Getting over performance nerves.

June 11, 2010 at 01:28 AM ·

I know this has been discussed before but I think I may be a special case!

I get so nervous before a performance that I can hardly play at all. I'm kind of an intermediate, I mostly play pieces from Suzuki books 4 and 5. Recently I volunteered to play for a charity gig. My friends were singing / playing a very simple traditional Irish song and I said I'd play along with the melody. Nothing more complex than a nursery rhyme really. But when it  came to rehearsing I was shaking so much that I could hardly place my fingers in the right place on the fingerboard and I almost dropped the bow. I felt so embarrassed because I thought my friends must have thought I was awful. They were nice about it but I sounded like I'd been playing for a month. So I said I was sorry but I didn't think I could do it. I now and feel so sad and disappointed. The same thing happened when I tried to take my grade 5 a couple of years ago. I could definitely play the pieces I was just a total emotional wreck. I try to practice for an hour to an hour and a half most weekdays. I'm fine when I'm on my own!

How do I start the process of getting over this? I really love my violin playing.

Replies (47)

June 11, 2010 at 01:34 AM ·

I've said this too many times, pick up Dr. Don Greene's "Performance Success." Nuff said.

June 11, 2010 at 01:45 AM ·

  • Confidence inyour own abilities
  • Not caring to make mistakes, we all do it
  • Be honest with yourself
  • Not caring about mistakes again

Enjoy your time and have fun with them!


Work on duets with other people, start from scratch.

June 11, 2010 at 03:15 AM ·

Record yourself. It's cheap and easy to get the equipment to make decent recordings. I have an mp3 player I got in a bargain bin for $5 that does the trick. If you make a mistake, keep going. Can you get through this exercise? If you can't, maybe it's the issue of performing itself that's a problem - not playing in front of others. I like to think the two are totally different things, as I often practice performing (i.e., going through a piece or a part of a piece without stopping, regardless of what calamity occurs) even when no one is in the room with me.

Try opening your windows or playing in an area when you know people will probably hear you. Just get through your piece and then close the window. How do you feel you did, knowing people were probably listening to you, or heard part of what you just played?

Long slow bows to warm up. Really focus on the quality of the sound rather than the act of bowing without bouncing. Turn your head away from the instrument and close your eyes. I find this does something to relax the arm.

Envision yourself on stage or performing in front of others. Play the piece in your head as you go along.

Offer to play something at a nursing home or a hospital. These performances will give you all of the joy of playing and none of the pressure, and will also help you remember the value of music and why you started in the first place.

Keep trying!! If you give up now each performance will be worse. If things don't go the way you want, accept it and even celebrate it as a step forward. Beating yourself up over errors and falling short of high expectations is counterproductive.

Hope these and other suggestions work for you! I know it's hard to play in front of people but you can do it as long as you keep practicing it and adjust your thinking. Good luck.

June 11, 2010 at 03:19 AM ·

Alternatively try busking a few pieces

June 11, 2010 at 03:53 AM ·

Hi, Recordings are terrifying but very efficient for stage fright! Guarenty you feel the same as unfront of 1 000 000 people so it's a good way to train!  (maybe this is just me???)

Play for family... 

Close your eyes before the performance and think that nothing matters at all.  Think of your favorite soloist and you can even play to this silly game to pretend to be him/her!  Seems awfully pretentious and childish but it works!!! 

And never think you don't deserve to be there or worth nothing... everyone who has the courage to get up on this stage unfront of people and play is a hero...  (so much people don't even dare to get embarassed publically because their ego is too big to take this and would never never dare to go onstage because they are too afraid)  

You have the right to be there and it's legitimate for anyone to be learning something. When you are on stage (solo...) it's your time so own it!  (or try to own it the best you can... ; )  Always remember that what seems like a very long moment for you is actually a very short for the audience. 

Best of lucks!


June 11, 2010 at 02:05 PM ·


I don't know what to tell you, but I wish you luck.

I was 17 wen it first happened to me. I was playing at a level definitely beyond Suzuki Book 10 at the time (Mendelssohn and Beethoven concertos) and I had been performing solo around the county on violin and cello for at least 3 years. But this particular time I was just playing some old-English ditties for my high school English class and my bow started to shake. I had no idea what was going on, because I did not feel scared or nervous. Later Mother told me that was "stage fright." All my future performances were plagued by the fear that the shaking would happen again (only that).

Then it began to affect my cello bow arm about 10 years later. It never went away in the next 25 years, and if anything it got worse for solo playing and eventually for ensemble performance (not orchestra) in which I would be heard. Then I learned about beta blockers at the 1977 San Diego Chamber Music Workshop (where the first evening was a panel about "Stage Fright."). Upon getting home, I got an Rx for Inderal from my Dr. and I've never had a problem again. I break my pills into quarters and use about 5 mg at least 40 min before the performance is to start. (I might be over the problem now, but I'm reluctant to try a performance without medical reinforcement to find out.)

I hope your solution is easier. But I'd say that if you are an adult, you could consider this approach.


June 11, 2010 at 02:54 PM ·

get back on that horse..... more of what ails you... etc.

To me, the 'process' you refer to is to keep doing it.  I find that performing & sight-reading are 2 things that really tend to improve with experience. Try to play with people in a situation where you're not working towards a performance, just jamming with your friends.


June 11, 2010 at 03:24 PM · I have the same problem. I always shake some, but sometimes it manifests itself as severe shaking - essentially unable to play, sometimes as poor technique (that was fine during practice) and sometimes as completely forgetting the music that I've definitely memorized. I found the information on the following page to be helpful for the forgetting the music part, and I am hopeful that it will help with the other manifestations as well. I don't feel nervous before performing, but clearly there is some change in my body / brain response. The second paragraph in the link I think provides an explanation for why my performance is bad when my practice is good and I don't feel nervous. Hope this helps. Ann

June 11, 2010 at 03:44 PM ·

I have said this before in a few other places, but one of the major culprits here is what is called "anticipatory anxiety." It is essentially a very normal reaction, but it can get out of hand. It is basically worry not over what is happening, but over what one thinks and anticipates is going to happen. It is essentially worrying about a worst-case scenario that in fact has not happened. Look it up; you may get some useful information on how to deal with it.

June 11, 2010 at 06:16 PM ·

Jude - Bravo to you for reaching out. Be confident that you can become the fearless performer that you aspire to be. It'll take some work, but, with a positive attitude, you can have fun tackling this common problem.

Along with the excellent ideas already posted, allow me to suggest that you deliberately incorporate practice performances into your weekly routine. I describe three types of practice performances on my blog:

Practice performances give us the opportunities we need to acclimate to performance situations and try out various preparatory and stress-busting techniques that build self-assurance and counter the shakes.

I've also written a number of other posts on the subject of stage jitters, which you'll find on my blog under the 'Performance anxiety' category:

Good luck! Gerald

June 11, 2010 at 06:42 PM ·


You have to first put yourself into a great state and focus before playing.  You probably go into a “ritual” of visualizing things negatively and worrying about the future.  I don’t know what you do mentally to put yourself in a negative state, but if I had to guess, I would assume that before you even rehearse, you imagine the worst circumstances as automatic situations that could easily occur.


First, make it a priority to put yourself into a great state.  Create an “anchor”.  For example, for me if I want to get into a great state, I can pump my right arm into a fist.  Then if I imagine what I really want out of a situation at the same time, I am “anchoring” myself to success.  After you start feeling vibrant strong, keep the momentum going by playing warm-up scales in forte.  Never have bad, slumping body language and just take action on what you want.  Also, control your focus by asking yourself better questions.


Remember, success is the result of good judgment.  Good judgment is the result of experience.  Experience is the result of mistakes and bad judgment.  So if you have some terrible concerts, it just means you need more “concert experience”.  Get out there and make bad mistakes in forte!  Who cares?  Life goes on.  If you commit to constant improvement, keep focusing on what you want instead of what you fear, take massive action, and keep learning, nothing can stop you.


June 11, 2010 at 07:20 PM ·

Echoing the "record yourself" call.  Red light syndrome and stage fright are very similar.

June 11, 2010 at 08:18 PM ·

You cannot let yourself worry about mistakes. In fact, I have never made a mistake (I thought I did once, but I was wrong).
Did you ever hear of a cowboy getting stage fright?
(.....a cowboy getting stage fright......get it?)
The point is, do not let yourself get too seriously worked up about this. It is not an earthshaking problem to make a mistake while doing one of the most demanding and difficult tasks ever devised in the history of civilization - playing the violin. Years ago I recall reading that Heifetz (I think during the 1950s) stopped playing in the middle of a concerto - he simply forgot. I believe it made the news at the time. He passed it off saying that no one is perfect. If you want perfection, do something other than playing the violin.
One of my favorite quotes is by Vince Lombardi, regarded as one of the 2 or 3 greatest football coaches who ever lived. He said, "We will chase perfection. While perfection cannot be attained, we will catch excellence."
Hope that helps.
Keep smiling.
:) Sandy

June 11, 2010 at 08:54 PM ·

BTW, there's a really good article around by Malcom Gladwell about choking and the difference between it and panicking, both of which are often lumped together under "stage fright" or "performance anxiety," but which are actually quite different.  Google it; it's a good read.

Choking is common among high-achiever types who are worried about perfection.  It severs the link between you and your instinct, and you start overthinking everything.  If you aren't consciously aware of the music you're supposed to be playing, it will desert you, and often the most thoughtlessly perfect parts of the music are where it will surface.  The stuff you could play without thinking becomes the stuff you CAN'T play WITH thinking, when you are overthinking and unable to just go with the flow.

Never let yourself become mindless about performing, never go on autopilot.  A lot of people think that when you can perform something perfectly "without even thinking about it," that you're done.  You're not.  In fact, you never get a free pass to stop thinking when you are performing.  Just remain conscious of what you're doing while you are practicing.  (Well, it not quite "just.")  "Here's those triplets, then down into Em, okay, we resolve that, then it's back to GM, then back to EM with a Picardy third ... "  Don't ever let your brain check out to lunch while you're practicing, or else when you choke (and we all do), that's the stuff that will bite you on the backside.

Basically, when you panic, you can't get into your brain, and when you choke you can't get OUT.  The music needs to be in both hands and brain, or else one of those two situations will pop up and cause you to lose your connection to it.  Those 10,000 reps dare not be just mindless reps until you can do it in your sleep.  You can NEVER allow yourself to do it in your sleep; it's brutally difficult to repeat something 10,000 times mindfully -- but that's exactly what you need to do.

June 11, 2010 at 09:25 PM ·


You're not special -- I'm special! Just kidding. Most people are nervous when they play in front of an audience, or worse, a committee. I have been through disasters like the one you describe, and survived as an occasional performer.

What I believe happens to me in auditions and the like is this. Everyone's attention is focused on me, and that stresses me out. As a result, I play worse than at home; and due to the stress, I exaggerate the difference. From that point on, it gets worse or better, depending on where I put my attention.

There's a web site called "The Bulletproof Musician", and a book "The Inner Game of Music". They helped me. Each of them offers things you can do, or learn, to combat stage fright.

And I believe it will help to get as much experience playing in front of people as you can. A microphone is scary too: it will help to record yourself.

Good luck!


June 12, 2010 at 02:00 AM ·

To go with Sandy's great quote...


Aim to reach the moon and if you don't get there, you'll still land in the stars...

(don't remember who said this...) 

Einstein told: Education is what remains when one has all forgotten what one has learned at school

And I add: A violin performance onstage is very likely to be what remains when one has all forgotten what one learned formally with his teacher...  (!!!)



I mean once the performer is out there (even soloists) it becomes most instinct, adrenaline, something very detached from maniac rationnalism... something from the soul  (what one has learned with the violin teacher will just all blend in unconsciously to allow the people to somehow do the appropriate motions to get the music out...)  I beleive this certainly comes with experience... 

Good luck,


June 12, 2010 at 04:20 AM ·

I second the Bullet Proof Musician suggestion!

June 12, 2010 at 01:34 PM ·

You can build up your strength and your ability to play in front of others  the  same way you build up other strengths -- little by little, in small steps over a period of time.

Start small and easy. You can start by playing something ridiculously easy like Twinkle, for example, in front of the most non-threatening audience possible -- maybe your mother :-) who will love you no matter what. Then you do the same thing again, but maybe playing something a little more difficult, progressing in MANY, MANY, VERY SMALL STEPS. Pretty soon you can play in front of two or three people. Eventually you will play for somebody whose good opinion you want, so there is a little more at stake.

The point is to do it often, start small and easy, and go in very small steps. It may take a year before you are ready to perform the repertoire that you are actually studying in your lessons. That's OK. You will very gradually expand your comfort zone.

June 12, 2010 at 03:07 PM ·

A friend of mine who teaches comic performing - clowning, mime etc. - and is a performer himself has a methodology worth trying.  First of all, understand that the audience is not there to watch you fail; they came to hear you play, and really want you to succeed.  Second, remember that people understand and sympathize with failure - clowns always fail, it's part of their appeal and charm.  Third, in order to perform in front of people you have to be willing to let go and allow the imperfections to happen without  stopping you, because they are inevitable.

Now, my friend Avner Eisenberg's advice: begin well.  Begin relaxed.  Communicate that relaxation to the audience; they will respond.  Here's what he teaches: don't rush your entrance.  Stand backstage (or wherever) and prepare.  Before you walk on, take a deep breath, then as you walk on let it out; the physical action will trigger a mental relaxation, and the audience will see a performer relaxing while entering.  Go to your spot and stop, while inhaling again.  Stop, stand still, and exhale slowly.  The audience sees you visibly relaxing, standing there before you perform, and will respond by relaxing themselves.  You're creating a connection with the audience before you play a note.  Then settle yourself, maybe take and release another breath, and begin.

This may sound mechanical, and can be practiced that way, with exaggerated breathing, to drill the habit into you.  Eventually it should become more subtle and not obvious, still there but just part of the entrance.  See if any of this helps.

June 12, 2010 at 04:41 PM ·

You can make a deliberate decision regarding the purpose of your performance. You can commit to the purpose of your performance being the sharing of your love for the music. When one does this in a  serious and deliberate manner, the experience of performing is not about what the performance does to you!  Rather it is about what you do to the audience!  In my view, this clear minded commitment is a key precept for a performing artist, and one which helps the artist to focus his attention in a way that is invulnerable to distracted, anti-productive thinking.

A good way to improve one's ability to play well in public, is to play often.  -- Play at hospitals, nursing homes, elementary schools.  In these environments, it will be especially clear to you that you are there to do a good deed. These environments are excellent training grounds for the purposeful focus of attention described above.

The practice precepts you use in performance preparation are key to successful performance. Did you, after repeating a group of notes until they sounded as you wish, stop the repetitions? --If so, it is likely that they won't go so well under pressure. - This is because they were played the wrong way 14 times and the right way once!  However, if you did many more repetitions after you got the notes to sound as you wish, you are equipping yourself to play them well with good reliability.  More suggestions about practicing to perform under pressure here:

June 12, 2010 at 05:20 PM ·


Your performance anxiety is normal and is shared by most other musicians, including famous ones like Carly Simon, Vladimir Horowitz, and many others. As a concertmaster, I have sat several feet from many nationally-known soloists who clearly had nerve problems.

Many have told you what to think: "be relaxed...imagine the audience in their underwear...don't worry what others think...etc."

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet to nerves, and all the self-help books on Amazon are likely not to help much.

Nerves are managed, not solved. They are not likely to disappear, and will probably come and go, often for no reason at all. Performance anxiety is managed by a combination of the following:

--a slow process of getting used to the stage, as others have described above. This is an interesting field in psychology that uses gradual exposure in such areas as fear of flying. It seems to work for many. Most colleges use a gradual method before a recital: lesson, weekly performance class, master class with other teachers, performance at retirement centers, dress rehearsal, and then concert. They do this for a reason.

-Constant performance. People who perform nightly are better able to handle anxiety than those that perform twice a year.

-Large amounts of practice. People who practice 4 hours a day are more likely to be more confident in their technique and more successful in stressful situations than those that practice one hour. Musicians who practice for long hours--and intelligently-- are able to execute whether they are nervous or not.

-Practice technique and self-knowledge. Experienced musicians know ahead of time what is likely to make them nervous and practice accordingly. This might mean changing bowings or fingerings that will not work under stress. Can't start at the tip? Don't.


June 12, 2010 at 06:06 PM ·

The main thing is to get back on your feet and keep playing.  If you can play well for your teacher, you should find, over time, that you can do the same for others. 

I actually do my best work at anything when I'm just a bit keyed up to start.  The idea is to burn off the nervous energy, not suppress it or add to it.  I'd never tell anyone, "Don't be nervous."  That's a little like saying, "Count to ten without thinking of a rabbit."

From the research I've done on beta blockers, they sound to me like a "cure" that's worse than the "disease."

Let me recap here the gist of what I mentioned in an older thread, "Public speaking and public violin performing?"  What worked for me, as a kid in school, was to pick something powerful and aggressive to open with.  That helped me to out-bully the nerves and burn off the pent-up adrenaline fast.  Then it would take me only a couple of minutes after an aggressive start to settle down for the cantabile passages.  This plan of attack helped me a lot in auditions, too -- aggressive at first, lyrical afterward.

As time went on, I found that I didn't need to stick to this method.  Again, just keep playing and trying to find opportunities to play for others -- as long as it's material that you really like and have mastered.

June 14, 2010 at 03:10 AM ·

Thank you so much everyone for your kind and very helpful responses. 

I went to the benefit concert (without violin!) and although I felt sad about not playing, I realised that I had learnt a lot about preparing for a performace.  I realise now that the rehearsal was totally inadequate given that I've not played in front of other people in over ten years. (Apart from exams). I had just come out of a really stressful meeting with some rather difficult co-workers. I went straight in to a hot airless room and was then told I had to play super quietly because there were other people still working in the building. (I was playing with two of my nicer co-workers). Then in walks 'Mr grade 8 violin' (he had the key to the room) and although he's a really nice guy I suddenly felt very worried about what he thought of me. Finally we started and although the lady singing has a beautiful voice I'm not exactly sure that she was keeping strict time and so I was trying to read the dots and adjust myself to her variations and this went badly. Then the shakes kicked  in. So it's not surprising! Oh and I'm moving back to my home country in four weeks :) Repatriation = stress! 

Still I am going to try to find other opportunities to play. And take your advice! Which I'll summarise here.

Read the Don Greene book.

Don't worry about mistakes. Just accept that they happen.

Make a recording during rehearsal.


Warm up with long slow bows

Play for friends, family, etc.

See playing as a 'good deed'. (for example playing in school).

Pretend to be someone amazing.


'Get back on that horse!'

Understand what 'choking' is.

Look at the website 'The Bulletproof musician'

Take very small steps. Play easy pieces to begin with.

Know that the audience want you to succeed.

Breathing techniques.

Practice, practice and more practice.

If playing lots of pieces start with the aggressive ones.







June 14, 2010 at 04:40 PM ·

That's actually a very good list!  I'll need to copy it down for myself!

I also have a weird performance anxiety.  I'm fine when I play in our orchestra - if I make a mistake (and I certainly do) no one ever notices because it gets lost in the general sound of the performance...and the odd time I goof and start too early, or end too late (and everyone does hear me) it's not a big deal...because everyone has done that...we just all laugh. (We laugh harder when the french horns make a mistake though...;))

But I'm a mess in lessons...I don't play as well as I can because I get so nervous.  And when an instructor stops me too often to point out smaller issues...and I never get to get through a piece...I get even worse.  I have no idea what I can do to improve that, or what an instructor should try...but it's a serious issue (for me at least).

And when I practice at home...even if I think of what it would be like to play in front of someone...I blow it immediately...

I'm not a seasoned performer...but I've been playing with either an orchestra or in an ensemble since Jr. High'd think I'd have a handle on it by now...

I wish you good luck with your future performances!


June 15, 2010 at 01:42 AM ·


with all due respect,  i think your instructor is actually making a quite common teaching error concerning the above remarks.   One of the fundamental principles of teahcing set out by Flesch wa sthat we have a responsibility to let the studnet play a work all the way through (assuming they have practiced it). Failure to do so inhibits the studnets muscial and tehcnical development to a -very-severe degree. In essence,  as oyu have found,  you never actually learn about performing which is your overall goal. While listening the instructer should make small notes in the score in pencil cocnerning what she/he wishes the studnet to work on.

I often go furthe rthan this and allow studnets to play a work through twice unles sits really long. This also helps to develop stamoina. Of course it doe slimit the amount of time one might spend on picking a piec eapart point by point but I am not such a big fan of these kinds of lesosns anyway. The stduent leaves feeling they got value for money,   the teacher mentally pats herself on the back for passing on so much good advice (actually obasically a lot of negative comments)  and then end result is a lot of baggage the student carries onto the concert platform and then berates themselves for `getting nervous when they play in front of people.`



June 15, 2010 at 02:27 AM ·

The best advice I have to give is to perform frequently and often. Acknowledge that you will make mistakes, and that is totally OK. When you make a mistake, take the attitude of a cat (made famous by Gallagher): "I meant to do that" and go on. 

But seriously, repeated and regular exposure to performing publicly is one of the best remedies to stage fright. It will never go away completely, but over time the realization comes that a technically perfect performance isn't necessarily the best one. 

June 15, 2010 at 05:26 PM ·

Play for an audience of kids! This is what i do, i have a passel of younger cousins and whenever possible i gather them around me and play their ears off : D  

During recitals i sometimes close my eyes, it serves to instantly relax me. 

June 16, 2010 at 01:50 AM ·

Jude, this performance sounds like the perfect storm- it's no wonder you got the shakes!  Shaking hands are from an overload of adrenaline, and dealing with your ugly-tempered co-workers probably had you all hopped up on that.  Everything else just ensured that your level of stress hormone stayed sky-high.  In a situation like this, beta blockers would have done the trick.  You still would have been upset, nervous, etc., but your hands would have cooperated better.

Another performance, another situation, you may well be fine.

June 16, 2010 at 02:20 AM ·

Buri so true!  Teacher have this tendency often...


June 16, 2010 at 04:35 AM ·

Thank you Buri!  That's the first time anyone has explained it so well to me.  It makes perfect sense too.

LOL...if you move into our neck of the woods...I'll be knocking at your door for lessons!

June 16, 2010 at 04:52 AM ·

mind the cat...

June 17, 2010 at 04:32 AM ·

I'll bring the catnip...

June 17, 2010 at 05:49 AM ·

alas, Po was `cat-nipped`  by a local bouryokudankankeisha-aho-kisama moggie last night and is sitting on the bed with only one and a half ears.

Quite cheerful though. Must be the impending catnip....

June 17, 2010 at 02:01 PM ·

Our last place came with a one-eared cat whom I prompty named Van Gogh.  Later, when I finally befriended the cat, I found out it was a girl...



June 21, 2010 at 08:20 AM ·

So, a happy footnote in my mission to achieve  calm and happy performances. :-)

I had my last violin lesson in Japan last week. My teacher arranged for myself, herself and her mum (on piano) to play an arrangement of Judas Maccabaeus (from suziki book 2!). It was the perfect choice really. I was able to play it confidently and also keep perfect time with the other violin and piano. (Something else I'm working on, see another thread!). And it went so well we played it for her Dad. My first appreciative audience! :)

So it was very nice. I think playing pieces that are easier than the students 'solo' ability level is a really good way of building accuracy (in terms of playing well with others) and confidence.

Thanks again for all the nice comments. x


November 2, 2010 at 11:11 PM ·

I've been dealing with performance anxiety for the past a couple of years and just read this wonderful book, though to share with everyone: 

Research on performance under pressure shows that we choke for different reasons.  I used to think it was just the problem of my ego, but it seems that a lot of things what coach/teacher and other people around us may be unwittingly do (including telling us how to fix stuff shortly before performance or even showing up for support) will also make us choke (perform under our actual ability). So working on our own nerve alone is not sufficient. The detrimental situations identified in the book are very interesting and once spotted, should be preventable in many cases.


November 3, 2010 at 09:55 AM ·

99% of almost any audience won't notice mistakes because (a) they're not concentrating at anything like your level (b) and the "mistake" flashes past too quickly for them to take it on board. The remaining 1% who are aware of the mistake will have been there before, made mistakes themselves, and will understand.  So you, as the performer, are actually in a win-win situation.

Three anecdotes from my own experience either as an orchestral player or as a member of the audience.

1) A lady cellist was performing the Elgar concerto with us in one of the best mid-size concert halls in the country.  She must have performed the work in public dozens of time.  Halfway through the last movement she had a memory lapse. Our conductor reacted like lightening and held out his score in front of her with his left hand for a couple of seconds while he continued conducting. This was sufficient for her to get back on track.  The interesting thing was that the only people who noticed this were the first desk of the first violins, the lead viola, and me and my partner in the first desk of the cellos. During the interval I talked to a few members of the audience whom I knew, including a couple in the front row immediately in front of the soloist. None of them had seen anything happen.

2) Same venue, orchestra and conductor a year later.  The soloist was performing the first Tchaikovsky piano concerto.  During the last movement one of the wind players fluffed a cue and this threw the soloist.  A very quick quiet word with the conductor and the movement was restarted and completed without incident.  The orchestra obviously knew what had happened, but again, there were members of the audience who were quite unaware of the restart.

3) Venue – a prestigious Irish music summer school in Listowel a few years ago.  One of the soloists in the tutors' concert was the senior fiddle tutor, Brendan McGlinchey, an iconic musician well-known internationally in Irish music.  He was playing a set of his own tunes.  Halfway through one tune he suddenly stopped, laughed and said "I've forgotten me own bloody tune!"  Everyone laughed with him.  He had a quick word with a colleague at the side of the stage, returned and replayed the set perfectly.  At a workshop the next day Brendan used this experience to good effect to talk about performing in public.

November 3, 2010 at 09:37 PM ·

Thanks Trevor, for your thoughtful post. My concern is that not all performances have the same stake. What if 99% of the audience happen to listen sharply and critically such as in an audition or in a masterclass?  Being mindful of the fact that the audience will be understanding because they might have made similar mistakes may or may not help depending on a number of factors. Sometimes one can screw up simply by watching a earlier performer making mistakes that you know so well.  The brain does mirroring trick on us. We feel pain when we see someone else cuts his finger for instance. And before performance, a lot can affact our nerve that postive self-talk simply is too little and too late.

November 3, 2010 at 10:24 PM ·

You're quite right of course.  I did have in mind highly critical audiences such as those in auditions and competitions when I mentioned "almost all audiences".

November 4, 2010 at 03:55 AM ·

I've been playing quick little pieces at open mic's. This has been nice, my teacher and I are usually the only people doing something besides poetry and guitar. Generally there are all different levels of musicians there. Good and BAD. This lets me relax some and realize it's no big deal.

November 4, 2010 at 04:20 PM ·

Adrenaline helps. And sometimes you can know a piece too well, so you don't focus enough.

Some very experienced musicians get nervous if they know of another instrumentalist (same instrument) in the hall.

One of the best things you can do is to move to the music, when playing and during bars rests. This keeps you relaxed and confident. (Don't overdo it and fall off the chair ...)

When you first come on to the platform, smile a lot, this gives the audience confidence as well. They think they are in for a good time!

I have a brilliant pianist friend who used to creep round the piano and looked terrified. The audience felt uneasy. It was all dispelled once she started playing.

All the others here have given good advice. Once you do lots of performing it becomes much easier and really quite pleasant, and you will enjoy it. Try not to show off though by adding a few flashy turns or runs to the music, as this often backfires ...

November 4, 2010 at 07:03 PM ·

I have the same feelings. Although I can start a conversation with anyone, I am very shy about my playing.

I am fortunate that I play as a hobby, and do not need to play in front of anyone. That said, I really feel it is a lack, and that to really thrive, I need to find how to get past this.

One thing I can do is play outside, in public areas.
Weather permitting, I play in parks, open spaces, etc. To me, that is playing for nature, not for other people, and I can do so effortlessly. Maybe try something like that?

November 7, 2010 at 02:23 PM ·

Hey, we've all been there (and those who claim otherwise are lying!)  Staying well within yourself is always good advice: playing at the very outer limit of your abilities is always a risky crap shoot, so you're just asking for trouble if you do that!

An important part of your task when you perform is to set the audience's mind at ease; they want to trust that you'll exude nothing but confidence and thereby make them feel relaxed and more likely to listen and enjoy your offering.  Pretty well any audience is willing to give you what you want, but you have to be prepared to earn it.  By all means, smile your face off and charm the pants off them all!  Fear simply builds an impenetrable wall.  Audiences smell fear, and they don't trust the "aw-shucks-I'm-just-a beginner" crap, either!  As someone else said, mistakes are going to happen; they always do.  Don't wince or cringe when they do!  Smile and move on!

November 7, 2010 at 03:39 PM ·

 I'm not so sure about the "smile" in "smile and move on".  To those who know the code, and experienced concert-goers will, a smile out of the blue flags up that a mistake has probably just happened.  Don't smile; just move on, then people won't be certain that anything untoward occurred and will quickly forget it.  I don't think Heifetz ever smiled while performing – part of the mystique :-)

Concerning the issue of pieces to play in one's first few sorties as a soloist onto the concert platform, the advice I have been given by every one of my teachers since boyhood is never to perform anything you've only started working on in the last 12-18 months (even 2 years, perhaps).  Anything you've worked on before then you should now be very comfortable with, both technically and musically, and will be ideal for performance.  Speed and virtuosity of performance have nothing to do with it at this stage in your performing career; go for the simple and tuneful stuff that works.

November 7, 2010 at 04:05 PM ·


If I had to only play stuff I learnt 18 to 24 months ago I wouldn't be playing much as I have only been doing the fiddle again for just over a year!

All the music performances I get involved in are usually things I've had to learn in two to four weeks. Well some things I've played before say a few months back. And sometimes I learn things anticipating and with the hope I will be performing them soon.

Basically I do a lot of chamber music playing and some of it is for regular monthly concerts - although I'm not playing in another one for about 3 months as I'm taking a break and will also be unavailable.

It's tue Heifetz didn't smile much, although you can see the hint of one occasionally. He was under self inflicted pressure - and didn't seem to enjoy life much. Bit sad really.

November 7, 2010 at 08:37 PM ·

I have terrible stage fright myself, and understand where you are coming from.  I have learned to just sell myself.  If I make a mistake, I was probably the only one to hear it, although that isn't always true :)  Get up on stage and act like you own it.  It's hard to do at first, but after awhile, it becomes second nature.  The audience is not there to judge you, they are there to hear beautiful music.  If you are in a competition, that is a totally different ball game.  Enjoy yourself, sell yourself, and are playing a beatiful instrument.

November 7, 2010 at 09:45 PM ·

Shana, I totally agree...  It took my teacher and many accompagnists+ theory teacher to understand this!   Because they all pushed me towards this exact was of thinking: Just go for it and stop wondering about pointless things (and do things similar to what you told in your post too)!  Though of different personalities, that was a very common point between them.   Probably because all comming from a similar school system (Russian)? 

However, I'm really not telling it's perfect, but it helped a lot and helped me gain confidence not only in violin but in my whole life!  Music lessons perhaps = life therapy too... ; )   


One can have the discipline, work hard and good will but without a tad of confidence to "just play" and "let go" nothing truely artistic and authentic will ever come out!    (I know, easier to tell than to do... ; ) 

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