Conquer Stage Fright
Stage fright. You know it and hate it. Sweaty palms. Increased heart rate. Too much adrenaline. I once did a performance where I was so nervous I don’t remember the gig! There are plenty of resources to help you overcome stage fright and you should definitely seek them out. Stage fright is not something you have to live with. You can overcome it! I did and so can you. Here are some strategies that have helped me and my students.
Students often confuse nervousness and excitement. I ask them, “Are you nervous or excited?” Both are normal and it’s completely ok to feel them. But remember just because you have elevated feelings it doesn’t automatically mean you’re nervous. You can perform and enjoy your excitement.
Stage fright tends to be the result of lack of preparation. Perhaps ‘lack of preparation’ isn’t the right term. Plenty of performers prepare and do plenty of it. ‘Insufficient preparation’ is a better term. How much preparation is sufficient? It depends – it’s a fluid and dynamic variable. It depends on
Variables can include:
– difficulty of music
– solo or ensemble setting
– you and your natural propensities
I have often said that most of us could probably walk on stage right now and play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star quite well. Why? We know it. It’s easy. We have played those simple notes and rhythms in a multitude of situations.
“Your [ears] can deceive you, don’t trust them.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
OK so ol’ Ben said eyes not ears but the concept really applies here.
Evelyn Glennie uses her entire body to hear since she’s deaf.
Our body has many ways to gather data and hearing is just one of them. The more senses you can employ, the less each one matters. If you only rely on your hearing and that one system fails you – even for a few moments or notes – you’re sunk! But let’s say you’re employing hearing, tactile / feeling, and visual. Then hearing is only a third and if for a few seconds your hearing fails then you still have 67% of your systems being successful.
That way you use more than one receptor / input device rather than just your ears. By using everything you don’t have to rely solely on one sense which is a fraction of our information input
For example, when I’m tuning my bass I can feel in my left hand the out of tune harmonics clashing and creating the beats of the sound waves interacting. I have also used this technique to teach sound waves to children. I’ll play an open G and a out of tune closed G and have students place their hand on the top of the bass to feel the beats.
Tools to conquer stage fright and nerves:
– Smile when you play – really, try it!
– Practice with an elevated heart rate by doing stairs and then playing right away
– Practice without the music
– Practice without the music stand in front of you! The stand becomes a sort of comforting shield when you always practice with it.
– Practice with distractions – tv, radio, random alarms,
– Practice in different environments. Or even just different rooms.
– Practice like a Jedi in training – blindfold, earplugs, both
Practicing and practicing performing in with distractions, in different environments, with earplugs introduces different and indeterminate variables into your session. Unplanned things happen during performances. Something catches your eye or a random sound occurs. But if you practiced with these variables you will be unfazed. Your mind says “bring it on – it doesn’t matter since I know I can still perform when anything happens.”
– When performing don’t get hung up on mistakes (also practice performing like this). You’re telling a story and a missed word here or there won’t affect the story. Think of reading a book. Even if you missed a page you’d still get the story.
– Practice in your performance clothes
Practicing all these different ways can also be revitalizing and invigorating. It can break us out of ruts. After decades of playing it can refresh our playing and bring back the fun that we experienced years ago. And it will make your performances much more comfortable and enjoyable.