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Stage Fright

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Recently I performed at two concerts, a general school one and one for some elderly folks from a local retirement home. Both times I played pieces that I have practiced, ruthlessly, for well over a year now; both times I barely managed to finish. My hands shook violently, which is an issue for a classical guitarist wrapping his left hand around a grade 8 piece, and the hand sweat was terrible. I left both concerts feeling shaken and utterly miserable, and my butchering of both pieces in front of audiences has somewhat undermined my confidence. 

 

In short, I suffered from stage fright, and quite badly.

 

I was just wondering if anyone else here suffers from a problem like this, and whether they have any personal tips for coping during a performance. I was kinda hoping to do more concerts to considerably larger groups of people in future, so any support and advice would be much appreciated!

 

 

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Oh, I use to get stage frights like that, and still do (to a lesser degree, especially in small chamber groups or solo playing). What I do now (or try to do) is to transfer all of that "nervous energy" into "physical energy"....meaning I move around a lot while playing. Another thing I do is that I imagine the actual performance to be just another dress rehearsal. Either way, just relax and have fun up there, and don't get thrown off if you make any mistakes (you WILL make mistakes...trust me!)

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Me too!  God, its the worst!  You've practiced and practiced, and then you end up feeling like a moron.  I find that working your way from performing with a large group down to doing solos helps.  Baby steps.  I've gotten to the point where a big group is just plain fun, quartets and duets are a bit of an adrenaline rush, but don't bother me as long as I know the music and trust the other people I'm working with.  A solo where a larger group is backing you up quietly is less scary than a pure solo, solo.  A solo where you are background music and people are chatting and drinking cocktails is less scary than one where everyone is sitting politely and giving you their undivided attention.  

 

The more you perform, the easier it gets.  If you only do a few concerts a year, it's no wonder you get stage fright.  If you are performing in lots of different contexts every week, or several times a week, it will get better.  If you really want to tackle this, try to get as many gigs as you can, formal or informal, with different groups, and without.  

 

One thing that really helps for me is to practice when other people are around, instead of hiding away in secret until it sounds perfect.  It's scary as all get out at first, but when you are comfortable sounding like a moron, not knowing the music, getting notes wrong, in front of other people, who don't actually want to hear you, suddenly, performing later becomes much easier.  

 

I also like to tell everyone I see the day of the performance that I hate performing and that I'm about to throw up or pass out from fear.  It makes me feel better to have said it.  The scariest thing is being up there and knowing you sound bad because you are scared, and worrying someone else thinks you just are bad and haven't practiced.  If I tell everyone I'm a nervous wreck ahead of time, I can feel all their good vibes coming back at me from the minute I get up there.  They want you to do well, and they'll give you a subtle thumbs up from the back row if they know you need it.  

 

And plan ahead for the nervousness.  Know you will be nervous, accept it, and move on.  Don't expect yourself to calm down and be perfect.  That's just going to freak you out more.  Oh my god!  I have to calm down!  Why can't I calm down?  !!!!!  PANIC!!!!  Instead, get up there and go, yep, I'm nervous, but I'll be done in 5 minutes, and no one else out there in the audience could do it instead of me if I chickened out now, now, what do I need to actually be thinking about?  The stretch for that chord coming up… and the tricky rhythm…  Give yourself permission to be nervous, and plan to minimize the effects.  Do you need to remember to play a little slower than you would when you practiced, because your hands are shaky?  If you sit just right will that help keep your knees from shaking?  Do you need to do a few jumping jacks or stretch all the way down to the floor just before you start to loosen up?  One of the tenants of good classical singing is breath control and I can't breathe when I get nervous, so I just give up on that particular tenant entirely for solos.  Oh well.  Can't do that.  I'll concentrate on a good sound instead…  and I add in all sorts of extra breaths where I would never put them if I wasn't so freaked.  I know I'll need them, so I mark them in the music ahead of time.  I know my knees will shake, so I own some floor length skirts and knowing that no one can see them makes me feel better.  

 

It helps too, when you've survived a few calamities fairly gracefully.  The accompanist who gets two pages stuck together and disappears for a few bars, but you keep going and they catch up.  The sneak attack:  Jim is sick.  Can you play this?  Five minutes before you need to be there.  

 

Oh, and record yourself practicing and play it back.  It's hard to get a good sense of how you sound while you are in the moment, playing.  You are concentrating on playing, not listening.  Seeing and hearing a recording can give you some confidence.  Things that you think are painfully obvious mistakes, turn out to be rather subtle, when the overall tone is good.  Or you may notice that you sound fine, but your bad posture is really distracting, or that you look like you are miserable.  Seeing yourself from the audience's point of view seems to make it less scary somehow.  

 

You can do it!  Whoo-Whoo!  

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   Me too!  God, its the worst!

...

 Thanks, pateceramics, that's really good advice! It's nice to know that other people get these problems and have solutions.

Edited by jsands

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I second the part of knowing that you'll be nervous.  That's a big step to accept.  But, also visualization techniques can be pretty helpful.  Try and vividly, calmly imagine all the things that can go wrong, and how you would handle each situation - see yourself confidently managing that moment.  As well as in general, see yourself as a confident performer, and give yourself some kind words; after all you do know how to play, and you've invested a lot of time/energy to be able to do so.  

 

And, of course, it doesn't matter what they think of you, ultimately.  And the sooner you believe that, the sooner you stop being afraid of a negative reaction for every subtle, minute mistake, that they probably didn't hear anyway.  Or a collection of all these stressors from those subtle mistakes that result in you making a large, noticeable one. :P

 

I was terrible at first, being thrown off by different room size/reverbs, etc - shy soloist, with your same issues with the guitar.  But, it gets better - I tried to do as many shows in succession as I could, to get the stage fright out of the way, and by the end of the week I was so frustrated and had enough of the fright, that I overcame it.  Though, I was breaking strings left and right, from picking nervously, hehe - and constant malfunctions with other equipment...sigh - what fun! :P

 

I hope I helped a little.

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Try to get yourself into an ensemble and share the stage with them. It will help to disperse the fear, get you acclimated. Try to include a cute girl, the audience will be focusing on her instead of you. And breathe naturally. I knew a guitar major, who practically ruined his senior recital because his breathing drowned out the guitar!

 

Playing solo is high pressure for everyone. I've been nervous as hell to the point where I'm sure the audience can see my knees knocking. But I've never blown it, only speed up the tempo a little. Good luck!

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Something I heard a vocal professor tell a student has helped me. The student was practicing for an audition in front of a bunch of us in a concert hall, and he was really nervous. The professor told him that "no one but us and your parents would care if you died right now." I know that sounds harsh, but he meant it in an overall idea. It was his way of saying not to take his work too seriously. That only a minuscule percent of the planet was paying attention. None of this really matters...but it does, but it doesn't. 

And this:

 

practice when other people are around.

 

 

That helps so much.

Edited by Xamustard

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I have to agree with a lot of the things that have been said, but I must politely disagree with some things as well.

 

Just as with anything, practice makes perfect!  You need to practice playing in front of people as much as you would need to practice your scales, arpeggios, and that difficult spot in the thirteenth bar of page three of the song that you're working on.  If you don't practice performing, you will never get any better at it.  But, just like when you practice your songs, you can't just play through it (or get through the performance) and actually call it practice.  Just like how you can make your mistakes a habit by playing the same mistakes without correcting them, you can also make all of your bad performance problems a habit as well.  Then you are, in essence, practicing bad habits into permanency, and how horrible is that?

 

Although the butterflies will probably never fully go away (and will eventually be the very thing that drives the energy in your performance), you need to start changing the way you approach stage fright or you'll continue to do it again and again.  For one thing (and this is where I disagree with what has been said), I would not ever recognize the stage fright!  You are trying to convince yourself that you are not afraid!  The more you continue to remind yourself that you are afraid, the more it becomes habit to be afraid in those situations and the more your subconcious will respond accordingly.  You should actually be telling yourself again and again that,"I never worry or get anxious when I perform.  I never make mistakes.  I am always calm and collected.  Nothing about performing in front of others actually worries or affects me in any way."  If you keep telling yourself that over and over everytime you perform (even if you don't feel it for the first while), that is eventually what you will believe and your subconcious will start to go along with it as well.  Believe me when I say that this is probably the most important thing you can do (next to practicing performing in the first place).

 

Also, start practicing putting EVERY LAST OUNCE of focus and energy where it belongs, ON YOUR MUSIC!  Do not give any of your focus or energy to the people watching.  Put every last corner of your mind to your music so that there isn't even a smidgen of focus or energy left to put towards the stage fright or even worrying about what the audience is doing.  In fact, if you do this correctly, your awareness of the audience will go away completely!  If any part of your mind is even aware that the audience is there, then you are distracted and that is going to (of course) cause mistakes!  Don't get distracted!  All that exists is the music!  It takes practice to get good at this skill, you may not be able to do it the first time.  But if you keep at it, then you will find that you will go on stage, acknowledge the audience (as is proper), forget that they exist as you play (don't even look at them!  It's like an actor playing a part, he can't be glancing out at the audience every two seconds.  They don't even exist!  Only you and your fellow musicians are there as far as you are concerned), and then you will acknowledge them at the end.

 

Also, practice performing by playing at retirement homes!  They are a fantastic place to practice these skills.  Those people are rarely very critical AT ALL (in fact, they're usually very appreciative to have anyone at all come and play), and half of them can't hear you that well and might even fall asleep halfway through anyways.  Not to mention you're providing a very good service to the community.  Those people love to have visitors and don't have the absolute highest of expectations to begin with (they often will get little 6 year old beginners come and play, and although it's cute, they really do appreciate someone who can play something more difficult than "The Crawling Catterpillar" even with mistakes).  When you've practiced the right skills and get good at them, then you'll find that it will be very little differenceto go from playing in front of your friends and family, to playing on the side of the street, to playing at the concert hall at the local university, to playing at a sold-out concert on tour, to playing at carnegie hall, to playing in front of a television audience of millions.  The skills apply in the same way!

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Oh, and I almost forgot, learn to give an actual fair assessment of your performance and abilities.  Whatever you tell yourself is what you will believe, and what you believe is what will become your reality!  Notice how professionals NEVER come out of a performance saying,"Oh I suck!  That was horrible!  I made a mistake at this place and on this song!  I'm so embarrassed!  Blah, blah, blah, etc., etc., etc."?  That isn't just a habit that they developed when they felt they were "there", it's usually something that they always did.  It's called confidence, and you need to develop it in yourself!  If you practice being a failure (even in what you say) then you'll get really good at being a failure and you will always be a failure.  If you practice being a winner who believes in himself/herself then that is what you'll get good at!  There is no place for failure mentality in a professional.  Whatever you believe WILL become your reality!  But, even if you are telling yourself inwardly that you never make mistakes and that you play perfectly and that you are very good, don't say it out loud to others!  You don't want to come across as an arrogant jerk either.  This is the secret of a professional.  You need to be able to be as positive as possible in your mind and always tell yourself positive things (and only give yourself criticism that is helpful.  So, never say"I suck", but be willing to recognize "I need to make that one passage cleaner and more even".  Notice that the criticism was constructive, but not negative?  Never be down on yourself, but be a perfectionist and don't settle for second-best!), but you also need to avoid coming across as arrogant TO OTHERS.  Be totally humble but confident to others, but be OVERLY positive to yourself while always improving and growing.  That's the secret.  A person who can do all this will do very well.

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  • Eat a banana.
  • Close your eyes.

 

 

This is great advice. I wouldn't mix up the order though, you might get tricked by certain people. 

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try to stay calm. think about you going up stage and playing. exact the same moves you would make probably. also try not to worry. focus is number one. i always have a problem with this. i think of the audiance and it makes me nervous :). think about the music instead. try to " NOT CARE"  . just enjoy the music your making on stage. maby try new phrasing out. do something fun. music is alive. you can study 95% the other 5% is making it come allive instead of showing your rehersal practice perfectly. also imagenary things can help. when i play Chopins Polonaise op 53. i always think of a super hero and the way he defeat enimies and other scenario's haha.  the audience is just there to listen. nothing more. you are the boss on stage :) 

maby even a scent can help. imagen how flowers smell or smoke. find something that helps you best

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Ugh. Stage fright. >.<

 

I am a pretty shy person. I actually gave a concert at a small local hall recently, and played 2 Beethoven sonatas, 3 Chopin Etudes, 2 Rachmaninoff preludes, a Debussey suite, etc.

 

Aie! It doesn't matter if you know the pieces like the back of your hand -- while for the most part I kept it together, I butchered certain moments in the 1st movement of the Pathetique, and the Op. 23 No. 5, dropping vital phrases, screwing up others, etc. I kept going like nothing happened, and no one in the audience knew except a piano "mentor" who has helped me tremendously. But it's extremely disappointing to see yourself fail at an important point, when you've worked very hard to make sure things like that didn't even happen at all in the first place.

 

After the concert, I was told that unrelenting practice with a metronome would probably help to ground myself even further in the music, slowly ramping up the BPMs until it becomes a matter of course. I'd never used the metronome before, and while I was still practicing, it really seemed to help.

 

I've dropped the piano lately, though, and started composing again. I can't seem to do both at the same time.

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Solo Classical guitar is very difficult as are the focus of attention, do not be too hard on yourself. 

 

Definitely get in a duet or larger grouping of some sort and you can 'hide' a little ...there is safety in numbers.  

 

I play the classical guitar and  jazz guitar  . I found it hard to front a Jazz guitar trio with bass and drums as I felt the focus was on me .I was  fine in a quartet adding a sax player , also duet setting is cool too. I also get nerves , I think most people do.

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Ugh. Stage fright. >.<

 

I am a pretty shy person. I actually gave a concert at a small local hall recently, and played 2 Beethoven sonatas, 3 Chopin Etudes, 2 Rachmaninoff preludes, a Debussey suite, etc.

 

Aie! It doesn't matter if you know the pieces like the back of your hand -- while for the most part I kept it together, I butchered certain moments in the 1st movement of the Pathetique, and the Op. 23 No. 5, dropping vital phrases, screwing up others, etc. I kept going like nothing happened, and no one in the audience knew except a piano "mentor" who has helped me tremendously. But it's extremely disappointing to see yourself fail at an important point, when you've worked very hard to make sure things like that didn't even happen at all in the first place.

 

After the concert, I was told that unrelenting practice with a metronome would probably help to ground myself even further in the music, slowly ramping up the BPMs until it becomes a matter of course. I'd never used the metronome before, and while I was still practicing, it really seemed to help.

 

I've dropped the piano lately, though, and started composing again. I can't seem to do both at the same time.

 

You HAVE to use the metronome. And if you make mistakes on difficult parts, slow down. and if you still make mistakes, slow down even more. Slow it to the point where you do not make mistakes. If you don't you will only be re-enforcing the mistakes. everyone goes through this but it's the best lesson. The best shortcut to playing in tempo is to play S L O W L Y.

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Maybe you could try putting a fairly easy piece at the start of your recital to give you a chance to ease into it. Maybe something around grade 5/6 that you feel extremely comfortable with. I find that my nerves settle if I get through the first piece without too many problems.

 

Also, you have to remember that the guitar is incredibly hard to play perfectly. I don't think I've ever seen a guitar recital without a mistake in it somewhere. The audience cares about mistakes much less than you do. Unless your audience is mostly classical guitarists, they are going to be impressed by even the simplest classical guitar piece. Most people have picked up a guitar and may even play it to a decent standard, yet classical guitar seems impossibly difficult to them. You may know otherwise but put that to the back of your mind and embrace the fact that the audience are going to be impressed because you are playing classical music on a guitar. Not many people can do that, believe it or not.

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It's probably taboo to mention that many professional musicians regularly visit their doctor and get pills (beta blockers) to suppress adrenaline production.

This allegedly doesn't make you less nervous but it avoids the physical symptoms like shaking hands.

 

Note that despite suffering from stage fright myself, I don't use or endorse this approach (although I have to admit I'm somewhat curious about it).

 

The core of the problem, as others before me have pointed out, is our wrong "model of the world", in which we attach too much

importance to our performance (or rather: mistakes we make during said performance, and the reaction of an audience to such mistakes).

I have yet to find a good way to change my model of the world though ;)

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Ooh!  One more!  Does everyone know the "big arms" trick?  If you put your body in a really open body posture, even for as little as 30 seconds, it releases all the happy and relaxed chemicals in your brain.  All the endorphins and dopamine, and I don't know what all else.  Put your body in the right position and it actually tricks your brain into helping you relax a wee bit.  

 

So just before you are up to play, stand with your feet wide apart, reach your hands all the way over your head, and then out to your sides and hold that position for a few seconds.  Power ranger power stance style.  Everyone will just think you're stretching, but it will help you get the breathing and shaking under control a little bit.  Any position that involves you taking up lots of physical space is good.  If you have to sit on stage while you're waiting for a solo, sit in the most open body position you can.  Sit with your feet shoulder width apart.  Roll your shoulders nice and wide, even if you can't get away with stretching your arms.  If your hands need to be holding your guitar, keep your elbows pointed out nice and wide.  Just don't whack your fellow musicians.  (:  

 

And a word on the beta blockers…  they tend to cause wheezing as a side effect, so just say no to drugs all you singers and wind players…  Also, my mother-in-law took a Valium to try to calm down once during exams and was so completely out of it she flunked the exam.  Lesson learned.  There are worse things than being a little nervous.  

 

Yo Yo Ma said in an interview that he was always happy when he had made his first mistake of a concert.  Because there are always mistakes in every concert, no matter who is playing.  Once you make the first one of the night, and the world doesn't end, you can relax a bit and concentrate on making good music.  

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Also, practice performing by playing at retirement homes!  They are a fantastic place to practice these skills.  Those people are rarely very critical AT ALL (in fact, they're usually very appreciative to have anyone at all come and play), and half of them can't hear you that well and might even fall asleep halfway through anyways.  Not to mention you're providing a very good service to the community.  Those people love to have visitors and don't have the absolute highest of expectations to begin with (they often will get little 6 year old beginners come and play, and although it's cute, they really do appreciate someone who can play something more difficult than "The Crawling Catterpillar" even with mistakes).  When you've practiced the right skills and get good at them, then you'll find that it will be very little differenceto go from playing in front of your friends and family, to playing on the side of the street, to playing at the concert hall at the local university, to playing at a sold-out concert on tour, to playing at carnegie hall, to playing in front of a television audience of millions.  The skills apply in the same way!

 

This works. I have improved my self considerably using the above aproach.

 

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Whatever you do, keep on going if you make a mistake.
If you keep in time after missing a note or two, there's a chance the audience won't notice.

I made a mistake in a piece during attempt #1 at Grade 6 Piano and stopped half-way through.
He noticed.

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