I have made amazing, huge, horrifying mistakes under the influence of performance anxiety (a.k.a. stage fright). I vividly remember an All-State Band audition I took my senior year of high school: I was auditioning on trumpet, an instrument I had just taken up within the last year, but I had practiced a ton and felt pretty good about how I sounded. I knew it was a long shot, but I thought there might a chance I could at least make the district band. The day of the audition, I started feeling sick to my stomach. As my audition time came closer, my body rebelled against me. I couldn’t play, my lips weren’t working, my fingers would not obey my brain, my vision was even blurring the music–I was a mess. I walked in the audition room shaking and could barely squeak out a single note. I’m sure the judges thought a 6th grader had stumbled in. It was humiliating and as soon as I left the room I bolted around a corner and tried to hide myself! Where was my normal, big sound I was proud of? What happened to my high notes (or even medium range notes)?? What about all that practicing I did? Had stage fright negated all my hard work?
But the day was not a complete waste. Two good things happened:
1. I auditioned on percussion just about an hour later (my main instrument; I had played for 7 years) and won first chair in the District band and an invitation to go on to audition for All-State. I experienced almost no stage fright in this audition.
2. I realized there must be some way to control the performance anxiety that overtook me during my trumpet audition. How else could I explain the great audition I had on percussion the very same day? I began my slow journey learning to work with and beat my stage fright.
A year later in college, my percussion professor, Dr. Snell, really jumpstarted this education. He had my whole percussion studio read books like The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green and Zen and the Art of Music. Through this, I finally realized I had to practice performing, not just practice music. How will I walk out on stage? What will I say in between pieces? Dr. Snell even made us practice bowing in front of each other.
If you’re having issues with performance anxiety, here’s some steps I’ve found very helpful:
Prepare for a show-script out exactly what you want to happen. What you’ll say, how you’ll stand, how you’ll move from song to song, changing of any equipment, leaving the stage, etc. Map it all out.
Practice the show-now run through all you just mapped out, over and over again. Is it scripted and does it feel stiff at first? Yes, but keep going, it will start to look, sound, and feel natural. You’re practicing, just like you do with your music, which never feels great the first time you do it. Remember, the great performers you see on huge stages and on TV have practiced every move, every dance, every transition, how they come on stage, how they leave. It seems effortless because they have done it a million times. So you should too!
Practice the show in front of someone-start small-play in front of a few supportive, kind people to gain confidence.
Step up a bit–play for a small group, in a larger room or area.
Now just do it. With every experience you have performing, you will be more comfortable. Gradually you’ll see you aren’t getting as anxious before a show, things are coming easier, you feel comfortable with an audience…you might even be enjoying yourself! Now your musical talent and hard work can shine .