A different way of addressing performance anxiety

January 21, 2014 at 12:16 AM · PERFORMANCE ANXIETY interview with Dr Don Green, currently University of Melbourne, but also Julliard psychologist / sports psychologist / West Point graduate.

This is listen on demand so might not stay available, I apologise if the link to audio doesn't come up internationally. I think I can get the transcript somewhere.

I found it a great concept in addressing the 'harness the energy' not as a platitude, but to genuinely learn to use that adrenaline energy in your muscles to give them the extra 'power' shot for performance vs practise.

I also loved the reinforcement of settle and visualise before performing - draw yourself in and be clear about what the performance will feel and sound like. And how that also draws in the listener. If the audio works, you can hear how it makes a difference for the player excerpts.

Replies (30)

January 22, 2014 at 03:02 PM · Thanks for the link - I enjoyed the interview. I ordered his book (cheap at abebooks.co.uk) - I'm all ears as far as to what his '7 steps' for moving from the left to the right brain are.

January 23, 2014 at 03:48 AM · To change brain hemispheres you fasten your head in a paint can shaker and turn it on to low.

Em rof dekrow ti.

January 23, 2014 at 04:45 AM · I respectfully disagree. There is a much better approach in 'The Exorcist.'

Cheers,

buri

January 23, 2014 at 02:19 PM · The world is filled with all kinds of peculiar (and sometimes dangerous) misinformation in almost every area of life. I believe the term is "Bathroom-house psychology." (Well, you have to substitute a popular 4-letter word for "bathroom.")

In the realm of psychology, I would refer you to the book,"50 Great Myths about Popular Psychology," by Lilienfield, et. al.

In terms of performance anxiety, I think a bit of simple, common sense self-talk is in order. What's always worked for me is something like this:

"Right now, Heifetz and Milstein and Oistrakh and all the other greats of the past are gone. Perlman and Hahn and Bell are all playing somewhere else. I'm the only one here. I'm it. I'm all that stands between this audience and this beautiful music. So I'm going to give it all I've got. And if it's not good enough, then too bad. I'm going to share what's in my heart, and my fingers and arms will just have to do their best. And if someone doesn't like it, that's their problem."

After the performance, then you can look in the mirror and kick yourself.

That help?

Cheers,

Sandy

January 23, 2014 at 02:34 PM · Actually, it was a start. Go on...

January 23, 2014 at 02:42 PM · Ray and Buri, Aren't there enough dangers out there on the internet without YOU two adding to them? Not to mention the damaging subliminal effects of messages delivered backwards. Ti hctaw.

Actually, seriously. My church group had one or two seriously disturbed people coming in for counselling after seeing The Exorcist. If you didn't see it, don't. If you MUST know about it, let the Wikipedia article suffice.

January 23, 2014 at 06:41 PM · Just for that, when my book does arrive, I'm tempted to keep the 7 steps to myself!

January 23, 2014 at 09:03 PM · Sandy, I'm not sure who you are 'bathroom psychology' branding? If the guys doing the interview - I'd be interested to know why?

This isn't a hokum approach. He begins with the idea that as musicians we are not taught how to compete - very true. How to do that is often the thing that athletes get, musicians don't, and yet they need to. I can't speak to the strategies in terms of left / right hemisphere (I've never been a fan of identifying brain function like that, I wonder if he describes it such because it helps his students to do the work they need to do without doing neurology) - but even the plan about how to introduce the piece without stumbling - get it out of being a language and into part of the music with a rhythm and a melody - and of course rehearse it - was I thought good advice and not something that I'd seen here.

January 23, 2014 at 09:06 PM · Ray, you were just lucky you remembered to turn the shaker off before you went full circle, otherwise its a null effect. Or is it twice the effect ... (I can never remember)

January 23, 2014 at 09:46 PM · Sharelle:

Thank you for your comments. Yes, I think I may have been a little more "flip" than I intended, but I was trying to make a serious point.

No, I'm not "branding" everything as hokum. But we do live in an era where psychological concepts are applied across the board, and the popularization of them can be very misleading. Actually, this phenomenon started in about the 1930's or so with Freudian theory, and has escalated ever since.

In addition, there's the scientific principle of parsimony, which of course states that the simpler the explanation, the better. Of course, that's not always true either.

Having co-authored a book about differential diagnosis, my perspective is that the real issue is whether the treatment fits the problem. An approach that may be ideal for one person may not be applicable for another. And if one is going to embark on an elaborate and time-consuming remedy, one had better be sure that it fits the dynamics of the person.

And I can tell you, on the basis of personal and professional experience, that scientific and psychological theories and concepts can become very popular and overapplied in situations for which they were never originally intended. We routinely see the overdiagnosis of various syndromes and the overprescription of certain medications and treatments all the time.

If we can liken performance anxiety to a stomach ache, I think most would agree that a stomach ache can have more than one cause, and it is when we figure out the cause that we can apply the remedy that is likely to be the most successful.

Not everybody who has performance anxiety needs a particular kind of involved treatment. So why not try the simple stuff first?

Now, even if you disagree with that, I certainly respect your opinion and the approach of any professional who has taken the time and trouble to research and apply new methods to old problems. I just don't believe that it's a "one size fits all" world.

Anyway, thanks again for your comments.

Best regards,

Sandy

January 23, 2014 at 11:35 PM · May I suggest a book Fundamentals of Piano Practice, pp. 162-172 (Chapter 14). You can read the book free at

Link to pdf: Fundamentals of Piano Practice

Although aimed at another instrument, the pianists face the same stage fright. The book contains interesting ideas concerning stage fright, practice, memorization, some of them applicable to violin.

January 24, 2014 at 07:12 AM · 'If we can liken performance anxiety to a stomach ache, I think most would agree that a stomach ache can have more than one cause, and it is when we figure out the cause that we can apply the remedy that is likely to be the most successful.'

It's perfectly well established that performance anxiety is caused by the fight or flight mechanism. In that sense there is only one cause.

Saying that, there is always a choice between two avenues to pursue: either try and prevent the mechanism from 'firing' in the first place or handle the situation after it has 'fired'. I'm of the 'it will inevitably fire' camp.

January 24, 2014 at 07:27 AM · Greetings,

that`s a good point Scott but it is an issue I have seen addressed directly in many Alexander Technique seminars. The cellist Vvien Mackie in particular taught explicitly that by using AT one could block the Flight mechanism before it had chance to kick in. I have found this to be true.

Cheers,

buri

January 24, 2014 at 07:59 AM · I think a lot of the people reading this are reading it because the "simple" approach hasn't worked for them.

January 24, 2014 at 06:31 PM · I'm sure I've got Mackie's book here somewhere - I'll check it out.

Nope couldn't find it. I know I've met her and read her book - some years ago though. Still, I find it hard to see how fight or flight can be blocked. It's quite the chemical Niagara Falls after all.

January 24, 2014 at 09:47 PM · Yes, would be great to hear more about this.

January 25, 2014 at 12:48 AM · Greetings,

the concept of blocking the flight response mechanism is not actually discussed in much detail in Vivian's book.

I have attended many of her seminars and heard this discussed at great length. The basis of AT is the -conscious- control of the body, in particular what is termed Primary Control. this is the relationship between the skulls neck and back. the brain can only focus on one thing at a time so if one has done enough AT to understand and utilize Primary control then the fear and flight message is blocked before it can flood into the system causing decreased circulation and muscular contraction. once the fear and flight mechanism has been let loose the body takes a while to get back to normal so in effect one cannot play well at the beginning of a work. this is often mistakenly called getting warmed up or whatever. it is absolutely unnecessary.

We cannot get over nervous tension but the difference between a successful amd unsuccessful performer is the understanding that there are two kinds of nervous tension: the fear and flight thing and emotional amd intellectual tension that contributes to performance. A good performer block the first and takes full advantage of the second.

One of the most important things delay taught was the psychological attitude to performance. That nobody was there to criticize but had come to be given a gift. equally our attitude to performing is walking out on stage and giving people a present or gift. That is what it is all about. over the course of my life I was able to apply these simple things to such an extent I was so so happy to be out on stage in front of people I sometimes accidently laughed.....

Incidentally, wearing glasses contributes a great deal to the triggering the flight mechanism. Get rid of those and the results can be amazing. of course you then have to memorize the music or have an enormous score in front of your

Cheers,

Buri

January 25, 2014 at 01:43 AM · "It's perfectly well established that performance anxiety is caused by the fight or flight mechanism."

Statistics 101; correlation does not mean causation.

Although a strong component accompanying performance anxiety, "flight - fight or play dead" is not the cause.

I still remember my professor of psycho-diagnositc telling us "there is always a possibility for many causes of one psychological symptom, as well as a potential to develop many symptoms upon a single cause."

For example, people who use beta-blockers (comments on previous discussions) reported that, despite of their calming effect on nervous system, the other components of stage fright may still be present. In other words, the "energy" is taken away from stage fright, but the fright persists, although in less debilitating form.

This issue is too complex to be solved by "one size fits all " approach. Our personalities are as unique as the grains of wood on the top plate of our instruments, our fingerprints or our DNA.

More has to be done in building awareness among musicians about this challenge, and education of violin teachers in prevention and early addressing of development of this condition. Good violin teachers are good psychologist. We all know that stage frights starts with one episode and can be quickly conditioned if not addressed properly and with compassion and understanding. One single word after that first episode, a friendly conversation between a teacher and student learning how to perform, can make a huge difference between developing a phobia and knowing how to handle the excitement that comes with stage performance.

January 25, 2014 at 03:02 AM · Great post Rocky,

it's funny, but sometimes I feel the whole approach to teaching is fundamentally geared towards building up stage fright. That iism the easiest way to teach is to use one superior development in hearing etc to tell the student 'that's wrong blah blah' and although the student may well correct the local issue the inner voice of self criticism is being reinforce and encouraged on a weekly basis.

Delay wash from what I have read and heard her do, very skilled at avoiding this approach.

Cheers,

Buri

January 25, 2014 at 03:56 AM · Dr. Don Greene seems to be good at diagnosing problem areas and his book may great for some, but I am not sure if his 24 trigger areas and 7step ideals will work for most.

Stage fright is a memory.

The more you use the memory the stronger it gets, and this memory triggers the Fight or Flight response.

For example a person playing a new challenging piece in large crowds will strengthen the memory or create a new fear memory, and then this piece may be the trigger for fight or flight response in future performances. Compare this to a person who only plays well rehearsed new pieces in front of small crowds. This musician will have no new developing fear memories.

The real problem is how do you suppress a memory once its there?

I'll buy that book.

January 25, 2014 at 04:21 AM · Buri, could you please expound upon this AT solution for blocking fight or flight before it begins... ? One would think this would be revered by everyone if only the knowledge was out there. Thanks, I look forward to your detailed explanation/solution! :)

January 26, 2014 at 12:23 PM · Hi,

Interesting thread.

Another question for you Buri: in one of your posts, you mention that wearing glasses is a trigger for stage fright; why is that?

Cheers!

January 26, 2014 at 03:36 PM · Since this thread lies also in the more general category of technique and practicing I think this quote from an interview with Astro Teller, the head of a Google research lab, is relevant:

"You must reward people for failing. If not, they won't take risks and make breakthroughs. If you don't reward failure, people will hang on to a doomed idea for fear of the consequences. That wastes time and saps an organisation's spirit."

(Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-25883016)

It is useful to read the Teller interview in conjunction with Dr Noa Kageyama's recent "bulletproofmusician" blog on "How Making Mistakes Can Accelerate Learning"

January 26, 2014 at 04:48 PM · It is worth noting that, except under the most extreme circumstances, the vast majority of an audience won't notice or remember the vast majority of mistakes in a live performance, mainly for the simple reason that most audience members do not concentrate at anywhere near the same level of intensity as the performer in front of them. Those who can so concentrate will probably have been up there on stage themselves, and will understand.

January 26, 2014 at 09:08 PM · How true, Trevor. And even if the mistakes are remembered, they don't detract (well, I hope they don't - certainly not for me). I haven't had the opportunity to see the stellar performers apart from Accardo performing Tchaikovsky concerto and he missed something somehwere along the first movement. Yeah. Shrug. He kept going. It was still brilliant. any errors that occur in perfromance are only that, the worst that happens is a few entitled people are annoyed.

I think your tie in is entirely relevant, since its this fear of making fools of ourselves, (Don says 'letting xx down'), that generates the anxiety. I reckon that most people who say that they aren't scared of making a fool of themselves, but of letting themselves / someone else down, have over time rejigged the former into the latter. A defence perhaps. Or perhaps not? Maybe the two thoughts exist simultaneously.

January 26, 2014 at 09:15 PM ·

Another way to look at it is students need to be rewarded for trying.

January 26, 2014 at 11:54 PM · "It is worth noting that, except under the most extreme circumstances, the vast majority of an audience won't notice or remember the vast majority of mistakes in a live performance..."

That's B.S. You greatly underestimate the ears of audiences.

February 3, 2014 at 08:26 AM · Just regularly performing in front of people, whether it be your friends, family, etc., helps a lot! :)

February 3, 2014 at 10:03 PM · "Delay wash [sic} from what I have read and heard her do, very skilled at avoiding this approach."

Students that had stage fright were probably screened out well before studying with her...

February 4, 2014 at 08:12 AM · Charles, back on 26/01 you said that stage fright is a memory. While it could become a memory, in fact the first occasion of it is not at all tied to memory.

It is just the nervous system responding to the new or unfamiliar - increased arousal so we're on alert, increased adrenaline, and as a performer we experience the muscle reaction and heart racing coupled with the emotional impact as the experience of performance anxiety.

That's why if we practise performing in new situations a lot, we familiarise ourselves with that experience of the unfamiliar situation and adrenaline / nervous system response and learn to use it. We don't really train the body to stop responding so much although it does for less novel situations if they get commonplace enough.

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