Dealing With Performance Anxiety: For the Young Performer

I know it’s hard to believe, but I get performance anxiety too.  Even after playing for twenty years, all over the country, in different genres, and in diverse settings I still get a nervous feeling before I go on stage. If I did not feel anxious then I would not even play because that nervous feeling reminds me that the importance of performing music is something that exists in the depths of my inner being. That being the case,  I have to find a positive way to incorporate that feeling into my experience. In other words, I have to own those feelings, harness their energies, and use them to my benefit.

A performance is an attempt to control energy and convert it into a beautiful memory.  This can happen if a performer channels energy in the right direction. This means the musician’s body is well fed and healthy, and the mind is quiet and well rested.  Great musicians have a positive mental attitude.  You have the rest of your life to worry about what people think about your performance. Concerning yourself with other people’s perceptions before and during your performance is not conducive to controlling the energy towards a beautiful performance.  All the energy channels that do not flow towards the realization of the music must be closed just before and during the performance. This leaves only movements that produce beautiful sound on the instrument, and only thoughts that create a beautiful model of the piece in the performer’s mind.  This is at a time and place of the performer’s choosing that is convenient and does not distract.  This means a supportive teacher, audience, and accompanist.

Just take it easy, and go with the flow.  You are a natural born performer, and adults are delighted to be the supportive audience of children. When you first started walking, no one expected you to break into a dance.  They were excited to see you put one foot in front of the other.  Then they encourage you to experiment with other movements.  Each time you learned a new type of movement your physical vocabulary grew.  You could express all kinds of feelings and tempos with your movements.  When you first start performing music, set a simple goal like “I am going to play this entire piece without stopping.”  If you can do that, great! You have success.  If you can’t, you have to think about what specifically stopped the flow of your prerformance.  Don’t worry, you don’t have to figure this out all by yourself.  Your teacher and your parents are happy to help you.  Once you achieve simple goals move on to more ambitious ones like “I am going to play the entire piece with correct rhythm without stopping.”  Each time you perform a piece and achieve the performance goals you will feel a sense of accomplishment. If you don’t have a clear performance goal in mind you will keep doing the same thing expecting a different outcome that the last.  Life is too short to run around in circles.

Realize your performance goals by staying in the moment during your performance.  This is the most effective technique for any activity. Focus on hearing the music the way you want it to sound in your head while you are performing.  As a performer you are a storyteller, and a great storyteller always knows what is going to happen next. The way a  musician controls the tempo and the sound just like a storyteller controls the pace of the story and the inflection of the character’s voice. Trust your inner monologue as the most reliable guide to realizing your performance goals. You know what it is supposed to sound like. If you can say after a performance that you heard your inner voice the entire time you were performing, then it is a successful performance.
You prepare to perform by studying your music, your instrument, and feeding your body and mind with ample food and rest.  This is how you store up the energy you will release during the performance, and provides you with the channels to release that energy.  You quiet your mind in order to not waste any of this energy and make sure that it flows through the appropriate channels and that they are not clogged.  You set an appropriate performance goal for your level of experience as a musician and you knowledge of the piece.  When the moment of the performance arrives you keep your focus on your inner voice that is signing the piece. If you have done these things to the best of your ability, and completed your performance goal then you have success.  Congratulations!