If you’re a professional musician, it’s likely that you have experienced stage fright at some point throughout your career. While some people can manage it fairly well, some musicians really do struggle, even if they perform on a regular basis. No matter whether it’s a gig in an intimate venue of twenty or a concert in front of thousands of people, musicians are still prone to feeling the tight knot anxiety in their stomachs.
A pounding heart, clammy hands, light-headedness, tense muscles and shaky limbs are all symptoms that professional musicians are familiar with. This onset of nerves can really throw you off, especially when you need to concentrate on your performance. Uncontrollable feelings of doubt and fear race across minds and throw off even the most seasoned of performers. So, what can be done?
Performers who suffer from overwhelming bouts of stage frights really aren’t alone. In fact, they are in relatively good company. Even legends such as Chopin, Tom Eisner and Luciano Pavarotti reported to struggle with crippling performance anxiety at various points in their careers. Stage fright is very common amongst professional musicians. One survey even suggested that 96% of orchestra musicians surveyed admitted that they experienced intense anxiety before their performances.
We experience stage fright because our brain is trying to calculate the odds as to whether you will play perfectly or completely ruin the whole thing. Once your brain is satisfied that you will do well, you are likely not to feel anxious. However, this level requires a large amount of confidence that takes years for most musicians to master. As far as most performances go, you are likely to always feel that there is more you could have done. This leaves your brain wondering if you’re going to crash and burn.
There is no magic cure for stage fright, but there are plenty of techniques for managing stage fright so that stage fright doesn’t manage you. There is a difference between using your anxiety as something positive that can enhance your performance and feeling as though you a suffering under a crippling amount of fear. If you really feel you are suffering from the latter rather than the former, you may want to try a few of these tips to help you channel your anxiety to create a dynamic and powerful performance.
Relax your body
If you are already feeling the effect of anxiety hours or even days before your performance, it’s a good idea to relax your body. The last thing you want is to feel exhausted when you get on stage, which is why easing the tension from your body is so important. Do plenty of stretches of different degrees of difficulty, especially if you are a musician that has to sit down for long periods of time. Your aim should be reduce the effects of anxiety on your body, without entirely un-focusing your mind.
Get some exercise
Exercise will also help to relieve any muscle tension and will also kick start your endorphins. Thirty minutes is usually recommended on the day of your performance. Not so much that you will feel tired, but enough to wake up your mind and increase positive feelings of excitement and enthusiasm. Ultimately, you will want to dispel any overwhelming anxiety that is making you feel unwell.
Set a ‘stop time’ for your anxiety
This technique will help you to manage your anxiety a little better on the day. It doesn’t work for everyone, but many professional musicians find working to a deadline a great source of motivation. Tell yourself that you can feel overwhelmingly nervous for only a certain amount of time. After a certain hour, you will need to refocus you mind and get serious about your performance. You are still likely to feel bubbling excitement and anxiety, but this is needed to help you do well. However, the disorganised, manic and chaotic feelings are best supressed before your performance.
It may sound cliché, but laughter really is the best medicine. You may not feel much in the mood for laughing, especially if you have an incredibly important audition or performance ahead of you. However, laughter has fantastic effects on the body such as reducing your blood pressure. Watch a comedy in the morning, watch some silly YouTube videos, or simply hand around with a great crowd of people before your performance. This is likely to serve you better than manically rehearsing your piece over and over again just before you get on stage.