An inevitable part of being a musician is performance anxiety. From accomplished performers and teachers to beginning students we all experience it to some degree. Even those who say they do not deal with it still have a physiological reaction when performing. It is important to have techniques ready to teach students how to deal with the anxiety they are experiencing.
One of the first things to do is teach the student about the symptoms of performance anxiety. Symptoms include increased heart rate, shaking, tension, tunnel vision, dry mouth, and other physical symptoms. Performance anxiety can also cause memory loss and negative thought processes. Once a student is aware of what they are experiencing they can better confront and over come it. Here are a few tips I give my students.
- Turn anxiety into positive energy- Nervous energy does not always have to work against us. I compare getting ready for a performance to a getting on a rollercoaster. Once you are on the ride you can either let fear over take you and have a miserable time or embrace it and move on to the next ride. It is important to let students know that the audience is not the enemy. The people coming to see you are friends, family, fellow students, and other music lovers. I find that this helps to get them away from negative thought processes that leads to excessive anxiety.
- Breathing exercises- Before performing helps to calm the body down, regulates breathing, and helps to focus on the task.
- Learn to breath with the music- This is another reason why singing the music you are working on is so beneficial. Not only does singing music aid in phrasing and memorizing but breathing naturally with the music while performing will help in taming anxiety a student may be feeling and prevent tunnel vision, shaking, and aid in concentration.
- Healthy Diet and exercise- What many students and teachers do not think about can be the main cause of a student’s anxiety. Too much caffeine, sugar, and not enough exercise can leave a student with way too much pent-up energy that can easily turn to anxiety when it is time to perform.
- Use more than one memorization strategy- A source of a lot of anxiety is a fear of memory slip. It is a mistake to use only one strategy to memorize music. Often students will memorize using only repetition and obsessive practice habits which is counter productive. This is the most unreliable way to memorize. Teaching a student to use more reliable techniques including repetition will help them feel more prepared and ready for performance.
- Use sheet music- Although it is important to learn how to memorize music, when I have a student who is dealing with performance anxiety I encourage them to use sheet music in performance until they are more comfortable with memorization. Some of the most unpleasant times I have had on stage were when I gave 30 min to an hour memorized recitals for college or competitions. Having music allows for greater musical expression and allows the performer to be more relaxed and take more chances resulting in better performance and experience for the student.