failed several diplomas, at some expense, getting them  eventually, but with much difficulty.

 

Several professional players have told me that performance nerves never quite go away, despite years of experience.  At one time it was the 'taboo' subject, but in recent years folk seem more willing to discuss it.

 

The dreadful experience suffered by our friend and reported on another thread on this Forum was awful in the extreme.

 

Could we discuss here, please, how performance nerves affect us and how we cope with it?

 

Barry Williams


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#2 Misterioso

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Posted 01 January 2020 - 12:30

I shall be following this thread with great interest, just in case there is the merest glimmer of hope still remaining for me.


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#3 Tenor Viol

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Posted 01 January 2020 - 13:17

I didn't have any lessons until I was in my mid 30s. A consequence of which is that I cannot perform solo as a singer I get too anxious - I have to be in a group of some sort, even if it's small (I have sung Bernstein Chichester Psalms in a chamber choir of just S4 A4 T4 B3 and I was on bass).

 

In my 50s and I start playing instruments. I just dropped out of doing my G5 on tenor sax - I couldn't cope with the performance anxiety of the exam...


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#4 vron

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Posted 01 January 2020 - 14:08

I do think for many people  who start musical instruments late in life performance anxiety is a great problem. I think children have far more chance of playing  in front of people at a lower stage than adults do and they are usually far less self critical of their performance and therefore more willing to have a go. I think also an audience  is far more encouraging toward children mistakes than adults. Having said that last statement I do think that most people in a small group situation etc are understanding that we are learners and trying our best.

 

As to how to overcome it I wish I knew.  All the usual advice given help in small doses  eg deep breaths, knowing your music well, being prepared for the situation  you will be playing in but nothing really stops it I find.  I do think it is a confidence thing. Some people have that confidence to face their fears better than others. I am not a very confident person in other types of  people facing situations .


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#5 BadStrad

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Posted 01 January 2020 - 14:34

I read one of Arnold Steinhardt's books a few years back.  In it he talks about performance nerves.  He said that for him they've never really gone away, but he's learned to accept and channel the adrenaline rush.  I think that might be a part of the puzzle.

 

As a child the adrenaline (of performance) is quite exciting (OK maybe not for everyone, but bear with me).  As we grow up those kind of adrenaline rushes can become associated with bad things, with panic and so on.  When I've performed I've reminded myself of that inner child, of how excited they'd be to "show off" what they can do and just really tried to channel that positive excitement rather than interpreting it as fear, which I think is kind of what Arnold was describing.  (This might fall under the idea of "fake it 'till you make it" tactics).

 

I also remind myself of what I say to my pupils before their exams - "If you fail, nobody dies.  It's just an exam.  You might cry, you might feel embarrassed, your mum/dad might shout at you, but that'll pass and everyone will get over it and move on.  It's just an exam.  You can always take it again."  Sadly the kids are often amazed that I, as their teacher who pushes them to do well, can be so relaxed about the outcome.  They're often so pressured to pass at all costs they forget they can resit exams, or not.


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#6 fsharpminor

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Posted 01 January 2020 - 16:05

I must be very fortunate.  I do not recall any nervousness/anxiousness when performing in concerts or taking exams  ('A' Dip piano at age 16, Grade 8 organ at age 17). I'm 72 now. Yes of course I make mistakes, sometimes obvious ones, but I just smile at it and carry on. But then I have never done any music professionally, just as an enthusiastic amateur, so I'm not expected to be note perfect all the time


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#7 Misterioso

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Posted 02 January 2020 - 10:21

I do think for many people  who start musical instruments late in life performance anxiety is a great problem. I think children have far more chance of playing  in front of people at a lower stage than adults do and they are usually far less self critical of their performance and therefore more willing to have a go. I think also an audience  is far more encouraging toward children mistakes than adults. 

 

I think this is true - although I wonder if you mean people who start musical instruments late in life, or people who start new instruments late (or later) in life? I began violin at 9. I wasn't allowed a piano then as well, so I didn't start piano until 29. I have always felt less confident on piano than violin. I think instruments that you begin as a child and grow up with can feel much more natural - and certainly to those with confidence issues. 


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#8 thara96

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Posted 02 January 2020 - 10:25

What tips would you have for those who have stage fright? 


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#9 Gran'piano

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Posted 02 January 2020 - 11:21

Stealing ideas from elsewhere as usual -

Get used to 'performing' by playing in front of someone or something. Start with a dog or a cat, a doll or a teddy bear. Try relations (not a teenage elder brother!!), friends, other nervous performers.

Record oneself. Delete it. Record oneself, then listen to it. Record oneself and let someone else listen to it. If it has a lot of mistakes in, delete it. If it is a bit better than usual, put it on a USB stick and listen to it again, and again. When you get a better version, you can delete that and add the new one.

Think of the listener(s) as being 'on your side'.

Playing for folk who don't get much of a chance to hear live music means that almost all of them will be on your side!

Remember that the listeners seldom have the full score to follow and even if they know the piece you are playing there are often 'variations' you might be playing from.

Quote from an organist friend on my playing 'ah, you are playing a variation. You mean that you sometimes play a note higher or lower, and sometimes longer or shorter than the version I was thinking of'.

Not exactly complimentary but it made me laugh and that helps too.

 

Even the best musicians make mistakes sometimes.

Watch Leonard Bernstein conducting during a recording of West Side Story with Kiri te Kanawa, Jose Carreras and other professionals. 

Those CDs and Videos were not made in a single take. 

 

The roof doesn't fall in if you make a real mess of it.

 

These ideas are from Piano Meg in another thread.


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#10 Rach123

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Posted 02 January 2020 - 13:43

I've been playing clarinet since I was 11 (I'm 27) but still get performance anxiety where I shake while I'm playing solo (perfect playing either clarinet or sax in concert band or any other group performing situation).

 

I'm also singing in a choir and did two shows last year where I had an anxiety attack before I went on stage (but was fine while performing) I very rarely sing solo so I don't know what I would be like if I did.

 

I just don't really get any enjoyment out of playing by myself (unless it's my uke and even then I like when I get to play it with others)


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#11 musicalmalc

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Posted 02 January 2020 - 15:01

After a disastrous Rotary sponsored music competition hosted by my senior school where I was pushed into doing it (probably to get the number of entrants up) and probably made more mistakes than when I first sight-read the piece, I simply avoid solo piano performances.

 

Strangely I have never had an issue with singing providing I don't have to memorise it or accompanying (I assume the audience focus is on who I am accompanying).

 

I will refer back to some of the suggestions however as they look interesting


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#12 porilo

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Posted 02 January 2020 - 20:14

I get terribly nervous when I have to perform and I find the only thing that helps is Bach. Not Johann Sebastian or any of the other Bach family but another Bach. Dr Edward Bach. His "Rescue Remedy" which can be obtained from most health shops either in liquid or pastille form is absolutely brilliant and I would recommend it to anyone. It's the best thing I've ever come across for any form of anxiety, not only performance. Next Thursday I'm off to hospital for an MRI on my wrist and I know what I shall be taking with me. The GP offered me diazepam but I will certainly not be taking that. 


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#13 jch48

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Posted 06 January 2020 - 10:47

Lots of advice on the web, search for bullet-proof-musician, Graham Fitch, Stephen Hough, read the 'perfect wrong note'. Those are the first that spring to mind, but there are more. Self-talk and attitude in practice and performance is important. Giving yourself or pupils low key performance opportunities. It's a big subject.


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#14 Norway

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Posted 06 January 2020 - 11:37

I don't think starting later in life is a particular factor. Children seem to be generally less stressed than adults but when they hit about 15 then the increased self awareness and anxiety will kick in anyway if it is going to. I think it's more down to personality type. I feel sorry for organists because there is more videoing of weddings going on these days. Playing solo piano or being the first oboe of a symphony orchestra are activities which just are very stressful because there are expectations from others that you won't make any mistakes, and this is unrealistic and unhealthy. Sorry if this sounds a bit defeatist, but I want to enjoy my music making and be relaxed and happy, without the use of tablets, so I found alternatives, like playing in a friendly and informal brass band. I was surprised to find a way of making music which didn't involve perfectionism and being stressed out all the time.


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#15 chris13

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Posted 07 January 2020 - 16:04

I restarted piano in my thirties after forgetting everything I ever knew about reading music. By my mid forties I was playing in a piano class at the Lancaster adult college until I was persuaded to take part in the end of year concert. With another student from that class I decided to play one of Moszkowski's Spanish dances (no.5 I think) and I taught this duet to my partner. When it came to the concert I could hardly read the music let alone play it properly. I lost all my confidence for playing, immediately resigned from the class and concluded I would never be able to play piano. 

 

Almost a year later I was beginning to play again and I found my current teacher. At the first lesson I made it clear that I would not be able to face exams or play in public ever again. This more or less continued until the Clitheroe Piano Meetup started in May 2016. (That first meeting was attended by three other forumites.) I had realised that to conquer my performance nerves I just had to force myself to do it. Since then there have been about 50 opportunities when I have played to either the Clitheroe or the Morecambe groups. My performance anxiety has subsided but not completely gone away and at a December 2019 meeting I was caught out slightly by fingers starting to shake half way through the piece. At some of these meetings I have played piano accompaniment to a violin piece. I find these less stressful because I can 'hide' behind the soloist and they are also fun to do.

 

The other thing I advise my friends at the Clitheroe and Morecambe groups is to choose pieces of music that are not too difficult and if possible not known to the audience. In my case (still learning)  I am trying to come to terms with pieces of music at the edge of my capabilities which  would simply fall apart in a public performance.

 

Finally in all the other activities that I become involved with I tend to think that mistakes along the way are inevitable. I need to develop the same attitude when playing in public and then I am sure it would become less stressful and more enjoyable.


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