The Musician’s Handbook: How to Survive Performance Anxiety

Common is performance anxiety

Many musicians experience performance anxiety. You can’t avoid performing anxiety as a musician. It will likely happen several times throughout your career. Performer anxiety is part and parcel of being a performer.

It’s not the end of your world. Let’s suppose you notice that your car is exceeding the speed limit. You put your foot down and slow down. This is what you should do when driving your car. You can also use your skills to get back on track if you feel anxious during or before a performance.

You need to learn techniques to identify performance anxiety. For example, you can look at your car’s speedometer and see if you have it. Then you will need strategies to overcome anxiety like slowing down and putting your foot on your brake.

Music preparation is essential

Being fully prepared is the most important factor in dealing with anxiety about performance. It is important to feel confident that you have done everything possible to prepare for the performance.

This is a good sign for musicians. You have practiced your songs until they become second nature.

If you don’t make the effort to excel at performance anxiety, it won’t work.

Recognizing signs and symptoms of performance anxiety

It is important to know the difference between feeling anxious about your performance and feeling confident.

It is possible to feel “butterflies” in your stomach, shallow breathing, tight muscles, and other physical symptoms.

You may also experience psychological symptoms like racing thoughts, inability to concentrate or difficulty focusing.

It is important to learn how to identify your emotions at any moment. You need to know when you feel calm, confident, or in a panic attack.

This is basically the procedure of checking your internal speedometer.

You should learn mindfulness techniques if you don’t have the skills required to conduct an internal health check.

Although mindfulness is relatively new in Western culture, it has been a popular concept in Eastern culture for many thousands of years. The University of Memphis Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music outlines some of the fundamental ideas of mindfulness for musicians.

This technique can be learned by asking yourself: “What am I thinking right now?” What is my current feeling?

How to overcome performance anxiety

Breathing deeply, slowly and rhythmically is the best way to manage performance anxiety.

This technique should be practiced until it becomes a habit. It is similar to moving your foot from accelerator to brake.

It is important to have confidence in the fact that taking a few minutes to slow down and breathe deeply can change your physiology, which will affect your heart rate, blood oxygen levels, muscle tension, and mental state.

When you are confident that your “breathing brake” actually works, it is possible to deploy it in any situation.

The breathing brake should be familiar to you, as you would with a quick arpeggiated run or practice of your major and minor chords.

Is it possible?

If your performance anxiety is not a sign of underlying anxiety, managing negative emotions during or before a performance can be done.

A traditional breathing technique has been used for thousands of years to lower heart rate. It is scientifically proven to work and should be used if you are trying to overcome anxiety.

Recap

When:

  • You’ve practiced and perfected your performance repertoire.
  • You know that you did your best to prepare for an outstanding performance
  • You are able to recognize the signs and feelings of anxiety.
  • You’ve practiced breathing deeply, slowly, and rhythmically for a while until your heart rate slows and you feel physically and mentally relaxed. (Learn how to use the anxiety brake).

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