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Christopher Gotzen-Berg: Blog

Performance Anxiety and Nervousness

Posted on December 5, 2010
It's ten minutes before show time, the recital hall is full of eager concert goers who are excited for an evening of classical guitar music, your guitar has fresh strings and is well tuned, the chair is in place, and the lights will dim soon, and you are experiencing that sense of panic we all know as Performance Anxiety. You have two choices at this point, to either walk out on that stage and perform or run away as fast as you can!

I recently taught a lesson, and my student was playing a short waltz by Fernando Carulli. He played it well, with some slight rhythmic discrepancies and a few wrong notes, but all together not a bad attempt for a brand new piece of music. When he finished I could tell he was very frustrated with his playing, and he proceeded to tell me how much better he plays that piece when he is at home (how often have we all said this as students?) He then told me how nervous he felt to play for me, he really wanted to show me how hard he had worked on the piece, but his nerves took over. Naturally, his next question was, "how do I get over nerves when I'm playing?"

Preparation is the best antidote to nervousness.

I believe that if you have spent a sufficient amount of time studying, practicing, and preparing a piece or concert program, you can work through the nerves you will experience before you begin a recital or concert. When I first sit down on stage, I take a few seconds to hear the opening measures of my first piece in my mind, I take a few deep breaths, I relax my entire body, and those actions will usually address any nerves I may be experiencing. We have all had those last minute thoughts such as, "If I only had a few more days to go over the score" or "I wish I could have played that scale a few more times", but it is important to push those thoughts out of your mind and trust that you know the pieces well. With that said, if you have not prepared enough for that recital, you have prepared for potential disaster and those nerves will be even more difficult to combat.

Getting out of your own head.

There is a lot of psychology involved in performing, so it is important to know how to focus your attention so that you do not turn into your own worse enemy. One important thing to do, especially on the day of a concert, is to stay positive and surround yourself with friendly people. I like to schedule a fun activity for earlier in the day, something that is relaxing and will put me into a happy mind set. This can be as easy as having lunch with friends, seeing a movie, or going for a walk. I also make sure I don't think about the concert too much. It is natural to get excited about a concert, but I think it is a good idea to focus your attention elsewhere. It is common for many performers to choose to practice the day of a concert, and it could potentially backfire if you play poorly in the practice session. You can then begin to worry about any difficulties you are having that my be new. The only playing I might do before a concert are a series of light warm-up exercises, some sight reading, or some light improvisation with friends. I choose to avoid going over any repertoire the day of a concert.

Practice Performing.

I find it interesting that we spend hours and hours working on scales, slurs, speed development, repertoire, etc. but we only perform once in a while. While I was a student in college, I made a point of searching out opportunities to play for others. I would play my guitar in the hallways, in the dorm lounges, I even played at a McDonald's! Start small, find a few friends and ask them to listen to you play one or two pieces of music. Get dressed in what you would wear for an official concert, practice walking out to your chair, bowing between pieces, etc. The more you do this, the more you will learn to deal with the nerves you are experiencing.

Re-define Nerves.

Do you remember that feeling you had, the one you had before you owned a guitar, that feeling of hearing your favorite song or piece of music, and you envision yourself performing it? That feeling was excitement, and with a little work, you can reprogram your mind to interpret the nerves you feel right before you walk out on stage into excitement. The important thing to think of is that this is what you worked for, what you chose to do with your life- Perform! It is a much better goal to strive for a strong performance and making a musical connection with your audience, than it is to stress out over if you are going to play well or if you are going to miss that harmonic!

It is ok to get nervous, we all do, but as performers we need to work thought the nerves. So, make sure you are well prepared, stay positive, play as much as possible in front of others, and remember, we chose to be performers, so take advantage of that energy and excitement and go out there and Perform!


Christopher Gotzen-Berg
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