Pre-performance nerves are extremely common, even among professional performers. Most of us will have experienced a dry mouth, sweaty hands, the shakes or even butterflies in the stomach – none of which are obviously helpful as a musician. If controlled effectively, however, these feelings and sense of alertness can actually help to give a performance the edge.
Here are our top tips for students and candidates to help you cope with performance anxiety and turn feelings of nervousness to your advantage.
In the run-up to a performance, eating and resting properly are essential. If a performer is tired and run down they will start to doubt their abilities, and this leads to increased nervousness before and during the performance.
All performers should know the venue location and what they are playing well in advance of a performance. Ideally try to have a dress rehearsal. This is not always possible, so we recommend that performers prepare themselves in plenty of time for their performance in order to stay calm and control their nerves on the night.
This is something that top athletes do before taking part in competitions and is a powerful way to focus the mind! Before starting their daily practice, you could spend a couple of minutes visualising yourself giving a confident and successful performance – emotions that you can then replicate on the stage or during an exam.
Playing in front of an audience is a very different experience to practising in private. Once you're comfortable with your repertoire, ask family or friends to listen. Even a small and supportive audience is enough to make most people feel a little on edge, and is good preparation for the real thing.
A common symptom of nervousness is a quickening of the breathing. One of the best ways to calm down is to get control of your breathing. Why not try practising some breathing exercises; breathing in through the nose gently to the count of five and then breathing out through the mouth? Focus on counting your breaths and continue doing this until you feel calm and in control.
When you walk into the exam room or onto the stage, smile at the audience. This may sound easier said than done, but you’ll be amazed at how much better this can make you feel. The act of smiling, even if you don’t really feel like it, encourages the release of endorphins (the body’s feel-good chemicals). These endorphins improve your state of mind and help you to relax.
Make sure you don’t forget why you started playing or singing in the first place! Before a performance, remind yourself that you are about to share pieces that you (hopefully!) enjoyed learning and playing, and focus on communicating this enjoyment to the audience.
Everyone, but everyone, makes mistakes. They are a normal part of live performance and nobody really minds hearing the odd slip in a concert – especially if it is played with flair! It is much more important to enjoy the performance and make it involving and exciting, than it is to get hung up on trying to be perfect.