How To Combat Stage Fright, Part Three
BY MEGHAN VANCE • JUNE 26, 2023
For most students, stage fright primarily affects them before a performance: the fear of the approaching performance is worse than the moment of the performance itself. In parts one and two, we looked at how to prepare and relax before a performance. Now it’s time to discuss how nerves can affect you while performing, and what steps should be taken after performing.
DURING THE PERFORMANCE
When performing, try to stay regulated and in control. Keep breathing. Take advantage of rests in the music: use this time to relax your muscles. Most students tend to rush, not drag, when nervous, so play slightly slower than your practice tempo to maintain good control.
The most important thing while performing to combat stage fright is to remain in the moment. While some anticipation may be necessary, try not to worry about approaching trouble spots. Trust your preparation. Similarly, if you make a mistake, don’t dwell on it. Dwelling on mistakes results in a student making more mistakes: they’re thinking about what they’ve already played rather than thinking about what they’re playing.
Make the piece a musical expression of yourself and a gift to the audience. Instead of thinking about potential or past problems, focus on controlling the tempo and dynamics of each moment. In The New Yorker, pianist Emanuel Ax says, “What you’re trying to do is share music with people who want to hear music.” If the audience makes you nervous, pretend they aren’t there, that you’re simply rehearsing again.
Your performance does not end until you leave the stage. The Anxiety & Depression Association Of America (ADAA) states that it’s important to remember “your true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.” Regardless of how well you’ve performed, it’s important to be gracious. The way to thank an audience for their time, attention, and applause is by giving them a smile and a bow or curtsy.
AFTER THE PERFORMANCE
An overlooked aspect of combating stage fright is what you do after performing. Continue breathing and trying to loosen muscles until you’re in a relaxing environment. Once you are away from the audience and stress, take time to stretch. Celebrate the end of your performance.
During your next practice day, think through the performance. Analyze how you played and what steps you could take in the future to play better. In addition, analyze how well you managed your stage fright. How well did you prepare? How well did you manage to stay in the moment as you performed? What things worked well? What things didn’t, or could work better? What can you do to improve? You may want to create a logbook to track your results and a checklist for your next performance. Make a point to dwell on several things you did well during your preparation and performance.
When dealing with stage fright, the ADAA recommends “that you learn skills to reduce and manage your fear and anxiety and not resort to using medication or natural products alone.” It’s important to keep in mind that what works well for someone else may not work for you. Combatting your stage fright is a learning process. This means that:
- Trial and error are both required to test what preparation works best for you
- Time is required for you to figure out what preparation works best for you
- Time is required for you to grow confident in your preparation
- Patience and self-forgiveness are required as you move through this process
It can also help to remember that the audience is on your side: nobody wants to sit through a poor performance, so audiences naturally want performers to do well. Finally, it can help to remind yourself that every performance is just a moment: not a global catastrophe, but a chance to improve. Emanuel Ax reminds himself: “If I don’t do well, nobody’s going to die.”