NEW YORK - Yesterday, violinists learned techniques for dealing with performance anxiety from psychologist Don Greene, and today, we learned how to practice stressing out (not too much of a stretch for me) and then how to deal with it.
"You and your students know how to practice practice," said Greene, but "to play your best when it really counts, you have to practice performing."
That means simulating how you'll feel before performing, and then "centering" and playing.
"Centering is not meant to be done under relaxed circumstances, it's meant to be done under extreme stress," Greene said. To create that feeling, he had a volunteer go out of the room, run up two flights of stairs and back, come in the room, and immediately start playing a high-energy piece. While the volunteer was out of the room, Greene said that no one plays well the first time they try this; it's extremely hard to play with your heart pumping, lungs panting, sweat glands going, etc. Indeed, the volunteer was able to play, but he said that it was very difficult.
In this condition, one needs to know how to "center."
"You have to earn this word, and it takes 50 times "centering" before you can use it effectively," Green said. "After you learn to do it, you can do it in less than five seconds." That means that when you have to act under pressure, and you have only five seconds to formulate your action, you can slip in the word "center," and it will call up an entire coping mechanism for you.
Greene he had the audience try it: he told everyone to get their heart rate up by either standing against the wall, running steps or doing something physical. Then participants were to "center" themselves using the seven steps he described yesterday: pick a focal point, form a clear intention, breathe mindfully, scan and release tension, find your center, repeat a process cue and direct your energy.
What an experiment! Here's how to do it, with symposium participant and violinist Keenan Fletcher of Marble Falls, Texas, kindly demonstrating:
Greene said that it takes at least seven times doing this kind of practice before a student begins to improve.
The other factor that performers have to plan for is adversity. "Things happen in auditions – cell phones go off, all kinds of distractions can occur," Greene said. In his classes at Juilliard and with the New World Symphony, Greene devised a final exam meant to train for adversity: an audition, filled with surprise distractions. Here's how he described it:
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