Your palms start sweating, your muscles tense up, your heart beats so loud you think that, certainly, the whole audience can hear. Stage fright, also called performance anxiety, is a common ailment that affects many musicians, from beginners to professionals. If you’re one of the millions who suffer from stage fright know that you’re not alone, that it’s not your fault, and that there are activities and exercises you can do to help naturally overcome the anxiety.
First, let’s understand why we feel stage fright. It’s all a natural reaction due to the body’s fight or flight response, a biological survival adaptation that kicks in when we feel threatened. We naturally want the approval of others, and when we’re front-and-center under a spotlight, we can experience the threat of not gaining others’ approval.
What’s curious is that even after performing countless times and garnering nothing but praise, we still may experience stage fright. Barbra Streisand is known to use a teleprompter during live performances due to anxiety, Adele has spoken openly about her fear of audiences, and John Lennon would get physically ill prior to performing as a symptom of stage fright.
Thankfully, there are measures we can take to lessen the severity of our stage fright symptoms, both on the big day itself and between performances. We’ve pulled together 10 activities and exercises that we rely on to perform without fear.
We all know the importance of practice prior to a big recital or performance, but if you suffer from stage fright it might be helpful to take it one step further. While practicing your piece, think about exactly what you’ll think about while performing the piece. Don’t allow yourself to go into auto-pilot practice mode, but rather fully engage with the music. Visualize upcoming difficult passages while you play and immerse yourself in the rhythm.
Next, instead of practicing by yourself at home, ask close friends and family that you feel comfortable playing in front of to serve as your audience. Also, it’s ideal to practice at the venue you’ll be performing at, but if that’s not possible find a similar location, or try playing at a variety of locations, which can help eliminate setting distractions altogether.
2. Skip the Latte
You may think it’ll help you be more alert, but caffeine and sugar actually can agitate the negative symptoms of stage fright. It’s best to avoid sugary foods or caffeinated beverages the day of your performance. Believe us, the natural pre-performance adrenaline boost will be more than enough to keep you alert and energized! (Feeling too pumped up still? Try eating a banana. Its natural beta-blockers may help regulate your energy levels.)
3. Accept the Fear
Accepting that what you’re feeling is a natural biological response can be incredibly freeing and allow you to work past your stage fright. Have faith in your preparedness and…
4. Don’t Focus on Yourself
Think about how cool it is that you have the opportunity to bring enjoyment to those in the audience.
5. Be Confident
Don’t fixate on what could go wrong, but rather imagine all your preparation, skills and musical talent aligning perfectly. Remember the audience is there to support and encourage you. Avoid any and all feelings of self-doubt.
6. Listen to Music
Sport psychologists have long encouraged athletes to listen to music prior to big competitions, and some of the same benefits can cross over to musicians as well. For one, we can choose songs to put us into the right mood. Need an added boost? Pick a song that fires you up. Too worked up and need to relax a bit? Listen to your favorite chill-out song.
We all have our own way of entering the ‘zone.’ Practice your relaxation technique ahead of time, so that it’s ready to go when you need it. One suggestion is to find a quiet spot to sit. Slowly take 10 full breaths, in and out, through your nose. Count each breath as you go.
Stretching will help loosen tense muscles and allow you to focus on something other than your jitters right before the show. Take it easy, concentrate on your movements and shake it out when you’re done. Imagine all the negative energy leaving your body.
9. Use the Facilities
It may sound silly, but DON’T FORGET TO USE THE BATHROOM. Believe us, we speak from experience when we say there’s nothing worse for stage fright than having to ‘go’ when you step onto the stage.
10. Enjoy Every Moment
Smile as you walk onto the stage and look at the audience. Imagine all the people who supported you during practice out there cheering you on. Play as you know you can and graciously accept their applause at the end. Not only did you kill your performance, but you overcame your stage fright to do so!
Do you or have you ever suffered from stage fright? If so, what tips would you add to the list? Share your helpful suggestions in the comments below!