You've practiced and prepared and are ready for your recital. You're waiting for your turn to go on stage when suddenly it hits you - shortness of breath, sweaty palms, shaky hands and knees, a sour stomach. You've got stage fright, an experience pretty much EVERY musician has had at some point.
So what exactly is stage fright? Basically, it's an anxiety response to being the focus on attention. Your body ratchets up its adrenaline and kicks in its automatic fight, flight, or freeze response. The result is a cornucopia of physical sensations that are definitely not pleasant and can even hinder your focus and playing ability.
The good news is that you CAN overcome stage fright. Learning how to perform while managing this anxiety response is part of the journey of being a musician. Check out our 10 tips to overcome stage fright below!
1) Know that you're not alone.
If you get stage fright, you have something in common with the pros. Chopin, Vladimir Horowitz, Adele, Brian Wilson, Rhianna, and Ozzy Osbourne have all struggled with stage fright during their careers. Remind yourself that nerves are completely natural and most musicians experience them at some point in their careers.
2) Accept that gaining performance skills is process.
Are performers born or made? The answer is both, with a caveat. While some individuals do show a natural inclination for the stage, they still must put in years of work to learn their instruments and gain experience. Many 'born performers' simply started at an early age and built their performance skills over a long period of time. Understanding that building performance skills is a process will help you avoid putting to much pressure on yourself from the get-go.
3) Try a duet before going solo.
New to performing? Try doing a duet with your teacher or another student before going solo. You'll gain experience while having the support of another musician or mentor.
4) Practice, practice, practice.
Prepare as much as you can before your performance. Focus on transitions, playing in rhythm, and memorize as much of your piece as you can. Give yourself ample time to let muscle memory soak in - don't try to finish learning a piece right before you have to perform it. If you're uncertain about a passage or tough section, spend extra time practicing it slowly.
5) ....but realize that practice doesn't mean perfection.
If your goal is to perform a piece perfectly, you are putting waaaay to much pressure on yourself! Setting unattainable goals will simply add to your stress. Accept that mistakes happen during performances and it's not the end of the world. Focus on recovering quickly and moving on to the next section of you piece rather than stopping and starting over. Remember that your audience is typically less attuned to the nuances of your piece than you are - they likely aren't going notice mistakes unless you stop playing entirely.
6) Make sure to breathe.
Take deep breaths both before AND during your performance. It's easy to forget to breathe when you're up on stage! Regulating your breath will oxygenate your muscles, help you to relax, and allow you to play with less tension and stiffness.
7) Add movement and emotion to your performance.
Stage fright is caused an excess of adrenaline. Adding some movement to your performance will help release that adrenaline and avoid stiffness and tension. Sway while you sing, tap your foot while you play guitar, nod your head and rock your hips on the piano bench. It will make you feel more engaged with your instrument and the music you are creating.
8) Avoid black-or-white thinking.
Try seeing your performances as learning experiences instead of simply 'successes' or 'failures'. Be realistic with yourself about where you are in your musical journey and what your level of prep is before a show. Don't beat yourself up if things don't go to plan - it happens to everyone! Instead, focus on what you did well and make a plan to tackle any weak points in the future.
9) Perform, perform, perform.
Again, learning how to perform takes lots of practice actually performing. Even if you practice regularly at home, being on stage is different. It takes time and experience to know how to calm and focus yourself, prepare your pieces adequately, and handle the unexpected. The more performances you do, the better your stage presence will be.
10) Remember to have fun!
Unless you are at a high-stakes competition, most performances are mean to be a fun way to share your skill with others. Your audience is far less judgmental than you may think and they want to see you succeed. Try to have fun with whatever you're playing and the crowd will pick up on your enthusiasm, even if you make a mistake.