Handling nerves... ***the instant before playing and while playing.

September 4, 2008 at 06:30 AM · Before you refer me to other threads though, here is a disclaimer: I'm not looking for advice on general nervous issues...I have a more specific question:

I can handle nerves well enough in the time leading up to an audition/performance, but it seems like the instant I get on stage and put the violin on my shoulder and the bow on the string, the nervous intensity comes in a wave. This, as you can imagine, is not helpful.

So, I guess I'm looking for some advice on what to do to combat the nerves when I'm "out there", as it were; when I'm standing in front of audience/judges and preparing to play within the next 5 seconds.

Also, sometimes I find myself becoming more nervous as the performance goes along, thoughts on that are welcome too.

Replies (24)

September 4, 2008 at 07:56 AM · Start with a preparatory motion (ie a circular up-bow for the first down-bow note or vice versa). A teacher paraphrased it as conducting yourself before you start. It's impossibly difficult to start from a static position, commanding yourself not to shake because you're nervous...

Practice your repertoire so solidly so that you know you will nail all your shifts, double-stops, etc. Nervousness multiplies when you're insecure of your technique.

In really hard and scary passages, be conscious of how your body tightens. If you know you tend to do really bad in a really hard shift because you became so tight, clamped, and tense that you arm can’t really move, consciously tell yourself (before the passage comes along) to open up your chest, release your clamped stomach or whatever specific to you so you are confident knowing you have a practical plan on dealing with nerves.

Perform it half a dozen times so that by the time of your real performances/audition, your performance is well rehearsed and you know you will not surprise yourself. Performing isn’t an all “in-the-moment thing” as movies like to portray…

September 4, 2008 at 11:17 AM · Make sure you have your piece thoroughly committed to memory, even if you use the sheet music as a safety net during the performance. Then even if your brain freezes for a second or two, your fingers still know what to do. (That happened to me recently--I forgot which string I was supposed to be on-- and my fingers carried on correctly).

Also, consciously take a breath in and out before you start. Think about your breathing. Do this while playing, too. I sometimes will unconsciously hold my breath under tension, and then, after about 30 seconds of that, start hyperventilating to compensate. That feeds the "nerves get worse as I go along" phenomenon. To break that cycle, I think of places in the music where I need to remember to breathe, and memorize those along with the rest of it.

September 4, 2008 at 12:20 PM · If you always play a wierd bowing on the first note, simply pretend that your checking that the instrument is in tune and then carry on with your piece.

You just really have to get it memorized like nothing else. When performing at solo/ensemble at my school and district/state, All of the good players seem to zone out and stare at a blank music stand in front of them or to the side. I do this to sometimes because i dont want to lose concertration.

Good luck.

September 4, 2008 at 01:11 PM · This is the 'fight or flight' reflex. Basically, it's an adrenaline surge which is designed to help you survive: it gives you the energy to run faster than ever before, or to ward off attackers several times your size. It doesn't help you play the violin, as fight or flight mobilizes big muscles at the expense of small ones, allowing you to run fast, for example, but not to play pick up sticks. After the adrenaline peaks, it subsides to a point where it's more manageable. Have you ever seen a rabbit resting after it's been chased by a dog - sometimes it'll be shaking slightly. That's the extra adrenaline running its course.

There are a few things you can do to moderate this adrenaline surge. One of them is actually to train yourself to get really nervous earlier, allowing your adrenaline to peak before it seriously affects your performance. Another simple way to get it out is moving - run up and down the stairs a few times before you have to play, or try some jumping jacks right before you go out on stage. Sounds silly, but it does work. Very often in my experience, these surges have been worse when I've been trying to control my nerves beforehand. I can suppress them till the last minute, but then the adrenaline builds up and affects me on stage.

Lastly, it is a mental thing. Accept that you're going to be nervous when you walk out there. Be prepared for it, and allow the nerves to happen, but tell yourself you can play well anyway. Visualize the situation: see yourself walking out, tuning, looking at the audience, and playing the music without being paralysed by nerves. Repeat this until you can see it clearly without any doubt every time. It will help more than you can imagine. Feelings of fear are often conditioned, and we can do a lot to retrain our brains and emotions if we set our minds to it.

September 4, 2008 at 01:59 PM · Megan's comments are championed in a book by Robert Caldwell called The Performer Prepares. There is a specific chapter on stage fright- literally that uncomfortable fear or fright one has on stage when about to perform and while performing. It is well worth reading.

September 4, 2008 at 01:59 PM · In addition to all of the above (great advice, by the way), a little self-talk might be a good idea.

A professional speaker once advised anyone standing up there and getting the jitters to say the following to themselves: "I'm glad I'm here. I'm glad you're here. I know that I know."

That or something like it may help.


September 4, 2008 at 10:14 PM · There was a previous thread on this specific issue :) [started by me, possibly], and some of the suggestions included: holding a potato chip gently in my mouth (thanks Al, for that one) AND bending the knees, which I took to mean doing little sort of squats. I did try both in practise, but haven't yet had a performance opportunity to try them for real.

Then again, maybe I was having my leg pulled and those ideas won't work.

September 5, 2008 at 12:19 AM · Greetings,

problem with Als suggesitons is that regualr performers will get fat and then the knee bending will become very stressful on the joints. How about some raw carrot or a prune instead?



September 5, 2008 at 12:24 AM · Megan that is 'spot on'. I think this is from 'The Inner Game'

and I tried it because I had to do something if I wanted to perform.

And it sure 'works very well'...!!!

But you must know your music very well and put your self in performance situations like the local folk club or go busking,

any music is always appreciated. Join a band etc,.

Now you can put all that nervous energy into playing,

play and have fun.

September 5, 2008 at 05:37 AM · Greetings,

if you are really cocnerned about the immediate moment before playing then trying a really heavy footstamp. Its impresisve and very helpful.

If playign in Japan you can always claim a cockroach was heading for your privates.



September 5, 2008 at 08:30 AM · Buri, I don't think I was meant to swallow.

September 5, 2008 at 10:07 PM · Eat a banana D:

Or some sort of ritual device that allows you to calm your nerves. Program your body!

September 6, 2008 at 01:26 PM · Eat the banana sideways. I guarantee you that you will no longer be worried about the audience.

September 7, 2008 at 10:36 PM · Greetings,

Sharelle, do you spit out your potato chip mid concert or what?



September 9, 2008 at 02:37 AM · If this helps: remind yourself that few,if any, members of the audience are really so aware as to know if you are doing "well" on any given piece. Their ears and eyes are not poised or trained to hear if you make a slight mistake.A little creative visualization can help, as well. Think about something that has no relation to your performance,i.e. the calmness of a stream or the way that the building you are playing in looks. Choose a focal point in the room, but never by any means look at any audience member straight in the eyes! Not only is it considered bad taste and sometimes rude, but is detrimental to the absolute concentration of the work at had. As a performer and a human being, mistakes are inevitable, but can be avoided by being prepared. Big mistakes, which happen due to lack of concentration, are usually handled by simply, with great poise and no apology needed,starting the movement or piece again.It is considered bad taste to commence the work in the middle. The audience will consider this not out of the norm and bear in mind, it's not Carnagie Hall. In the event of a mistake, keep your composure and continue on without thinking about it. Not even the great violinists of the past have had recitals where mistakes were made. It is advisable to get to know the enviroment in which you are about to perform. I played in many places where it was so cold that my fingers literally froze up. Demand proper temps and acoustics, and always warm up beforehand. I hope this helps.

September 15, 2008 at 10:07 PM · well, for me, i will make sure first that i have a proper warm up... scales and long bows would be good.. then make sure you 'SWEAT', put on a sweater and do your warm up.. because when you are nervous, your body body shiver to gain heat... so by sweating you actually 'normalized' your nerves. so when you are onstage, you are more in controll, and hence reducing the nervous streak, dunno it works for me... try it :)

September 16, 2008 at 12:46 AM · For me, routine does the trick:

In stage, bow -deeply-, put the violin up, deep deep deep breath, raise the right arm and place the bow on the string.


November 15, 2008 at 04:30 PM ·


I'm gonig through similar problems too =[

Definitely eat a banana, and I was told to not try to calm yourself down, but to realize you are nervous, like if your hand is shaky pay attention to it and eventually it'll go away. Hope this helps for both of us.

And can some explain this potatoe chip/carrot thing?

November 16, 2008 at 03:11 AM ·

      I used to have the same problem . The thing is you don't need to be scared  of your audience. Really . I think classical music players have too many stereotypes . Somebody said here: "don't look your audience in the eyes!" . Well, I say that in all kinds of doing something in front of an audience, eye contact makes a big difference.A smile makes a big difference .At least before you play , look at them . Really , look at them . If that's your fear, than you need to watch it in the face!

       If you have the chance , talk before you play. Introduce yourself .To me this works , especially when you are in a restrained recital.I usually talk about my background , or about the piece , about what it means , and why it will make a difference to them , the audience , what's in it for them . Many think playing in front of an audience is different from holding a public speech...?Well , I say , learn the art of public speech and it will relfect in your playing.The audience is there for a reason . Smile to them . You are there to offer them something . In the minutes when you will have their full attention , you will establish a temporary bond with them.Try to create an anticipation of that bond , by saying something like "I am glad I am here to share this with you". You see, establish this relation , where you are the giver , and the ones in front of you are the receivers. ar

   Don't be affraid of them . Rather think that you are there to offer them something .

   Than , another thing. KNOW what you are going to play . Practice it , and practice it , and when you think you got it perfect , practice it more!Until you are shure that no matter how that stage looks , there's no way your fingers could get it wrong:).

    Last thing , practice makes difference in anything ....and in public performing as well. Get out there as many times as you can and play.In front of friends , family , calssmates...take every opportunity of playing.

       I hope this will help. I was once a very afraight of stage person .Now I sing in front of people , and teach , and play , sometimes  act, , speak with confidence and charisma .... I think I fundamentaly changed my approach towards an audience, and there are not many things that feel as good as seeing fascinated eyes looking at you , and facial expressions that show that people are emotionally getting involved with what you are doing out there , and you get to send them a bit of your passion ... and receiving the applauses in the final. 

      Yeah.... it's definetely something you'll find worth looking into.:)


Good luck and smile !:),


November 16, 2008 at 04:19 PM ·

I posted a blog closely related to you topic (I don't want to "sell" my blog it is just an info if you are interested!) on thinking routines to know what the different people think just before and while playing that can make them play better.  It can be funny and inspiring because sometimes people are less shy when they think to a specific think and more if they think of another.  It can be nice to delete the negative thought and put positive ones instead (I know it looks so childish and obvious but if it works...) 

great discussion!


November 17, 2008 at 10:01 PM ·

I am going to encourage my son to finally get on board and read violinist.com, particularly this strand.  He had a solo recital yesterday and played the Vitali Chaccone.  He said he played it perfectly well backstage beforehand but he didn't nail it during the recital.  Overall, he played very well but he missed places he'd never missed before and he sped like a train out of control as he moved towards the end of the piece, something his teacher just gets so frustrated with.  Add to that his bow was too loose (he said it loosened when he got on stage because it was so cold), his bow and violin kept slipping and he zoned out and doesn't remember much of anything. 

He's so inconsistant.  I know he worked hard and his teacher says he has moments of brilliance but I don't want to nag him on how to overcome that fear.  I think this particular piece had parts that are hit and miss for him and he'd been playing his violin for many hours for 3 days previously so he was just not "on".  Well, I'll send the link when his teacher gets it onto his website and you can judge for yourself.

November 17, 2008 at 10:37 PM ·


of course being able to control things during a performance is crucial but it is alos down to what you do before hand.   It take s along time to learn how much perfroamnce practice you need or how to work in the run up to a cocnert. Burton Kaplans book `Artstic Development` is very helpful in this respect.



November 17, 2008 at 11:59 PM ·

I see the book on Amazon.  It ain't cheap but I'll consider it.  I just wonder if there are any books on adhd/add and music.  As I watched the other two advanced players in the recital, they were so calm and collected and then there was my son....sigh!

November 18, 2008 at 12:34 AM ·

Google Self Hypnosis for Musicians.

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