Stage fright means different things to different musicians. It can make its appearance in a subtle way, just enough to be a minor irritant. Or, 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? The simple answer is yes, there are ways in which we take ownership of our playing, through our thoughts or our ears, or ideally, both.
Thinking is Part of the Process
It’s best to keep the mind engaged in preparation for a performance: juggling thoughts, strategies, and melodies. An engaged mind 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, or the topography of the fingerboard, or the many changing motions of the bow.
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 are worth your attention. Left unattended, such moments can add up and become mistakes that happen over and over - and a performance riddled with little mistakes certainly can undermine one's confidence.
As you prepare, 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 new discoveries. Nothing builds confidence like fixing bad habits. Stage fright has less of a chance to fester when the mind has fully taken to the task of paving the way for an excellent performance.
Trusting your Ability and Muscle Memory
A little adrenaline before a performance is not a bad thing in itself, until it starts undermining your best efforts. Many of us may remember our first experience with stage fright, 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. Your playing, your methods, and your ability to hear are all rich commodities 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 will feel 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. Think about the left hand one moment, and the right hand the next. Think about the music itself, to keep the mind healthy and efficient. A healthy mind is the number one goal, from which every detail emanates. If stage fright fills a vacuum in your thinking, don’t give it the opportunity. Instead, keep your mind fully focused on the task at hand.
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