How to gain confidence?

December 20, 2012 at 05:09 PM · I am looking for a way to build more confidence and decrease nervousness while playing the violin for others during auditions. Basically, every time I get called on by my teacher for a "spot test", I become very nervous and play differently than usual. How do I get rid of that because it affects how I play drastically and I will probably never be able to play a solo in front of others.

Replies (26)

December 20, 2012 at 03:30 AM ·

December 20, 2012 at 05:24 PM · Like anything else, practice is the best solution--practice playing in front of others, then for others but under pressure.

If you play solos for people who don't scare you--like at retirement homes, or for youngsters--you can become more confident. Then, when you add the pressure of auditions, you will know what is likely to push your buttons.

I'm assuming that you REALLY know your music, inside out, upside-down. That is where confidence starts.

Another thought...if you think about yourself, you will get nervous. If you think about your audience, you can get nervous. If you concentrate on the music, it can help support you through the stress...give it as a gift, yes, even in an audition.

December 20, 2012 at 06:04 PM · Yes, the best thing is to "practice" performing by doing it more often, even if the audience is just one person, or your dog! You can also devote some of your practice time each day to simulating a performance. For example, some people never play through a piece without stopping in their practice. I don't know if that applies to you, but you'll notice a big difference in performance if you make yourself play through more often in practice.

December 20, 2012 at 06:32 PM · Nathan and Marjory are right- playing more helps you be less nervous. Would it be possible for you to play in semi public areas? Stairwells, parks, your backyard- where people could hear you but aren't necessarily paying attention? You could also visit local nursing homes and play for them. If it's nerves, don't worry those that haven't lost their hearing will probably be napping. Basically what you are looking for is performance experience in non threatening environments.

Also, play loud. I had a teacher once who sort of jokingly said don't worry if you can't play it. Just play loud and you'll seem like you can. At least your tone will be better because your bow won't shake.

At home, visualize yourself playing in class. Imagine the conductor calling on you, imagine picking up your instrument, imagine playing a passage, all without a nervous attack. Then imagine the conductor calling on you in class and actually play a passage.

Another thing that may help you is alexander technique. I played in front of people all the time but it never seemed to help me calm down because I never changed my bad habits. I would tense up and start to shake before I had even started to play. I would recommend Alexander Lessons. If you can't afford them, I would take a hiatus from regular lessons for 2 months and apply that money to Alexander lessons. Or if you don't have a teacher in your area, read books on Alexander technique. I'm reading "An Alexander Approach to Violin Technique" right now- the first hundred pages seems pretty good. "How You Stand, How you Move, How You Live" was also helpful. Books aren't a substitute for teachers, but are better than nothing.

Remember that your body is controlled by your brain. You can choose to allow your hands to shake or you can choose to not allow them to shake.

Make sure you practice the difficult passages in your music. you know the conductor's going to ask for that section in 12th position on the g-string, so make sure you've prepared it. Worst case scenario is that you can go on autopilot.

Last piece of advice- Remember the reason you get nervous in the first place: You have a strong desire to do well. You truly want people to enjoy what you play. That's a wonderful thing. The people who don't get nervous don't really care and I think are a little dead inside ;)

And Jascha Heifitz said in an interview once that he felt like throwing up before every concert. Just a little perspective.

January 5, 2013 at 05:00 AM · Well I recently tried another audition and still felt very nervous. I was totally confident at first but once I sat down to play, I totally had a change of thought.

I tried playing in front of my brother today and it went perfectly fine, but not at my best. I feel that when someone pays attention to me, I play a bit off. I will try to play in my backyard but I fear my instrument will be out of tune quickly since it is 30 degrees (Fahrenheit).

As for the Alexander method, I feel like it is more focused on the body instead of the playing of the violin. That is what I interpreted by reading about it online. Can you explain exactly what it does for improvement toward nervous players?

And yes I do practice and know most of my pieces by heart. Once I know the pieces (without the score), I focus more toward improving the sound and fingering. All of this disappears though in front of people when I am by myself. I will try not focusing on myself or others and more toward the music. I might just sing the song in my head before I even do an audition to get rid of the nervousness. I hope it will actually work.

January 5, 2013 at 05:24 AM · Hi, Sorry you're still struggling. :(

Alexander Technique helps you use your brain to control your body. So essentially, you can tell your body to stop nervous shaking. (Maybe not in your backyard at 30 degrees.) Or you can focus your mind on controlling your anxious response.

Maybe you've trained yourself to get nervous when you play. Like Pavlov's dogs. When the bell rings, the dogs drool, when the teacher calls on you, you freak. Is playing in front of people a trigger for you? Like it produces an automatic response? Alexander Technique can help you with that. You could probably figure out all this stuff yourself, but it would take longer without guidance.

Sit in a chair. Have your violin in your hands. Have a friend or your teacher ask you to play. Say okay, but don't play. Note what happens to your body. Do you tense up immediately? In one of my early AT lessons, my teacher asked me to stand up, I was to say yes, but not do it. I still tensed up my body as if I were preparing to stand, even though I knew I wasn't going to stand. It actually kind of freaked me out at first.

Do you take lessons? What does your teacher say? I wish I could help you more, but I'm out of advice. I can offer you some prayers?

January 5, 2013 at 05:28 AM · Nathan is right on. You build up your strength by playing for people as often as possible. And, just as in strength training, you start small and easy, and then you add a little more difficulty each time. So you might start by playing Twinkle for your mother. If you're comfortable with that you can play something a LITTLE more difficult. And then something a little more difficult than that. But still far below the level of difficulty of the music you are studying. Then you can start playing for somebody who makes you a little uncomfortable -- where there is something at stake. Maybe a friend whose good opinion you want. Again go in small steps. Don't play for your fellow students who may be very critical. Just keep building in very small steps, both in terms of the difficulty of the music, and the discomfort that your chosen audience evokes in you.

January 5, 2013 at 08:45 AM · Don't worry that this doesn't change right away! The professional performers that you see live and in videos get to play pieces 10, 20 or 100 times in front of audiences. They never go more than a few days without playing in front of people. This is a hard life, but it's an advantage when it comes to performing that next time.

For everyone else, you have to practice performing any way that you can. Just one audience member (family, for example) paying attention to you makes you nervous. That's a good sign! That means that you can use that to get used to an audience. Eventually some of your normal practice can feel like a performance as well. That's how to really prepare a piece for an audition or performance.

January 5, 2013 at 04:42 PM · I feel your pain. Many good suggestions. I have to do a fair amount of public speaking and frequency certainly helps calm the nerves. Some other critical elements:

1. Real technique. If you are certain of all your motions and actions you play much better. You can't be guessing where and how to place a finger and where you will be in the bow.

2. Having something to say. This is very hard for amateurs and students. We can hardly play a piece let alone have some artistic concept that we desire to express uniquely.

January 5, 2013 at 04:42 PM ·

January 5, 2013 at 04:48 PM · In all the public speaking courses I've taken, they record you and you have to watch yourself. Which is pretty horrifying to be sure. The first time I did it I realized I was staring at the floor the whole time! In addition to playing in front of other people, record yourself and if you have someone that can, have them film you. It will make you a little bit nervous and knowing you are being filmed or recorded might put you into performance mode. You might also realize when you watch it that you sound good! Also, speaking as an audience member, remember that the audience supports you, they want you to be having a good time. And, listen to this interview with Bobby McFerrin:

He talks about how he looks forward to making mistakes on stage.

January 6, 2013 at 04:40 AM · Hi, record yourself and when you'll be able to play well the whole thing unfront of that very intimidating machine, you'll be ready for a true performance!

It's true...

Recording machines are at least as intimidating as an audiance and in addition, they are as a teacher. You will be "disgusted" by your own mistakes and will want to improve.

But you have to have a good quality recording machine for this to be really helpful.

Professionals use this trick to catch their own mistakes.

Good luck!


January 6, 2013 at 04:49 AM · I like the idea of recording yourself. That's a great idea-

I hadn't really thought about it, but it could give you some confidence. I wonder how much insecurity comes from having no idea what you sound like to others or how you're coming across? Makes sense that it would be a lot. Maybe just knowing what you will sound like will help with the anxiety of playing in front of others.

January 6, 2013 at 01:50 PM · There are a lot of good suggestions here, see which of them work for you!

What I find the most helpful is to try and think of all the different things that are needed in order to make a good performance. What I don't want to think about is what anyone in the audience is thinking. As soon as I start thinking that I start going down that slippery slope of really bad stage fright.

If you feel a little shakiness in your hands, try and think about what you need to do to channel that energy into creating an exciting performance. Hillary Hahn talks about stage fright on her website and says that she thinks about the muscle in her left forearm. For her, that's where she finds the tension starts to build. Everyone stores tension in their body a little differently so you need to find where you store yours. I find thinking about my left hand forearm works pretty well.

Another thing not to do is to blank out your mind. The violin is an extremely difficult instrument to play without fully engaging all of your faculties!

January 7, 2013 at 02:58 AM · For the purposes of "make myself nervous about getting it right" and "catch general flaws in my playing", you don't need anything more complex than an iPad and the GarageBand app. The iPad microphone will pick you up just fine if you put the iPad on your music stand and step back a bit.

January 12, 2013 at 05:47 AM · Thank you for all the suggestions. I tried the recording advice and was a bit intimidated. I heard how I played and found certain notes with bad tone or a little flat.

January 12, 2013 at 02:54 PM · Intimidating before or after you played? And by certain notes, how many? Because perfection should always be the goal and you should always work toward it, but you can't let the fact that you haven't gotten there yet stop you from playing and performing. Otherwise you won't ever get there!

I think you should listen again and tell us what you liked about it, as well as what needs work. How was your timing? If you thought certain notes were flat then that tells me you actually nailed most of them. How did the shifts go? Did the dynamics come through? Even if you think stuff is simple, give yourself credit for it because there are plenty of us that still struggle with the stuff that you probably don't think twice about.

If a good friend asked you to critique their playing, wouldn't you try and tell them what they did well in addition to what they had to work on? Treat yourself like you would your friends. And really, us mortals in the general public won't notice if a few notes are flat. If you are relaxed and having fun, the audience will be happy. Just keep performing! And do tell us what you liked about your recording.

January 13, 2013 at 01:18 PM · Perfection is unachievable. One's concept of what one should sound like is always ahead of one's ability to play.

...but if you keep working on it you can get pretty good. :)

January 13, 2013 at 04:12 PM · You've had some excellent advice from a number of folks. One other thing you might be interested in reading is this blog: The writer is a performance psychologist, he's got some interesting ideas.

January 13, 2013 at 05:19 PM · Stage fright is intense energy. To me. The ways I have come across it are letting some of the energy out by running or exercising, practicing right up to the performance, arriving early enough to relax, taking a few stiff drinks for those who are of age and are not driving afterwards, and in general just getting out and playing in front of as many people as you can at jams, streets corners, places of interest. Experience makes experts of us all, and that lets us know the perfection is not possible, there will always be someone better who comes along.

February 8, 2013 at 03:56 PM · The nervousness is like little devils that slip in between the angels; the only solution is to invite a whole lot more angels.

Meaning? Practice so that you are so absorbed by sound and gesture that everything else fades into (relative) insignificance.

February 8, 2013 at 07:19 PM · Everybody gets nervous when playing in front of people. Why does Perlman look so relaxed when he is playing in front of a crowd? Cause he knows he won't screw it up. I think that's is the secret! Work it out until you're pretty sure it's coming out the way you want it to.

March 10, 2013 at 05:14 PM · Busk. When I was a student a colleague and I would busk violin duets. We learned to project, had a lot of fun, and made good money.

Edit: I've just seen where you live. It may not be safe on the street.

Cheers Carlo

March 10, 2013 at 05:53 PM · This guy's a performance psychologist on the faculty at Julliard, and a pro violinist too. Lots of good ideas in his blog and he runs an online course

March 10, 2013 at 07:56 PM · Another, more general, version of Bruno's comment about Itzhak Perlman that I was told many years ago by my cello teacher is, "amateurs practice until they can do it right; professionals practice until they can't do it wrong". A policy of unattainable perfection, perhaps, but it does highlight the advisability of working on a piece well beyond the stage when you've "got it right", for it's certainly not ready to be put to bed at that stage.

Two other points: no live performance is ever perfect; every musician playing live, from Heifetz down, makes, or has made, mistakes of some degree or other. Secondly, it is good to remember when playing in public that 99% of the audience won't notice your mistakes, and the 1% who may notice (and that not necessarily) will likely have been there themselves and will understand.

March 11, 2013 at 10:10 AM · My high-school cello teacher used to say:

It's not that professionals don't make mistakes - it's just that we're better at covering them up!

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