Why do you get scared to perform in front of people? Why do you get nervous? Why does your mouth get dry or your lip shake or your palms get sweaty? Why do you feel sick to your stomach? These are called performance jitters or performance anxiety. These feelings are very real and there are numerous books and lengthy articles written on the subject.
What is it that are you afraid of? A missed note, muddled tonguing, fumbled fingers, not making the long breath, not playing as well as you know you can? Scared of what others will think of you, like your peers or your teacher or the judges? Are you afraid of possibly not getting the scholarship or not getting the job or not getting accepted into a program? Have you ever felt like this before?
Here are a few basic things that have helped me in my over 40 years of flute playing (and piano playing and organ playing and singing). A lot of it comes down to three things: PREPARATION, POSITIVE THINKING, and EXPERIENCE.
PREPARATION – Beyond, obviously, putting in the time to practice so you are well prepared, there are other things you can do.
- Make sure you have a good night’s sleep prior to your performance.
- Get in the mindset to perform by removing any unnecessary distractions during the day. (Although, for some people it helps them to stay busy so they don’t dwell on their nervousness of performing.)
- Take a power nap in the afternoon.
- Don’t eat too much just prior to a performance, but definitely stay hydrated.
- Arrive early so you have plenty of time to get settled, warm up and, yes, relax.
- Keep a bottle of water nearby prior to and during a performance. A common effect is to have a dry mouth. A simple sip of water can do wonders, especially as a wind player.
POSITIVE THINKING – Acknowledge and practice the power of positive thinking and positive self talk everyday, not just when you step onto the stage!
Instead of thinking about how your lip or hands are shaking or your knees are wobbling or your heart is pounding, think about the music more and how you can shape the phrases and strive to express your emotions as you play.
So what happens when you get to “that spot” in the music that you’ve practiced over and over. What are you thinking? “Oh, no! Here comes that spot I worked so hard on!” That can make anyone scared. Instead, think, “I can do this.” Or, “Here goes.” However, if it still doesn’t turn out as well as you hoped, think, “Oh well,” and make the next phrase better. What’s gone, is gone. You can’t get that measure back, at least, not this time around.
Tell yourself, “I can do this. Just have fun. I’m here to share my talents with others. This is what I have to offer. (Take it or leave it.) I’m grateful to be a part of this production. I love the flute and I love music.”
EXPERIENCE – In addition to all of these suggestions, remember that the more you perform in front of others, the more you’ll be able to practice overcoming performance anxiety and not be scared. While you are in the practice room or living room or wherever you practice, try to visualize the performance hall or the setting where you’ll be performing. Then, imagine that’s where you are and practice as if you are performing. I also try to encourage students to perform at least 5 times in front of others before a critical performance. That is another way to practice performing. Take advantage of every chance to play for others.
Use careful PREPARATION, exercise POSITIVE THINKING, and find opportunities to give yourself more EXPERIENCE. Don’t be scared. Instead, use that anxiety to make your performance shine.