Meri’s Musical Musings

Overcoming nervousness in music performance: my story

Posted on: April 4, 2009

For several years, I was an extremely nervous player. My nervousness almost always affected my playing, which resulted in my not performing as well as I would have liked. In one performance, in my final year of high school, the performance component of mid-term music exam, it was so bad that I was really upset about how it went, it was like I might as well have not practiced my exam pieces. I did get a second chance at it, which went much better, but only because the music teacher who I was doing this exam for knew I practiced them well.  During the whole time, I got a lot of advice on how to deal with it, among them, “if you’re not nervous, you’re in trouble”. My performance anxiety was not a general problem or even a problem with performing music in general: it was a problem with performing solos on one of my two instruments, the clarinet.

In my first year of private clarinet lessons, my performance anxiety was cut by at least half. These are the four components of the treatment of my extreme performance nervousness.

At one lesson, my clarinet instructor mentioned that caffeine made him jittery. I initially thought that was not an issue with me, since I never drink coffee and rarely drink tea, and then only teas without caffeine. But then I remembered something about other products that contain caffeine, such as chocolate and some soft drinks. I experimented with reducing my consumption of them. The result was that many of my symptoms of nervousness were reduced in intensity or eliminated.

Another thing that helped me overcome the effects of nervousness affecting performance was to pay attention to my technique. Since there were several things I had to pay attention to concerning my technique, I could not pay attention to the audience, since my mental capacity was fully loaded with focussing on technique, particularly on breathing.

A third thing that helped me is not expecting perfomance conditions to always be perfect. The places you perform can be too hot or have poor acoustics. Or things can happen to you or other ensemble members. One could choose to let all the variables affect the performance, or one can choose to decide to focus on what is most relevant to the music, which is the music you are performing and your sound.

Finally, I learned to stop expecting problems in the music where I tend to expect them, by practicing changing my thinking in the places I had problems even after practicing the difficult passages. I changed my thinking from “This passage is difficult” to “This passage is easy” or “This passage is no problem”.

I hope that these ideas help some nervous musicians perform better.

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  • None
  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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