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Gerald Klickstein

5 Ways to Handle On-Stage Adrenaline

June 11, 2013 at 6:50 PM

“The key to harnessing on-stage energy is to use it for music-making purposes”
The Musician’s Way, p. 186

Let’s say that you’re walking on stage to begin a performance: Your heart’s beating a bit fast and your hands feel cool.

Are you eager to launch into your program or worried that things could go awry?

That jitteriness results from adrenaline being released into the bloodstream – a response that naturally occurs when we feel excited or threatened.

Thing is, adrenaline can charge up or undermine our creativity depending on how we handle its effects.

For experienced players, being under the spotlights often helps us play at our best. For aspiring musicians, though, on-stage adrenaline can unsettle and overwhelm.

Here, then, are 5 suggestions to help rising performers channel on-stage energy into creative power.

1. Breathe
When adrenaline surges, our breathing can become shallow and hurried. So, on stage, we should remember to inhale deeply into the abdomen and fully exhale. And if we feel edgy before a show, 2-to-1 breathing is a potent technique that quells nervousness and refocuses our energies.

2. Release
In tandem with breathing, it's vital that we release tension and project easeful body language. As we exhale, for instance, we might let our shoulders widen and our spine lengthen. Such breathing and releasing can trigger profound effects, opening us to the performance experience.

3. Listen
Heightened listening activates our sense of purpose. During a performance, we should listen intently to ourselves and any coperformers. Then, immersing ourselves in the music, our nerves can subside and our creativity unfold.

4. Image Ahead
As we listen, we also have to sense where we’re going - we need to be fully present as we execute phrases and also sense upcoming ones. Such awareness, based on a foundation of deep practice, anchors our security, focuses the mind, and liberates our imagination.

5. Trust
Uninhibited performances are unlikely to occur unless we trust in our preparation. How do we build such trust? By preparing thoroughly, practicing performance techniques, and then using what we learn to better our artistry.

We don't chase unattainable perfection. We understand that a life in music is about endless adventure and refinement.

For more strategies that ignite artistry in auditions, concerts, and recording sessions, see Part II of The Musician’s Way.

© 2013 Gerald Klickstein
A version of this article first appeared on The Musician's Way Blog, where you'll find related posts in the Performance Anxiety category.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on June 12, 2013 at 1:52 PM
Gerald - as always, thanks so much for sharing your insights with us. I have a chamber concert in 10 days and expect to be dealing with more adrenaline than I want, so these suggestions come at a great time for me.
From Gerald Klickstein
Posted on June 12, 2013 at 4:34 PM
Hi Tom - Thanks for the comment. I'm gratified to know that you find my work helpful.

Best of luck with your concert! Gerald

From marjory lange
Posted on June 13, 2013 at 1:10 PM
The suggestion that we 'trust our preparation' is probably the single most valuable comment for any kind of performance/activity--musical, lecture, athletic--almostanything. It reminds me that the performance moment is not isolated, but part of an entire 'gestalt' of time and 'practices' (and that it's not the end of the sequence, either...).

Thank you for that reminder.

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