Severe Stage Fright

September 2, 2012 at 08:18 PM · Throughout my years of playing violin, I have had terrible stage fright. It is so bad that I can't even perform in front of one person or even a family member! I get the sweats, terrible shakes that can be heard in my violin, even an instance of circulation cut off in my fingers! I actually panic. I even forget what I am doing and it was embarrassing. This has robbed me of many opportunities. When people want me to perform, I openly avoid it. People even grew angry with me because of this. Many of them don't seem to understand. I figured I am a silent violinist and that classified myself as a group musician. Seems I do better in groups even duets! The only way I became solo was when I became a YouTube performer.

My question is what is the best thing to do to overcome severe stage fright? My stage fright is so severe that I can't perform directly in front of anyone, not even family!

Replies (24)

September 2, 2012 at 08:28 PM · I remember getting the shakes in front of my own husband at one point, and he's so harmless! But that's where I started. I played for him even though I sounded horrible, and I just kept doing it. You just have to be persistent, even if it feels and sounds horrible at first. Pick a trusted person that will gladly help you with this, and pursue it every day if you can. Your body will evevtually figure out that nothing bad happens when you play in front of people. Set yourself with as many positive experiences as you can. The more you do it, the less frightening it gets. It won't be like this forever, but you do have to make an effort at it.

I still get stage fright if I take a break from performing. It's a skill that gets rusty and must be practiced. I haven't performed a solo since May and I have a concert scheduled for October, so yesterday, I got the camera out and practiced choking up in front of it a few times. Eventually, that'll go away, and when I run through stuff with other people next week, hopefully that will go smoother. Then I'll play for my friends when they come over, and I fully plan on choking up a few times then, too. But they gradually go away the more I do it.

Don't forget, when you practice all alone, spend some time visualizing your audience and imagining positive experiences. Imagine you're nailing the hardest parts, and everyone roars with applause when you're done. It helps to stay posisive if you can.

Good luck, and don't give up!

September 2, 2012 at 11:15 PM · I can tell you this: If you had high blood pressure and a doctor prescribed Inderal (or some other beta blocker) your adrenalin response would be suppressed and you would no longer get those shakes and other symptoms when having to perform solo.

My doctor prescribed Inderal for me 35 years ago just for performance problems that I had had for 17 years previously (from the age of about 17), it solved the problem. Before age 17 - no problems at all playing anywhere for anyone. It had started all of a sudden during the lowest risk "performance" I'd ever played - and it never went away - until the meds - and it's been OK ever since.


September 3, 2012 at 01:24 AM · Hi I'm Addi. I'm 13 and i had stage fright too even though all my family didn't think i did. Mine was probably not as severe but it still frightened me. I know its nerve racking when people focus on you and you alone because you can make mistakes and and its all focused on you.

I eventually put it off and then one day my parent told me to play something on my trumpet(that was years ago) and i did and the were very proud of me after. It didn't matter if i made mistakes because i did it and that was how i got over it.

I suggest that you just try once to play. I know that you don't want to but if you try i promise that it will be fine.

September 3, 2012 at 09:57 PM · post removed since Jessica left.

September 5, 2012 at 12:51 AM · Sometimes if you can make the music the gift you are giving to your audience, that takes some of the fear. Giving is such a warm action, so full of life and sharing, it can lift a person out of her own worries...sometimes, anyway.

There's a blog here by Laurie about the harp music she discovered in the hospital where her daughter was undergoing surgery--that kind of giving surely eases performance anxiety because no one is thinking about the performer--s/he is the source of the gift, simply.

September 5, 2012 at 02:20 PM · Hi Jessica,

I really feel for you because I have been just like you for some years. It's because I set myself a high standard that if I believe I don't sound nice, I certainly don't want anyone else to hear until I can. It's much easier in a group situation for sure. Forcing yourself to play newly learned material can be a problem, the more you try to stop worrying the more the bow shakes, sweating and nervous tension consume you. It even made me forget to focus on the music in front of me. I find this tends to happen at Eisteddfods and places your teacher finds for you to perform. More often than not they like you to present a piece that is of your latest learning, quite forgetting you may not be entirely comfortable with it yet. Far better, if you're going to get used to playing publicly, that you play something short, easy and maybe even from last year to start with. You know you can't make too many errors then. Try and get together with a musical friend, whatever they play, and select some simple and fun duets. Then play for family, friends or go busking! Don't even worry about putting out a coin basket, just play for fun. Most people just walk past you without staring, those that appreciate it sometimes stop to say so. If you are feeling brave, pick a number or two that each of you can do solo. Then return to the safety of the duets. Just check with nearby stores to make sure they don't mind. After a few songs my nerves went and I found this a blast, out in the open air was nice too.

The other thing to remember is that when playing for others, most of them don't know when you've missed a note, or an important shift wasn't too cool. The vast majority of them aren't even violinists and so can't know what's hard or easy or correct or incorrect. Your intimate knowledge of the piece highlights your tough spots, but only to you. Everyone else is just listening to the music and enjoying it for what it is. So do try to relax just a little bit more each time. I don't know if I'd advocate medication to perform publicly, it could become a crutch in the end. If it truly is an issue and spoils violin for you, then just don't do it. Leave it for a while until you are happier with your ability and a little more mature with more experience, then see what happens. If, as you get older, you still feel happiest in a group, then you may have to accept that that's the scenario for you.

Good luck with this.

September 5, 2012 at 02:56 PM · The thing wich worked with my "stage fright" (it wasn't that bad) was to be as good prepared as possible technically and musically. If you have a mental plan about technique and music there will be no place for stage fright.

On the other hand, what is music making about other than performing for people?! You should always know, that you are the one who gives something to the public. They usually like it ;) And you should be confident and sure about what you can and will give them. I hope that helps your situation too.

September 5, 2012 at 03:17 PM · Try hypnosis, I consider trying it myself actually.

posthypnotic suggestions via a phone (after a longer period of hypnotherapy) before the performance might work surprisingly well actually.

September 5, 2012 at 07:08 PM · Stage fright goes away (for me) once I know that the audience is enjoying my playing. So one way to get rid of it is to - change not your playing, but your audience! There's several ways to achieve this - the busking above is one, playing to really old people in a home is another. I've done this and its funny how you change from stage fright to trying to make your playing accessible (no more fright).

But here's a novel method that I don't think I've read anywhere, despite hanging on every word of the advice columns - play for kids!

I just discovered this at a wedding where I found that my young neice loved to sing with the violin. There's no stage fright at all because the kids have no expectations and, more important, you know it. I suppose working up the age groups may be a way of sequeing into playing to real adults. Not sure, haven't tried that yet!

September 5, 2012 at 07:30 PM · Along the same lines, offer to play at a nursing home for the elderly. They get very little special attention like this, and you will NEVER find a more appreciative audience. And any mistakes you may make simply don't matter to them. AND, you'll never feel better or more confident or more satisfied, nor will you ever get more heartfelt applause.



September 5, 2012 at 07:51 PM · If even kids or a captive audience, such as nursing home residents, seems too scary, work up to it by playing for the dog. Dogs tend to be highly uncritical, and love us no matter what.

September 5, 2012 at 09:02 PM · ...just DON'T try this with cats. oohhh nooo...

you're playing is NEVER good enough. Mine walks out of the room as soon as I touch the violin let alone play it.

September 5, 2012 at 10:15 PM · Aah ,'twould appear another crazy chick has flown this coop. she held good to her exclamation in a now deleted thread, and has closed her account. We can continue to talk amongst ourselves.

September 5, 2012 at 11:35 PM · Yes, play for your dog. It will give you a new leash on life.

September 6, 2012 at 12:40 AM · Meow! Sander

September 6, 2012 at 01:40 AM · Sharelle - now that is stage fright! I mean who are we to be scared of?

September 6, 2012 at 01:46 AM · I got attacked by a man in a wheelchair the last time I played at a nursing home.

September 6, 2012 at 02:44 AM · ... not the dreaded one-armed man... (lets see how old you are...)

September 6, 2012 at 03:21 AM · Emily - seriously, the same thing happened to me years ago in a nursing home. Only it was a woman. Maybe they were in cahoots!

When I have more time I hope to put together a few ideas that might help with stage fright. But why did the OP leave?

September 6, 2012 at 07:48 AM · ...that nursing home crowd is a tough nut to crack. One of them fell asleep and farted loudly, from the middle row so that it travelled acoustically (thankfully not olfactorily) both for and aft; another announced loudly that the show had gone on for too long; others just got up and left. You've got to love the loss of self regulation and inhibition that comes with age.

September 6, 2012 at 12:12 PM · Did I get it right or did I get it right!!!!

September 6, 2012 at 12:33 PM · "You've got to love the loss of self regulation and inhibition that comes with age."

I resemble that remark! ;-D

BTW, I agree that there is certainly nothing to fear or shy away from us v - commers. Our bark is usually worse than out bite - except when we're called upon to play martilé!

BTW, my dear departed cat, too, was my biggest critic, especially when I played high notes. What I might have inadvertantly said to her in Cat-o-nese, I don't know!

Here's a positive nursing home story I just recalled: once after playing, a woman came up to me. She couldn't talk. She just looked at me and pointed to me, and her message was clear: "I liked what you did."

September 6, 2012 at 05:36 PM · If you're willing to brave the nursing home idea, see if you can simply play a little background music during the residents' mealtime. They're often too busy eating/talking to be critical of how you sound, and you as the artist are able to perform without feeling like every eye (and ear) in the place is on you.

September 6, 2012 at 06:23 PM · Apropos - and on

My performance of a lifetime

(and my first blog)

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