I have a problem.
Okay, the title of this post was a tad bit vague. I have many, many problems. This specific one, however, concerns nerves.
I started studying with a new teacher a little more than a month ago online (having withdrawn from the boarding school I asked about a few months ago). He is absolutely wonderful, insightful, and supportive, but every time I have a lesson with him, I completely tense up, and it seems that all of the progress I've made (or think I’ve made) becomes almost a figment of my imagination. I tense up (even more than usual!!), my fingers sweat, I press more, my bow shakes, etc. This never happened with my previous teacher, with whom I think I was perhaps a little *too* relaxed with (and even dared to make excuses for not practicing)...
I know my new teacher has realistic expectations for me and doesn’t expect miles of progress in a week, but perhaps it stems from an uncertainty of what he expects and is accustomed to...perhaps a fear of not measuring up to his other students (although that's ridiculous mindset since I’m here to improve, not compete). Anyway, not the point. He tells me to relax, but that just makes me more tense.
Any tips for relaxing or combating this fear? I’m sure I’m not the first — or the last, for that matter — to have issues with being nervous...
The best book I know of on performance anxiety is The Inner Game of Music. Highly recommend that you read it. Good luck!
Focus on what you have to do, and to listening to yourself. Forget your audience. Fingers, bowing, bow placement, bow speed, hair on the bow, anything physical you can isolate and "observe" and strive to "do well" -- even breathing (breathe out). Especially work for "nuance".
You say this is a new teacher for you -- I have had many students over the years (woodwinds and brass) who began having lessons with me being very nervous and tense. But as the weeks went by they became much more relaxed as they understood better what I was looking for in their progress and weren't scared anymore. I'll bet that will happen to you as you have more lessons with this new teacher.
I try to focus on the reality of my lessons with my teacher. For example, I just remind myself that my lesson is not a performance. I agree with David that there is often a tendency to want to impress the new teacher. Trust me: You won't. That's not because you're not a good violinist. It's because it's not really his job to be impressed. I'm sure he'll find good things to say about your playing. What what he's really saying is that he wants you to keep working on those or maybe even bring them to the fore even more when you play. And if he can't find anything to correct then you're wasting your money. If you bungle a passage or two, your teacher knows you probably nailed it when you were practicing. If they pick at the scabs in your playing, that's because they want to help you overcome those problems. And even if you "played it much better at home," your skill needs to be reliable enough to nail it when you're nervous. Just let your teacher help you do that. The only problem comes when you're making so many "unexpected mistakes" in your pieces because of nerves that you're not ever talking about musical content or the overall structure of a repertoire piece. But as David says that probably will fade away as you get used to your new teacher.
You're absolutely right: not the first, not the last. I struggled with this a lot as well.
It's adrenaline. It'll go away after 10 minutes or so. I suggest zooming/skyping a friend 15 minutes before your lesson and perform to them - that'll help it dissipate.
Think of it as an opportunity. When you perform, you are going to get nervous too, so any opportunity to play when nervous is an opportunity to get a little more used to it, and you totally will get more used to it.
What you are experiencing is commonly called "performance anxiety." I am an "expert" on this having had nearly life-long experience of it.
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