Advice for performance nerves?
As some of you may remember, I returned to the violin last November after a 45 year hiatus. Since then I've only played for my teacher and the occasional kind friend willing to listen to this returning beginner.
On 12/14 I've agreed, with my teacher's encouragement, to play Christmas music at a friends party. My teacher will play the keyboard for me. There shouldn't be more than 20 people at a time if that many. It should be, basically, background music (I sincerely hope). This is not a recital.
I've not played in front of more than one person since I was 12. I am now 60...any advice? This is certainly not even close to what all of you do, but for me at my current level, I'm already nervous. Probably a nip of Slivovitz prior isn't the best idea :)
All you need to know is that they are friends enjoying a party and that background music is what it says on the can - music for providing an agreeable ambience. Nobody will be listening critically, only with pleasure. So just relax and enjoy the party!
It really comes with time and experience. Also, the amount of nerves depends for me on how prepared I feel, on who the audience/setting is, on how exposed the music is, and on how many other people I'm playing with / how close I am to being in the position of soloist. And then there are a number of surprise elements that I likely can't even name. Sometimes, you might be surprised with how nervous you are, and sometimes you might be surprised with nervous you AREN'T.
What Trevor and Christian say is very important -- the listeners are friends, so they're already inclined to think well of you and your music. Also remember that you'll be background music, so people will only be listening with half an ear -- the other half will be listening to the conversation they're involved in. Talk to the host beforehand and ask him not to make a big deal of the music when you're ready to begin. Just sort of start playing, don't let him make a big announcement or everybody will stop talking and turn to watch you, which might be unnerving.
Thanks to all of you for the good advice!
One more thought is to practice performing, including running up/down stairs to get your heart rate up before practicing, walking out, taking a bow before practicing, and then playing from beginning to end without stopping, no matter what. Playing with live recordings like on YouTube can also help simulate the feeling of performing. As others have said, it is as much a mental game as anything else. Turn nervousness into excitement.
Turn nervousness into excitement...I like that!
Bone-crunching fatigue often helps reduce nerves. Do you have a round of really stressful errands to take your mind off music before you play?
Stephen - lol not always; sometimes fatigue makes one more vulnerable to them!
My experience with these kinds of things is that the novelty of hearing one's friend (or especially one's work colleague) playing a musical instrument is commonly sufficient to bring all other party activities to a crashing halt, resulting in a recital-like atmosphere. But the bigger (and better lubricated) the party, the less this tends to be true. If that happens, you can prepare something funny to say, like "Now I'm going to play about 2 hours worth of Christmas tunes. So if you all just stand there and listen to me, all the beautiful food and drinks will go to waste. I expect conversation to resume in earnest about 10 seconds into my first tune! That way I can make a lot of mistakes and you won't notice."
Paul, I like that comment you suggest. I think that using humor to diffuse a tense situation is a wonderful way to disarm things. Towards getting the guests a bit loopy on the drinks you could remind them "Drink up -- the drunker you get the better I'll sound."
I don't recommend having big stressful things before a performance. Been there, done that, will avoid wherever possible in the future... I think it depends on your levels of stress tolerance and adaptability, and resiliency in general. I do have to say though, it did keep me super focused on doing my absolute best with the music - distracted energy and all.
"Nerves" affect different people in different ways and can effect any one in different ways in different situations. In fact if you are doing something you have never done before there is no way to predict what your autonomous reactions will be.
I really appreciate the comments, thank you! I do tend to over-think which is likely not a surprise.
I think it's all part of the journey and nerves are part of what we live with. I do think it our reaction to nerves can be practiced so that we are not so overwhelmed by it. But for most performers, we just get a little more used to it, it doesn't go away. Here is a little joke I recently posted:
One of the sure ways to make nerves worse is to perform music that is difficult. Then it becomes a self-fulfilling spiral down: "I'll probably mess up. See? I messed up."
Exposure therapy is a treatment for fear - it should lessen with experience. So if you perform those pieces in front of any others in advance, it would probably help.
Thankfully the pieces are quite easy. I now understand why my teacher insisted on those pieces, and my listeners won't know that they are simple. So far I've only been able to play them in front of 2 people, but I figure I will be nervous that day either way. Thankfully it's a pretty small room which I think will help!
I would say to establish a routine before recital, that you will do before all future recitals. If you do a routine that "causes" a bad experience, then switch it up. I would recommend a banana and maybe a warm hand wash.
Another thing is that if you are able to engage the pieces musically, find (or imagine) someone in the back row that you need to communicate them to. It is like speaking a piece of prose that needs to be understood, compared to reciting a group of syllables aloud while worrying only about your accent, breath control, etc.
My little "event" was today, and it went fine. No real performance anxiety, much to my surprise, and from all reports was well received. These were just a quite simple carols to dip my toes back into the performance waters in a very small way, the first time since 1973. My teacher (and accompanist) carefully selected very easy pieces for me several levels below my current playing level. I didn't understand why at first, I do now!
Congratulations! I’m glad that it was a good experience.
Woo hoo! Way to go! I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Congratulations, Catherine! I'm glad it went well and equally glad that you enjoyed it enough to want to do more of it. Getting used to performing takes time and repetition. In my opinion performing should always be a level or two below the level you're actively working on. I'm happy you understand why your teacher chose the music he/she did. And that's why we keep working to advance our level of playing -- so that a wider assortment of performable music opens up for us.
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