Overcome Stage Fright

Tips to Overcome Common Pain

You’ve been working hard and you are confident of your abilities, but whenever you get on stage a cold chill runs down your spine. Some musicians are overcome by almost paralyzing feelings of anxiety. Stage fright threatens to destroy their concentration and sabotage their flawless performance.

The main thing is to remember that playing music is supposed to be fun, and is fun. Just have fun.

We’ve surveyed a wide range of musicians and experts to gather their tips.
Try these strategies to help overcome stage fright.

Preparation

It goes without saying that you should practice your music until you can play it almost without thinking. You may want to practice in front of a mirror or videotape yourself so you don’t have to wonder how you appear to others. Close to your performance night, put yourself through several “dress rehearsals.” Pretend that you are performing before an audience, and if you make a mistake, keep going, improvising solutions. That way, if you mess up on stage, you won’t be totally without a strategy.

See if you can arrange to visit the venue and be on the stage several hours before the performance to familiarize yourself with your viewpoint. Walk around a bit on stage until you feel comfortable and imagine exactly where you will be sitting or standing while performing. Look out at the seats and imagine an audience full of clapping, supportive fans.

Finally, avoid caffeinated beverages in the hours leading up to your performance time. It can make you feel jittery. Instead, try to find time to get at least 30 minutes of exercise (go for a run or brisk walk) to get your endorphins going.

Leave Your Anxiety Behind

Acknowledge your fears, but let yourself be nervous only up to the point where you enter the venue door. Envision shutting your anxiety outside. Focus completely on your performance and don’t let extraneous worries fill your head. Make yourself come up with five positive thoughts every time a negative one pops into your head.

Own the Audience

Arrive early so that you don’t feel rushed. If you arrive before the audience you will feel more like you “own” the venue. If possible, greet and mingle with people as they arrive. That way you will see them as friendly and supportive. Remember they want to be there. They either paid an admission fee to get in, or have at the very least, dedicated their evening to listening to your music. Either way, they are invested in your success and want you to give a great performance.

Relax

Before you take the stage try to find a moment alone to relax. Jog in place or jump up and down a few times to dissipate any nervous energy, then try doing some stretching and deep breathing. Whether it’s physical activity or stillness, do what works for you. Easing your tension will steady your voice and allow you to focus on your performance.

Once you feel calm, close your eyes and either empty your mind by focusing on one body part at a time or visualize your flawless performance, including a standing ovation and looking out at a sea of smiling faces. Give yourself a positive pep talk, recalling all your skills and previous performances.

Be sure to walk out on stage with your head held high and a big smile on your face.

Consult a Professional

If you are still unable to get your performance anxiety under control, you shouldn’t be shy about contacting a professional who can provide strategies focused to your particular situation. Many musicians have been helped by psychologists and consultants of all types. Contact your primary care physician to talk about options and recommendations.

Interested in more music reading? Check out our friends at Musicians Unite!

Cherie Yurco is an editor at Making Music and has worked as a freelance editor and writer for 20 years. She’s written about topics from travel to business, in Asia, Europe, and the US. When she settled near Syracuse, she rediscovered her passion for photography. She especially likes photographing musicians caught lost in their music. Cherie also enjoys exploring, photographing, and writing about music-related destinations around the country. Visit her blog at http://musicalcities.com.

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5 comments

Great post.
Practicing in front of the mirror was my tactics for overcoming stage fright. I used to practice each and every move in front the mirror that I will perform in stage. And that worked like a charm.

My approach is simple. The audience may or may not care about you – it’s the music that they want to hear. And you should focus on bringing that to them. A lot of the the fear can happen when you think about the audience thinking about you.

I agree with Jim Kangas comment. Once our band was playing in a bar, all the musicians were dressed the same way, a black suit, white shirt and a red tie. During intermission I went to the bar to get myself a drink. I politely asked to pass in front of the lineup since I had limited time. People refused,I told them I was with the band, I was sure that the fact that we were all dressed up the same way was obvious to everyone in the crowd, well surprise surprise nobody had noticed the band “uniform”.

The best advice I got for stage fright or for being nervous came from a fellow student friend of mine who was studying to become a brain surgeon. I was a music student and during a conversation, I told this friend that I was very nervous when I got on stage. I asked him what does a doctor do for not being nervous when they have to open up a person’s skull and literally have a person’s life in their hands? Well he told me we don’t think of a person being on the operation table but rather as a series of procedures that we have to perform in a very precise manner, so we don’t have time to think about anything else.
The following gig I put that advice into practice, I visualize all the details of the upcoming gig, went to the music hall earlier than I usually did, placed all my music sheet in order, adjusted the height of of my microphone, adjusted the volume of my amp etc. etc. Well guess what, by using this system I am no longer nervous, it’s a matter of fact I don’t even realize whether I am on stage or in my basement practicing my music.

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