How to calm nerves?

September 13, 2018, 6:39 PM · Does anyone here have any helpful tips to calm nerves in light of my violin exam tomorrow? Thank you.

Replies (14)

Edited: September 13, 2018, 6:57 PM · Take deep breaths before you go in. Do a solid warm-up with your pianist, if you have one.
Edited: September 13, 2018, 10:11 PM · Visualise your exam going really well, and how you'll feel afterwards.

Breathe in 4 counts, out 6 counts (or similar).

Also, expanding your peripheral vision (focusing on looking out of the corners of your eyes) makes it impossible to feel nervous. Can't tell you why, but it's been recommended by therapists so there might be some scientific explanation.

Edited: September 14, 2018, 1:04 AM · My way was to have a heart attack and be put on beta-blockers, lol!
Edited: September 14, 2018, 1:04 AM · blank reply posted in error
September 14, 2018, 1:04 AM · I think a really helpful tip is to remember that every other person who auditions feels roughly the same way. You're all on the same playing field. What you see when others audition is never their best. So don't expect yourself to play 100% in a high pressure situation; just prepare so that your 80% is still good enough.
September 14, 2018, 4:59 AM · Don’t take beta-blockers.

Advice from a famous Russian violinist comes to mind: ‘You are only nervous when you are not ready’.

Edited: September 14, 2018, 8:06 AM · There are two types of performance "nerves". The first one, the one you don't want, is the one Roman addressed in his post. The remedy is obvious.

The second type of "nerves", the good one, is like the adrenalin excitement a well-prepared athlete has just before a race, which gears him up to produce his best performance on the day. Same with stage actors and performing musicians. If you don't have that adrenalin your performance will be duller with no excitement. So it may help to think of your exam not so much as an exam but as an exciting performance in front of an appreciative audience who will have been there themselves in the past and will understand the pressures.

Use bold bow strokes when possible; if, through "nerves" you are using short and weak bow strokes, then that will make you feel more “nervous”. Stand up straight with good posture (a la Heifetz!), which can only improve your tone and performance, and your command of the music. Remember that good control of the arms from the shoulders to the finger tips ultimately comes from strong back muscles and good posture.

And, of course, like Roman said, don't take beta-blockers, which won't help.

September 14, 2018, 8:49 AM · Roman Reshetkin, being nervous isnt necessarily about how well prepared one is. One could not accuse Steven Isserlis, for instance, of not being prepared or of not being a fine musician. I think that this is a far more complicated topic than mere dismissive and unempathetic statement made by someone who does not suffer from it.
September 14, 2018, 9:10 AM · I had a glass of wine before my first orchestra concert in 38 years and it helped a TON. But I'm not really recommending that in this instance. ;-)
September 14, 2018, 9:23 AM · My not-helpful comment; I am just a Mariachi fiddler, so nerves are never a problem, and pressure is non-existent. We leave our cases in the car, tune in the parking lot, and vocal warm-up is a shot of tecquila. :-) ~jq
September 14, 2018, 10:32 AM · "Advice from a famous Russian violinist comes to mind: ‘You are only nervous when you are not ready’"

The reason the quoted Russian violinist was famous was because he or she didn't suffer from a high baseline of nerves. Some, if not most, get nervous no matter what.

And paradoxically, there are some (I count myself among them) that get more nervous the more prepared they are. Practicing to a very high degree of detail can actually cause one to focus on the leaves instead of the forest.

Edited: September 15, 2018, 10:27 AM · Camilla, good luck with your violin exam today! I hope it has gone well.

The term "nerves" is kind of ambiguous. There are many different ways people are hampered by mental interference with the tasks they undertake. Musicians are typically affected in the organs they most need to play properly: wind players by lack of wind, string players by shaky arms and stiffening wrists/hands/fingers.

Even when you have no affecting physical symptoms it can still be mentally intimidating to expose yourself to others in such a deeply personal manner. I attended a workshop on stage fright at the San Diego Chamber Music Workshop in 1977 at which very revealing insights were provided by a round table discussion by professional performers of all kinds. In addition to the workshop participants I think every professional musician in San Diego attended - even pros can have "nerve" problems. I summarized some of what I gained from that workshop where I first heard about beta blockers and my own experience with them here:

My first attack of performance nerves occurred when I was just 17, I had already been performing violin and cello solos publicly for at least 3 years before that first "attack." I struggled with the problem for the next 20 years (always and only when performing solos or one-on-a-part) - until I "discovered" beta blockers.

I have no patience with the self-righteous nay-sayers who condemn those of us who need this crutch. More power to you if you can stand up there in front of hundreds of people and play alone frog to tip and tip to frog without a shake, but we are not all so fortunate.

September 14, 2018, 8:51 PM · thank you! My exam is in about an hour, i'm feeling rather excited, oddly enough!
September 15, 2018, 12:05 PM · That's good!

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