As many musicians can attest, there’s a big difference between playing music for your own enjoyment and being asked to play in front of other people. Whether you’re playing on stage for a large crowd or entertaining a group of friends in a more intimate setting, “stage fright” is a real phenomenon that can cause even the most experienced musicians to shy away from public performances.
Here’s how you can beat musical performance anxiety and develop unshakable music confidence, no matter the situation.
1. Stop thinking, “I’m not a confident performer.”
Step one is easy: if you’ve been telling yourself that you’re too shy, nervous, or insecure to perform in front of crowds, stop! Experts have determined that confidence is a learnable trait; it’s not just something you’re either born with or without.
Negative thoughts can actually tear down your self-esteem, whereas positive thoughts can help you grow confidence from the inside out. As with learning any new skill, learning to be confident simply involves practice, practice, and more practice. Telling yourself things like, “I’ll never be a confident performer,” can seriously hinder your growth.
2. There’s no such thing as being over-prepared.
If you’re gearing up for a big audition, rehearsal, or performance, the absolute best thing you can do for your self-confidence is make practicing a priority. Thinking to yourself, “I really wish I had put more effort into practicing that one song,” just as you’re walking onstage in front of a large crowd is one of the best ways to kill your confidence and generate serious nerves.
This is a solution that’s entirely within your control, so don’t take it for granted.
3. If the audience didn’t notice, it wasn’t a mistake.
Whether you’re playing music for friends in a casual environment or as part of a scheduled performance, keep in mind that your audience is (usually) not going to be dissecting and critiquing every note you play. They’re listening to you because they want to be entertained, to hear a song they like, or because they simply enjoy the feeling of listening to music.
In many situations, your audiences will have less musical training than you (perhaps zero training at all), meaning their ears won’t be fine-tuned to hear even those not-so-subtle mistakes. Whether you play perfectly or not, it’s likely that your audience is going to walk away satisfied with your performance. So, don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to perform perfectly every time.
4. Play with musicians who perform at your level.
Spending time with musicians who have more experience than you is a great way to gain exposure in the music community and jump on the fast track to improvement. However, if you only interact with more experienced musicians who you look up to, you may start to feel less than stellar about your own performance skills.
Forming relationships with musicians who play at the same skill level as you can help you stay grounded and remind you that there are good musicians at all levels of training, even if you’re not quite where you’d like to be yet.
5. Remember why you play an instrument in the first place.
Above all, playing a musical instrument is supposed to be fun! If you ever feel yourself getting nervous about the thought of playing in front of others, take a step back, look at how far you’ve come, and remember that it’s okay if you make a mistake. Having fun with your instrument is one of the best ways to get into a positive mindset and let your inner confidence shine because you’re focused on what really matters: you, your instrument, and making music that you enjoy.
Whatever circumstances you’re playing under, don’t let anxiety stop you. You’ve worked hard to get where you are – be confident in the work you’ve put in and share your gift. Performing for others is often just as rewarding as playing music itself.
I don’t necessarily agree with number 4.
Several years ago, as a younger musician I was counseled by a much better musician to seek out and spend time playing with better musicians so I could grow. Of course in an informal setting at first, not a high pressure situation.
This gave me confidence to play with folks that are better than I am, recognizing my roll as a learner. I pick stuff up all the time from better musicians and I am challenged to be better.
Of course, this is based on better musicians being open to playing with people who aren’t quite at their level. I have found that generally people are open, if they’re not too full of themselves, and if you have similar musical interests.