Performance anxiety

January 21, 2008 at 01:23 AM · Errors in a performance can be due to all kinds of causes(inadequate practice, repetoire too difficult for the ability level, fatigue, lack of concentration or focus, etc.) What should be considered for errors that occur relatively early in a performance(or early in successive pieces in a program)before a performer "settles down?" Are there preparation hints? What about the use of beta blockers or bananas(natural beta blocker?) or other performance "enhancers?"

Replies (24)

January 21, 2008 at 02:56 PM · even i am getting nervous reading threads after already existing, easily searchable threads on this topic on thank god this is not a forum for neurosurgeons or pilots in training...

if bananas really do the trick, they won't sell under a dollar a pound. everyone will be hyperglycemic.

the best enhancer i can recommend blindly is to practice more smartly.

January 21, 2008 at 02:43 PM · the pianist Fred Chiu gave a masterclass that I attended where he he discussed the idea about NOT thinking about the wrong notes. You can't correct what has already happened. Just make a mental note of it and keep going. IF you try to "over correct" you'll end up making MORE mistakes. And as Cortot would say, at least this way, you may get some notes wrong but the piece right

January 25, 2008 at 04:18 PM · I get very nervous when people get upset if someone brings up a topic that has already existed somewhere on the database. Is it really wrong to bring up a subject again, especially if you haven't been on for a while?

If you went to a dinner party and started talking about a subject wouldn't you feel bad if someone said "let's not talk about that, it's already been talked about at other dinner parties" It just seems better to me that if you are not interested in discussing a topic on this website to just not click on it.

I always use the trick of bananas, and I try not to injest chemicals of any kind. Performance anxiety will be there because you are human. There is nothing wrong with messing up, the world will not end if you make a mistake. So equip yourself with confidence on stage which you can gain from solid practice and a constant mantra of "I am prepared, I will do well, I will enjoy my performance everyone is here to support my success, not my failure" Good luck!

January 25, 2008 at 05:16 PM · I have found singing and visualizing in one's head as if you are watching a movie of yourself sounding, looking , and sensing kinesthetically how you are moving as you play to be very helpful in focusing one's attention and avoiding thinking about what could go wrong, or being nervous. It helps to do mental relaxation exercises on a regular basis and to know as much as you can about the physical movements you are making and to train them slowly and carefully with awareness so that should you become nervous you can still have control. Check out Oliver Steiner's web page and look for his essay on performance anxiety. it is very well written expressing its points clearly and succinctly. I'd also recommend a book called The Performer Prepares by Robert Caldwell which has a number of mental relaxation exercises and very helpful ways to organize one's practicing so that you can feel solid and extremely well prepared for a performance.

January 25, 2008 at 05:49 PM · marina, if your post was referring to mine, you've got a good point. i apologize if it causes any negative feelings. looking back, may be the mention of using a banana as a beta blocker shorted my fuse? :)

i am not saying that the banana trick is monkey business. i am just not very convinced how it works, how reliably it works if it does... at least not as well established as prunes.

to start, if it works for someone who is sure about it, i have absolutely no problems with it. it is great that an artist has something to turn to if anxiety needs to be in check. just peel and gulp! not many people are crazy about taking pills. side effects aside, it has a negative connotation. natural is the way to go, so it seems.

some state that it is the potassium inside the banana that does the trick. others less in tune with chemistry simply say, well, it is the chemicals inside the banana. up to day, i have yet to find one solid report, let alone research, on such claims.

1. should we acknowledge the role of the placebo effect? if joshua bell comes out saying that he actually prefers apple with almond, somehow i have a feeling that there will soon be some apple/nut followers.

2. based on what do people claim that potassium calm nerves? at what dose? can one overdose on banana? on the other hand, FYI, the amt of potassium in ONE banana can be obtained many fold in other food sources on a daily basis.

3. many low dose chemicals work on the human body gradually. you gulp down a banana and 20 minutes later, the banana will carry you through the fire? i wish, but there may be something else, not discussed here yet.

the effect of glucose inside the banana can be much more dramatic because it causes an immediate insulin response and a whole cascade of other hormonal changes. often, people become more drowsy after a high carb meal. so, is it possible that the nerve calming effect of a banana has more to do with this drowsy effect post carb intake? I DON'T KNOW:)

January 26, 2008 at 12:07 AM · It's ok Al, didn't mean to sound so harsh.

I'm not a doctor/chemist/nutritionist but I believe in the banana trick probably because it's just a ritual. I like eating the banana, sitting in the dressing room to meditate/pray, stretch, warm up, and think positive thoughts. Since I don't know the science behind the banana I plead the placebo effect.

January 26, 2008 at 08:34 AM · Greetings,

an interesitng sidebar on the banana issue. Someone mentioned avoiding chemicals. Unless you are buying organic bananas have one of the most massibve cocnentrations of fertilizers and pesticieds of all fruit.

Just a depressing thought,



January 26, 2008 at 01:05 PM · good point, prune god.

it is kinda sad these days that you really do not know what is truly inside what you take in, regardless of label...that may even extend to prunes,,,

if the saying that the solution to pollution is dilution, pruners may want to absorb everything in delay the decline?

here is some info from a banana-unfriendly source

January 26, 2008 at 07:16 PM · Sedated is the last thing one would want to be during a public performance! I want my brain to function as well and as fast as it can while I'm performing. Insomuch as a big bowl of pasta may cause some drowisiness, I want no part of it until *after* the concert!

January 26, 2008 at 09:02 PM · On a related note, is there anything I can do to speed up the metabolism of adrenalin. I don't think I have performance anxiety as much now, since that implies the emotional factor as well,and I look forward to playing and want to play, and I figure the most critical individual in the room will be me, most others are passive or happy listeners.

First up on stage there is the tingle in the fingertips - yes, that would be increased adrenal output, and once I start playing all goes okay for about 30 seconds, at which point my bow arm in particular just can't keep on the strings. Its like the muscles are in constant contraction. And I'm analysing it at the same time - yes, that would be adrenalin surge now getting through the blood stream into the muscles - and I know that it will be over in another minute or so because its like that surge gets flushed through and metabolised. If I can hang in there for a couple of minutes, its over, but its a bugger when theres a couple of pp breave bars to get through, Stomping or walking for that time would help, but its kinda hard to do in ensemble performance.

January 26, 2008 at 11:25 PM · Timothy Durbin advocated bending knees while standing and putting force down into your feet to check the flow of adrenalin into the extremities. I tried this with several of my students and they gave me the feedback that though they still felt nervous they didn't feel their bows out of control and, because of the pressure with the bent knees, did not feel their legs shake either. Even though this appears to be a quick fix, if you know it works it can help you feel mentally calmer so that you may not need to resort to using it.

Another issue is whether or not there is something in the way you are either holding your bow or producing a tone on the violin that is causing stiffness that could be contributing to the shakes. You might wish to read the following thread for advice about that

and also for additional advice about handling nerves

January 27, 2008 at 03:11 AM · Wow Ron, you doll!

Can't wait to be in a situation to try this.

It could well be a posture/grip thing, as tension has been the balck dog of my playing. But this time, i think its not that. We had practised as a group in standing, I had played this many times without the adrenalin as it was only practise and rehearsal, and I hadn't had any bow control issues.

I started to feel it in bar 3 of a/the Bach Chorale (I'm sure he would have written more than one), and by the time we were due do the repeat - in pp, of course - it was starting to get noticible to me, maybe not so to listeners.

Your advice sounds like it should work. I'm sure if I believe it will work, if it makes intuitive sense, then it will work.

I love placebos.

January 27, 2008 at 12:44 PM · ok sharelle, here is another one since you once were a golfer:)

Potato Chip Tip - Pia Nilsson

When you make your golf swing you want to be mentally focused and physically relaxed. To release unwanted tension, place a potato chip between your front teeth and swing. If the potato chip is still in one piece, you have a good degree of relaxation. If it breaks, you need to relax your mouth and eyes. Try smiling -- it will lead to more fluid shoulders and arms and a relaxed swing.


this advice is a win- win situation regardless because the end result is yummy. this may also work for those folks who clamp down on the chinrest.

January 27, 2008 at 04:45 PM · Great comments, Sharelle (I could almost feel the adrenaline moving - what a great descrip) and Ronald (knee bending, how interesting!).

January 27, 2008 at 09:32 PM · Terez, thankyou. I can relive the moment pretty easily too :}

Al, How did you guess! I WAS once a golfer. For one high school term I played golf for sport. Others were got birdies and eagles. I got a duck. Literally. Dopey thing didn't get off the grass fast enough. It limped home that afternoon, and I near wet myself laughing. No anxiety in that performance.

I was talking to a teen cellist's mum, she mentioned that when her daughter was under about 13, she'd just get up and play. Now, she gets nervous and narky, and they remind her how easy it used to be, but....

That bloody frontal lobe should just shut itself up every now and then.

January 27, 2008 at 09:48 PM · Just thinking the chip thing through. What about if you start to salivate, or need to breathe, swallowing is going to be hard. I'm gonna try it for sure, but i visualise some moments. I do clamp in the jaw, but on the right hand side - I've actually bruised my gums over time.

January 27, 2008 at 10:29 PM · sharelle! you must take that analogy with a bucket of tees:)

one thing i would like to point out is that with violin playing, we may need to, or learn to, dis-associate the desired muscle function from those that get piled on because our "system" (physical/mental/emotional/whatever combo) has not learnt to make that distinction. it is like lifting a purse as if we are doing crunches with 50 lbs weight.

violin is not very heavy... why do we engage so much effort and muscle firings, to the point that we hurt ourselves? we all know it does not make sense, but we can't help it...

however, the more we understand or attempt to understand dilemmas like that, under the correct imagery (through watching better players), the easier or quicker for us to have breakthroughs: the more efficient way will eventually edge out. just a matter of time.

i think the constant exposure of positve influence on helps people climb onto the next level easier/faster.

January 28, 2008 at 04:07 AM · Al is right on the mark I feel. The correct imagery can and certainly does help. With regard to the light weight of the violin, Kato Havas and others have suggested holding the violin in the palm of your hand and feel how light it really is. Feel how solid your collarbone is, feel how supple your hand is so able to support objects of various sizes and shapes and how quickly our mind (seemingly with hardly any mental effort) can find the right formation for our hands and fingers to hold anything from a tiny pin to a glass of water. Thinking of the bow shape as opposed to a bow hold or grip and thinking of the hand cradling the violin neck supporting it and considering the bow arm barely travels two feet from frog to tip and the left hand far less than that to traverse first through tenth position and you begin to see that we create mental blocks and obstacle courses over two pieces of wood that weigh very little. I've rambled a bit here but hopefully my drift is clear. Imagery that gives us the sense of lightness and avoids that which is burdensome and full of effort helps us both mentally and physically in our playing.

January 28, 2008 at 05:08 AM · Give yourself permission to not be perfect.

January 28, 2008 at 11:30 PM · I have a question related to this thread. Am I the only one that gets "butterflies" in the palms of my hands? I've mentioned this to many. And no one seems to know what I am talking about. I figure that since I perform via my hands, I get butterflies there instead of in my gut like most experience. The best I can describe it is that it tickles prior to my solo performances. I generally rub my hands together and this seems to help just a little. As soon as I start playing it goes away. But beforehand, the tickle can be intense. Just thinking about it right now is I type, my hands have butterflies. Hehe


January 29, 2008 at 01:27 AM · no one, erick? :)

look up the word: paresthesia...

i think you are just too sensational! :)

January 30, 2008 at 12:44 AM · No, it's not paresthesia. I realize my brain and body in general are falling apart (I feel every morning I wake up, I am farther along in the death process). But this has always happened every since I was little and since I have been performing. The first time I noticed it was just before my grade school concert. It only happens prior to a violin performance. It's kind of a tickle feeling but not actually a tickle. I just call it butterflies. But it is in the palms of my hands. I know what paresthesia as I am an exercise physiologist and studied human pathology in college. I guess whatever it is, and always was, is only in my head?!?!?! (no pun intended) Anyone have any idea? Give me a hand (O.k., that pun was intended) I'm getting a bit silly here. I better slow up on the Old Milwaukee's Best.


January 30, 2008 at 01:15 AM · Greetings,

I actually gte this effect after watching Menuhin play. No idea why...



January 30, 2008 at 04:36 PM · Ah, finally, someone who has the same experience as me. I also get this feeling in my hands when I get excited about doing something thinking about going on vacation, or going sailing. Maybe it is adrenalin pumping through my veins?


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