De-Escalating Stage Fright

September 18, 2022, 7:52 PM · Stage fright means different things to different musicians. It can make its appearance in a subtle way, just enough to be a minor irritant. In extreme cases, it can slowly build from a lack of confidence to the loss of control of the bow arm. Is there a technique, or method, that can stem what seems like a steady, downward spiral? There are ways in which we take ownership of our playing, through our thoughts or our ears, or ideally, both. How do violinists learn to handle concert nerves before they become unmanageable?

Thinking is Part of the Process

Juggling thoughts, strategies, and melodies, it’s best to keep the mind engaged in preparation for a performance. This makes it less likely that stage fright will accelerate. Putting it another way, mentally directing yourself keeps you stronger and in control of what’s going to happen next. Whether it’s a technical or musical issue, you can keep your mind fully occupied, leaving less room for stage fright to do damage.

For instance, filling the mind with thoughts about intonation gives both a sense of purpose and a higher degree of confidence. Attention to detail keeps negative thoughts away from you, and there’s no greater detail than the thousands of notes on the page. Of course, over-thinking can be a waste of time, but constructive thinking makes music more understandable. Even though there are no frets, the fingerboards created in our imagination contain a full set of frets and the altitudes of a relief map.

What Happens When the Mind is Blank?

When a few out-of-tune notes get by you, or you suddenly find yourself playing louder than everyone else, you may kick yourself a little for being in-attentive. These little moments don’t, of course, cause stage fright, but they can add up and become mistakes that happen over and over. Instead of glossing over the things that mar a good performance, stop and change the thinking that caused you to misjudge something. Your blank mind will turn into an inquisitive one, and you’ll most likely make a discovery. Nothing builds confidence like fixing an old, bad habit. Stage fright has less of a chance to fester in such an environment.

Trusting your Ability and Muscle Memory

Stage fright in itself is not a bad thing until it starts undermining your best efforts. Many of us may remember our first experience with it, and then over the years watched it get more or less destructive. The most important thing to remember is how well you play when you’re at home practicing and feeling confident. Knowing your playing, your methods, and your ability to hear, are a rich commodity that you should rely on even when you’re nervous.

The more knowledge you have of your shifting technique or your sense of rhythm, for instance, the more resistant you are to the attacks of nerves. Since the stages of stage fright come in a random fashion, it’s possible to keep them from escalating by keeping your mind agile. You should be thinking about the left hand one moment, and the right hand the next. Many teachers have recommended that thinking about the music itself keeps the mind healthy and efficient. That is the number one goal, from which every detail emanates. If stage fright fills a vacuum, don’t give it the opportunity.


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