What is Stage Fright? 10 Simple Steps To Overcome Stage Fright
Rose Park 03/21/21 updated 11/15/21 • 8 min read
When I was younger, I used to tell my parents and teachers that I didn’t get nervous before a performance. I thought it was cool to say so. I thought I didn’t have to work to overcome stage fright.
Now I’m much older and more experienced in performing as a professional pianist. I have participated in numerous music competitions and auditions, and I have a deep understanding in music. I know what real musicianship is.
But guess what? I still get nervous even at this age, quite easily.
Sweats, coldness, numbness, negative thoughts and dizziness are typical symptoms of stage fright. Many musicians go through this stage when they perform in front of people.
Here’s the truth: more experience won’t make you feel less anxious. It’s the opposite, actually. The better a musician you become, there is always more pressure to overcome for professional performances.
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What Is Stage Fright?
Stage fright or performance anxiety is expressed through physical and mental reactions to the high pressure that musicians experience before live performances.
Stage fright is musicians’ biggest enemy. The endless cycle of negative thoughts makes you feel defeated even before you get to the stage. If you don’t get rid of stage fright fast enough, it will control you throughout the whole performance.
Why Does Stage Fright Happen?
Live performances aren’t easy. Professional live performances are even harder to achieve.
The professional musicians you see in various media are generally used to stage fright through years of intensive training. In short, anxiety management is a part of their lives.
Professional musicians experience stage fright even after having done hundreds of performances. Why is that?
- High standards
Stage fright is a result from a high pressure. As I mentioned above, more performance experiences lead to worse or more frequent stage fright for many musicians. This is because the level of expectation gets higher as your musical knowledge and experience expand.
- Peer pressure
Stage fright from peer pressure happens specifically when you want to win in the competition or perform successfully in the studio class. The anxiety you feel in this case isn’t a bad thing because it will motivate you to work harder than the others. A good amount of competitiveness between your peers will help you quickly become a better performer.
- Pressure from parents and teachers
I’m sure you had experiences with being pressured by your parents and teachers. This pressure also causes stage fright because you want to satisfy yourself and the others at the same time. Just note this: they push you to do better because they care about you.
- Lack of practice
“Practice makes perfect.” Let’s admit it – it’s true. The purpose of practice is to learn and refine the music with practical methods. Having practiced well is what helps you to keep going despite stage fright. If you think you’re lacking in practice, spend more time on it. If the quality of practice isn’t high, then try to practice your music by experimenting with different methods.
Before The Day of Performance
- Run through the program like a real performance
Try a run-through at the exact time of the day of your performance. Play seriously and do your best to make it successful. You can even try wearing the same clothes that you’ll wear in the actual performance.
What you’re doing is training and articulating your body and mind under control. You’re preparing for stage fright ahead of time. On the day of performance, tell yourself that you’re just repeating exactly what you did a day earlier.
- Practice slowly
Practice music slowly from sections by sections. Make sure to check the musical details such as tempo, dynamic markings, fingerings and harmonies. This is a great time to check your memory and solidify it again if you had a memory slip during run-through.
Tip: For pianists and string players, don’t change the fingering the day before the performance. It’s a big risk.
- Visualize the performance
Close your eyes and imagine how you will walk to the stage. Imagine you’re sitting on the bench or standing towards the audience and getting ready to perform. Plan and rehearse how you will begin the performance. For instance, rehearse telling yourself like “Alright (your name), what’s the tempo of the first piece? What’s the first musical detail I should remember in the first section?”
You can also visualize the ending of the performance. Imagine how you want to lead the performance and end it with impressive gestures. This is one way of rehearsing your performance mentally by picturing the overall performance and plan for it.
Tip: Focus on the music more than your feelings.
Tip: The audience tends to remember the ending more than the beginning of the performance.
Get a good rest
Some musicians don’t know when to stop practicing. The next day, they show up exhausted even before the actual performance. Exhausted body and mind cause lots of troubles in the performance. You’re more likely to think negative things because you don’t have enough energy to focus on music.
A sufficient amount of energy will drive you through the performance. Avoid pushing your body to the limit especially right before the performance – Don’t worry about tomorrow. Get some sleep and relax for the night.
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On The Day of Performance
- Run through the program again
Let’s do another run through like a real performance. Recall how you played last time. If the previous run through didn’t go well then try to make this one better.
What if I made a mistake this time? Don’t freak out. Calm down and finish the run-through. Now, check the score and identify the problem. Practice and fix it at a slower tempo. Then, leave the room and take a short break.
Come back to the practice room and play the same spot. Make it work this time. If it’s not working again, repeat the process. The most important thing is to deal with the mistake and solve it as quickly as you can before the performance.
- Last check on music
This is the last time to check the musical details. Focusing on the musical details helps redirect your negative feelings towards anxiety. Additionally, check the spots where you made mistakes earlier and remember that you fixed them. The same mistakes won’t happen again as long as you know you fixed them.
- Breath in and out
Stage fright naturally speeds up the heart beat. The closer the performance is, your breath will get faster and harder to breath in.
Take a deep breath in and out on a steady pulse. It will slow down your heart beat and calm the adrenaline rush down.
- Rehearse the beginning inside your head
A professional performance requires good start, steady development, memorable climax and impressive ending. Before you walk onto the stage, try to visualize the melody from the first page of the piece. Plan how you want to start and rehearse it a few times. The start will be much easier.
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Additional Tips – Overcome Stage Fright
Recall the process
Pick one successful performance you had. Recall how you prepared for it the day before and on the day of the performance. What did you do to reduce anxiety and when did you do it? Were you dominating the anxiety or were you consumed by it? Ask yourself practically and figure out your best routine based on the past experiences.
My performance routine looks like this: I constantly check the spots I’m not comfortable with before the performance. I regularly run-through the program including the day of the performance, warm up exactly an hour to hour and a half before the playing and stop 30 mins before the performance. I visit the bathroom after the warm up, drink water and then I’m ready to go.
Find your performance routine through both successful and less successful cases in the past. The quicker you find a stable performance routine, stage fright won’t frustrate you as much as it did before.
Create more opportunities
Expand your performance opportunities. Find more competitions, auditions and performances through online search. Remember, more performing experiences will lead you to find your way to deal with performance anxiety.
One last thought: talk with your teachers and friends and share your stage fright problems. They might give you some helpful advice which you can apply to your current performance routine. Stage fright isn’t your inferiority or weakness. Every musician faces this problem because it’s not easy to overcome it.
So don’t worry. You’ll find your way to overcome stage fright.
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