Shakiness=bad. and beta blockers?

June 28, 2008 at 06:56 PM · i know a bucnh of other people have posted this too. But here's my story: I never got nervous while playing. Ok yeah i had but it never affected my playing. Then one day my school is playing at a mall and my right arm is shaking and my bow can't stay steady! And i'm freaking out hoping no one noticies because I'm the onyl one on my part. So I'm schoked but tried to block that out quickly!

My next 2 seating auditions at school were terrible as well. I mean i got 2nd then 1st chair, so obviosuly my crazy amounts of practicing worked but i need to know what helps you guys.

I tried eating a banana the morning of and I think that worked a bit. My NYSSMA audition (in front of 1 judge with a piano accompianist) was just as shaky and embarrasing, even though I did really well, I didn't feel satisfied!

My last audition for a youth orchestra was successful and I dont know why, but i wasn't that nervous. But i still need to know what I can do to fix this for good.

Also what are beta-blockers?

Replies (24)

June 29, 2008 at 12:20 AM · Beta blockers block the effects of adrenaline/epinephrine, which are released when your brain feels that you are threatened with harm.

While an audition is far from the sort of danger this system was engineered for, the difference between being torn to shreds by a sabre-toothed tiger and not getting into your local orchestra is slight, if not passing the audition means you'll eventually starve in the gutter.

If these episodes of trembling are few and far between, and you can play thru them anyway, don't worry about beta blockers. Nearly everyone has episodes of stage fright, so you might as well learn to cope without pharmaceuticals.

If you find the trembling won't go away, try practicing after running up and down several flights of stairs (for example) so that you can learn how to play while being shaky.

If you collapse on the stairs, you might be a candidate for the meds after all.

June 29, 2008 at 05:37 AM · NO!

You are dealing with the wrong issues.

June 29, 2008 at 10:39 PM · Greetings,

as Michaerl says, beta blockers is a non issue at this point. You ned ot discuss with your teacher (and even research here) what is actually happening and why.

Cheers,

Buri

June 30, 2008 at 12:19 AM · See your teacher, who must have had many students with a similar problem. Beta blockers are used to reduce blood pressure/heart rate! Their effect lasts for up to 24hours. You can kill yourself. Not to be messed with without a doctor's advice.

June 30, 2008 at 01:07 AM · Listen to the advice of the two respondents directly above. I would never consider a person should take these things until they are at least old enough to be responsible for the own medical costs (although it is an inexpensive med).

BUT

I am someone who uses a beta blocker (Inderal or generic propranalol) for performance. I only use about 5 mg, which is 1/4 a standard small dose.

I first had a shaking right arm stage-fright problem at age 17 under a trivial performance situation and did not know what was happening. I had been performing solos around my county for 4 years and this was a complete shock. I was the CM of my HS orchestra, and continued with my playing activities, without this happening again for a few years. But then, it occurred for every solo performance, and eventually even in chamber ensemble performances. It was another 10 - 15 years before it affected my cello playing.

I learned about beta blockers at the 1977 San Diego Chamber Music Workshop, 25 years after my first shake experience, where an evening round table discussion on "Stagefright" attracted most professional musicians in the San Diego area. It turns out to be a very common problem, particularly (in some cases) for the profession-critical activity of "blind auditions." So you are not alone.

I know people who have taken beta blockers for a performance or two, realized that the problem is all in their heads and never took the medication again. Others I know take small doses for solo performance situations. I'm an old guy now, and so are many of my colleagues, who are on these meds for heart, BP, or migraine headaches - so they are already covered for performance shakes.

Now I've got an inherited life-long essential tremor that has gotten worse over the years, so I have a bit of shake anyway - sometimes. That too is reduced by the betablocker.

So - I've been taking beta blockers for performance, prescribed by my physician since 1977. A typical Rx lasts me 5 - 10 years, after I learned about them in San Diego.

Contra-indications are asthma; a problem, especially if you were to perform several days in succession.

Even the tiny dose I've found helps me with performance problems is sufficient to "pace" one's heart, so although people who take this stuff can perform or walk, jogging, running, hill climbing, even serious stair climbing are out until the effect of the medicine wears off.-- I heard of a woman who performed in Munich (under beta blocker influence) who then joined some of her fellow musicians in a climb up the hill to the wonderful castle there. She never made it. She did recover, but she had to be carried down by her fellow musicians, who never got to the castle either, because of it.

So be warned - but not terrified. If it really is a tiger chasing you and you have taken a beta blocker, you will be lunch!

Andy

June 30, 2008 at 01:43 AM · I notice you are only 15, you shouldn't be thinking about taking beta-blockers at this age. As others have said: talk to your teacher in detail about the precise feelings and problems you have during an audition situation. You mention that a banana helped a bit. Maybe you can think of a comforting kind of routine before an audition which helps keep you calm, i.e. eat a banana, nibble your favourite chocolate bar, chat to your best friend for a few minutes, end your warm-up with a part of your favourite piece of music... etc etc etc. Loads of things that you can do to reduce stress without drugs at your age.

June 30, 2008 at 03:22 AM · Usually this kind of thing is caused by tension in the arm/hand somewhere. Practice drawing out one bow for as long as possible, and observe how everything feels as you move towards the tip and back. While you do this try to figure out what feels the smoothest and most comfortable while maintaining the most even sound you can.

June 30, 2008 at 05:43 AM · Before you try alternatives (I'm no doctor so I can't help you with medicine) Giovanna, let me ask, is it just your right hand that is shaking? The fact that it hasn't happened before makes me believe it has something to do with your mechanics which you might have changed inadvertently perhaps? One cause of the shaking can me a locked arched wrist joint (old German school bow technique which can also cause tension). Auer noted in his book how Joachim sometimes had problems with the shaking up at the frog because he used this approach. I've noticed most shaking occurs in the lower half of the bow which can be because sometimes players try to hold the bow away from the string in order not to play too loud. Again this requires a bit of tension which you might not see the effects of in the practice room but when nerves come into play the bow can bounce a little as we become stronger with adrenaline making fists and clenching with the hands. I'd suggest working on open strings with a metronome while trying to keep an even speed and volume throughout each stroke on all the hairs even at the frog. In order to keep the volume even you will need to use a little bit of bow pressure at the tip otherwise you will make a diminuendo on the downbow and a crescendo on the upbow because the weight of the bow is at the frog. If you post a short video on Youtube playing scales or open strings I think perhaps that might be the easiest way for us to get to the root of all of this.

June 30, 2008 at 07:39 AM · I went through a sudden severe period of nerves that terminated my ambitions of getting my performance degree. What I wish someone could have explained to me was that I could work through it if I practiced performing a lot more. Start small and work your way up. What you need is a good deal of success to build your courage back up. Find someone who is not intimidating to you and play for them. Play for two other people. Play for your grandparents. Play at church or a nursing home. Get the idea? You will be bolstered by lots of positive experiences, and even if you mess up a few times or get shaky, you'll begin to teach your body that everything works out okay even if you screw up. It will begin to seem like a common everyday occurrence instead of the end of the world.

While I don't always play my best for people, I don't have nearly the issues that I used to have when it comes to playing in front of an audience. If I can work through it without medication (as anxiety ridden as I tend to be), then I'm fairly certain you can too!

June 30, 2008 at 08:34 AM · We've had a lot of interesting discussions about this issue on this site. I suggest that you look at http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=6888 http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=12163, http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=10411, and http://www.violinist.com/blog/weekendvote/20079/7532/. The last one is a weekend vote on taking beta blockers with comments from people telling about their own personal experiences. There is a lot of interesting and useful information in all of these sites.

June 30, 2008 at 12:20 PM · Hi Pauline,

thanks for coming up with the actual URLs! I hate people referring to some past discussions and leaving the researching part to everybody else.

I have to take beta blockers for medical reasons (high blood pressure) and I found them not helpful for dealing with performance or performance anxiety issues. Performance anxiety (stage fright) has - up to a certain point - a positive effect. It gives you that extra edge that will make your performance outstanding. Too much of it, and you'll be reduced to a cowering, trembling entity that can not even tie its shoelaces since you're trembling so bad.

In my opinion, it is not important whether you can perform the piece you have to (whether it's delivering an address to a room full of people, acting in a play or play an instrument onstage). If that would be the case, no acclaimed performer would be subject to it. However, there's people making a living from public appearances and they're literally sick with stage fright.

Thus, if you think beta blockers will help you, they surely will. Just like some people use a talisman like their old teddy bear to help them against stage fright.

Just don't use them without consulting a physician - preferably one also familiar with the psychological aspects of stage fright.

Me, I'm sometimes shaking and sometimes not. Being well prepared and in a familiar environment (like a stage I've performed on before) helps, but not guaranteed. Basically, I need the feeling of being in control of the situation - then I experience only the beneficial part of stage fright.

Having no control over the situation - or having the feeling that I have no control over the situation will call forth the dark part of stage fright: profuse sweating, shaking, short breath, ... Routine will help you cover it, but it's like a sailor being seasick: you've got to stick it out.

Hope you find another way of dealing with it, J├╝rgen

June 30, 2008 at 02:27 PM · all drugs have side effects, some side effects can be pretty ugly under some situations. If your healthy, the best is to avoid using. Arm shaking could have a number of reasons other than performance anxiety. ex: change in sleeping position could torque the bow arm so that in certain positions it will shake. Previous ideas about your bow hold, etc may be possibilities, especially if it occurs when holding the bow. I would experiment and see if there is a noticable shake in certain positions. I would look for a physical reason for the arm shake. For performance anxiety, a few minutes of meditation/breathing control prior to a performance works for some people. Looking for a drug solution is not the way to go.

June 30, 2008 at 02:46 PM · I reread your post. One thing that stands out is "my crazy amounts of practicing". Sudden large increases in muscle use sometimes leads to whats called overuse problems, which can lead to such issues as shaking at the wrong times. Overuse problems are often cured by taking a day or more off in using that muscle group and/or reducing the use of that muscle group. Athletes can easily have this issue. Tennis elbow is an example of an overuse problem. People often don't realize playing the violin is a very physical activity and can cause issues just like athletes.

June 30, 2008 at 03:11 PM · check out the strength training thread on this site

July 2, 2008 at 03:28 AM · Speaking of drugs, I was surprised to find the story below on my homepage this morning. Sander, whatdaya think?

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080701/ap_on_sc/sci_psychedelic_study_2

July 2, 2008 at 06:40 PM · I think it is very interesting and tempting enough to increase business in my Emergency Department. Even soceities which use this drug employ the strictest custom and regulation of it's use. For excellent reasons...the dose you'll get from the street is unknown, and can result in profound disassociative states, depression, papanoia, even estacy can walk you off a ledge or put you in front of a bus. The article admitted that the positive effects continue months later. Did they comment on the ongoing experience of the subjects who experienced negative effects? Just surviving a "hit" dosen't mean someone is qualified to quide someone else through the experience. Even the scientists don't know what is going on, the reason after all, for the study. Unless some research grad was just tired of rat studies, or wanted access to the drug...

Well, it is a very dark and stormy day, with thunder, lightening and hail roaring down and shaking the world. Maybe there is a lighter side to this subject, but I doubt it...

July 2, 2008 at 07:07 PM · My spell checker is dead. Sorry about the "papanoia". Paranoia, of course;>)

July 2, 2008 at 11:15 PM · "The article admitted that the positive effects continue months later. Did they comment on the ongoing experience of the subjects who experienced negative effects?"

That was what was surprising to me. I've never seen an article in the mainstream media about this kind of thing with a positive spin on it before.

July 3, 2008 at 12:28 PM · Dear Giovanna,

Please find this book: "Stage Fright" Its causes and cures with special reference to violin playing by Kato Havas

(http://www.amazon.ca/Stage-Fright-Kato-Havas/dp/0900180692/ref=pd_bowtega_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1215084749&sr=1-1)

Read it and let your teacher read it. He / she is your single most important resource to solve this problem.

On a more personal note, shaking means that you are alive and vibrant. You need to let the energy flow, to find a good posture, proper grounding and breathe. The works of Alexander Lowen (bioenergetics) and Alexander technique are very useful. Any violin player, including you will benefit from bodywork and it is a good investment to find a certified bioenergetic therapist for a few sessions. Trying "to block that out quickly" will make things even worse. It is the very block in energy flow that is causing the trembling. The catch 22 here is the attitude that "one must not shake". When you change the attitude, allow yourself to be imperfect and focus on music, the anxiety will be transformed to excitation that will lead to a great satisfaction. It also helps to give your music to people, to play for a particular person in the audience.

I truly believe that these will help you. If and only if they do not, then find a psychiatrist and explore the possibility to use pharmacotherapy (beta-blockers).

Cordially,

Rocky

August 3, 2008 at 02:46 AM · Hey guys, thanks so much for all your posts

I really didn't know that much about beta blockers before so i'll be staying away from those.

I'm gonna try all those things you mentioned and hopefully it'll help!

August 3, 2008 at 04:17 AM · Hey, try this: I was really skeptical about this, but I just came from a hardcore camp and it works......seriously.

Eat a banana at least 30 minutes before you play. The potassium in the banana acts as a NATURAL beta blocker, unlike some medications. It also works just as well.

August 3, 2008 at 04:19 AM · oops....sorry. Just read that you said a banana helped a bit. Sorry.

Lol its 12:20 AM and I just came back from watching Batman. I have an excuse-I'm drained.

August 3, 2008 at 09:24 PM · I just read through this post, and I don't fully agree with many of the views presented.

When I was about 16, after ruining a bunch of auditions due to nerves, I approached my doctor to discuss beta blockers. He felt they might be both helpful and safe when used occasionally in a very small dose.

After using them (very successfully) for several auditions, I found that I didn't need them anymore - so I don't agree that they positively won't help to resolve the underlying problem.

I wonder if this has to do with conditioning, i.e. I conditioned my body not to freak out in audition and performance situations through beta blockers.

August 6, 2008 at 09:03 PM · Andrew, I agree. I discovered beta blockers while in college (music student) and used them at the very end of my undergraduate time. They helped tremendously to get through the high-pressure master classes, area recitals and ultimately my senior recital. But, like you, I noticed that after using them several times, I no longer felt the need to use them. It seemed that a sort of psychological breakthrough had happened - I felt more comfortable playing without nerves.

I would not suggest anyone try any drug from just reading about it here in a forum. But it may be worth talking about these issues with your teacher, and perhaps your doctor.

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