performance anxiety

On Becoming a Bulletproof Musician

On Becoming a Bulletproof Musician

The theme at last week’s group classes was becoming a bulletproof musician. The idea has been percolating in my mind ever since I discovered Dr. Noa Kageyama’s blog on performance anxiety and mindful practice, called The Bulletproof Musician.

Coping and Recovery Strategies

This month, my students are performing in our Winter Showcase. For some, this marks their debut performance. This week, we've been working on various coping and recovery strategies. As much as we would like to believe that we'll play everything cleanly, the reality is that nerves, distractions, physical and mental state, readiness and uncertainty can affect how our performance turns out.

This is what I wound up writing on my whiteboard one night - ways to avoid having a train wreck on stage. Photo by R-M Arca.

I'd like to highlight a couple of the strategies that I introduced to them last week. First - I had them drop a hand out for a phrase or two - just enough to get through a wobbly section. If you do it in phrases, then it sounds like you meant to do it that way. Just make sure that you don't drop the tune.

Another thing they tried was to simplify either the melody or the harmony (chords). A couple are playing solid chords instead of the funkier groove that is written. If you have to simplify the accompaniment to maintain the beat, so be it.

The third thing we've had to do this week is to shorten some of the pieces. I instructed them to play through until their ear "found" a logical stopping place (Those of us who have been in music for a while would call that a cadence). In one case, we added a tonic chord in as the next beat modulates to mark a new section.

For these to be automatic on stage, however, these strategies must be practiced at home. Not just once, but several times so that you commit it to muscle memory.

For when it comes down to it, no one really cares exactly what you play. They just care how you play it. So long as you don't miss a beat, the piece is recognizable and the tempo is close to the marked speed, you're set.

Overcoming Stage Fright - Second Movement

"This week, I want you to practice performing." My students have been hearing me say this throughout the week, in preparation for my studio's winter recital on Sunday. We only have one shot on stage to weave our magic for the audience. Many musicians can attest to nailing their songs in the practice room, only to have everything fall apart on stage.

The secret is to practice performing. One must play through the song(s) in a performance setting, where you can get that heart pounding, feel the weight of all eyes on you and play through distractions. Some tricks I've learned along the way:

  • perform often: the more you perform, the more used you get to the stress and the easier it gets
  • cajole your family and friends to be a guinea pig audience - have them be a model audience one time and a disruptive one the next run-through
  • know your repertoire really well
  • visualization: visualize the setting, yourself playing well, yourself successfully navigating through a stumble, memory glitch
  • breathing techniques
  • put Maestro to work: Sometimes, I allow Maestro to provide distractions for the students to perform through. His favourite techniques include surrounding the student with toys, hopping on the bench and singing along.

Here are some cool articles on performance anxiety/jitters:

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