Performance Anxiety + Making Mistakes

October 3, 2022, 8:14 AM · Hello everyone,

I have recently been experiencing really bad performance anxiety and I am really worried because I have a very important exam coming up soon and I don't want to make any mistakes during the performance. Basically, my exam will be treated as a recital and I have to play 4 pieces for the whole performance.

Whenever I get really nervous, I always mess up somewhere. It's been causing me a lot of trouble as I have never gotten so nervous before. I actually practise all my repertoire a lot, sometimes even for 5-6 hours everyday.

If you could all provide helpful suggestions, I would be very grateful.

Thank you all so much!


Replies (43)

Edited: October 3, 2022, 9:47 AM · This recent thread, despite having been a victim of the drug war for a bit, had a lot of different advice:

What I can say as an audience member is that all the greats make mistakes, and their making mistakes doesn't meaningfully affect the delight I take away from their performance. I prefer that a performer take the risk of fully expressing themself and making some mistakes along the way than giving a "safe", inhibited performance.

What if you mess up and your audience still loves your performance? What if you can still communicate something touching to your audience despite slipping in a passage or playing some notes out of tune?

Consider the idea that you have a certain amount of free energy that you're being kindly supplied with, and whether you interpret that as negative and nerves or a boost to your performance is largely one of perspective, that can be trained, just like your first few times riding a roller coaster can be nervous experiences, but later, you identify that as a thrilling feeling.

Edited: October 3, 2022, 10:58 AM · Great advice. And, once again on this topic, I'd like to share some advice I got decades ago from one of my mentors (in my training as a psychologist). He explained what he called the "Perfection Fantasy."

This is the conviction that we have only two choices in anything we do: Either it has to be PERFECT, or it's A TOTAL FAILURE. There is nothing in between.

That means, that even the slightest mistake or imperfection, and you fall off the pedestal and are a complete failure. It's an "either-or"...nothing in between.

In reality, of course, we are ALL in between, in everything. In spite of a history of "perfection," everybody makes mistakes and slips and imperfections, including the great ones (e.g., Jascha Heifetz). We are all human, so take pride what you do, and do your best in every situation, no matter what happens. If that's not good enough for some people, it shouldn't lessen your resolve and your efforts.

PS. I've also shared this experience. I was in the audience when David Oistrakh played the Prokofiev 1st Concerto. The 1st and 3rd movements were great, but that middle 2nd movement (a technically tough one) he messed up completely (technically and musically). As an encore, he came out and they replayed that 2nd movement, this time his performance was astounding; it brought the house down. If that's good enough for David Oistrakh, it should be good enough for the rest of us.

October 3, 2022, 11:49 AM · To make mistakes is human. The more you play or perform, the more opportunities you'll have to make mistakes and the more opportunities you'll have to learn from them.

October 3, 2022, 4:10 PM · Sander that's a wonderful story about Oistrakh. I am sitting next to my daughter, told her what you wrote, and she says "He can only do that if he's famous" and laughs hard.
October 3, 2022, 4:52 PM · Hey Jialin, here is my absolute best advice:

Use recording as a tool to prepare. Play the pieces exactly how you'll play them in the exam (that means no editing, and no restarting), and have the camera facing you from the angle you will be viewed from. This way you'll be more accustomed to being watched from that direction.

Do the recording with the intention of posting it here (you can wear a mask if you want to remain sort of anonymous), and the intention of being critiqued on that recording.

This replicates the feeling of an audition or exam, since you know it will be witnessed and criticized. It also allows you to see exactly what your examiners will see. It's one thing to take a small little recording and convince yourself that you're prepared; it's quite another to actually play straight through all 4 pieces, and accept that there will be some imperfections in there. Oftentimes, we seem to only *really* hear our mistakes when we finally go in for the performance. And we ask ourselves "was it ALWAYS this out of tune"? because we are hyper-aware of everything in higher-pressure settings. It's nice to get used to the mistakes ahead of time, as well as potentially fixing them.

The most important part of this process is it allows you to PROVE that you are ready. You will know that if you can play all 4 pieces in front of a camera - knowing it will be witnessed - and watch it back and say "yes, that was good enough," then you will be able to do the same in an actual exam.

October 3, 2022, 6:09 PM · Greetings,
the replies above and in the recent thread mentioned cover it all well. So just a brief thought: your external goals are the problem. You want to ace your exam.To get one hundred percent. To blow your examiners away. To have people go ‘Wow! You got a distinction.’. What you really need to do is reset to an internal goal: ‘ I will simply play the best I can having prepared to the best of my ability. ‘ Nothing else matters.
October 3, 2022, 6:23 PM · There is an on-point quote attributed to Beethoven but is actually more of a summary of his remarks to his student, Ferdinand Ties: "To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable." To me, that is the essence of being a good musician, and the people listening you will surely know it.
October 3, 2022, 8:01 PM · I think that too many people nowadays are reliant on beta-blockers and this just tells me that they are not trying their best to face the real problem of nerves by themselves. Jialin, I think it’s normal to make mistakes during performances, it’s only human to. If you find that you are constantly making mistakes in performances I recommend maybe trying to record yourself and analysing what is going wrong during your performance/recital. I also think that slow practice also helps
Edited: October 3, 2022, 8:16 PM · I agree 100% with Buri.

When my students have auditions coming up, I tell them the following:

There are three things which affect the outcome of this audition and you control only one of them. How you play (you control this), how other students play (you don’t control this), and what the judges actually decide (you don’t control this). Focus on the one thing you control. If you walk out of the audition able to say to yourself, that is the best I could play under the circumstances, then whatever the outcome is, you have won.

You cannot put an emotional investment in a result that is influenced by factors beyond your control.

October 3, 2022, 8:50 PM · Mary Ellen, I might replace "how you play" with "how well prepared you are."

I know I'm just nitpicking what is obviously good advice, but there are certainly times when we go in and feel like we didn't play how we wanted, due to a variety of factors. Personally, I find it helpful to tell myself "I did everything I could to prepare (including preparing for the unexpected), so everything that happens after this point is out of my control."

Then again, this advice may only be helpful to me, and not to anyone else.

As another point, many of my failures in my teen years were admittedly due to being unprepared. I practiced a ton, but that doesn't mean I was "preparing." Ideally, I should have been mimicking the auditions as much as possible at home, including imagining someone watching me, recording myself, and perhaps playing in front of strangers more often. The best audition I had was the one where I had prepared by playing standing on one leg with my eyes closed. I figured if I could do that and still play my excerpts, nothing could get in my way. And it turned out to be true.

This concept also applies to many other high-level things. I heard of a Starcraft player (a very competitive and difficult computer game) who would prepare for competitions by playing with one eye closed, with feet in ice water, with the heat turned all the way up, etc... He wanted to make sure that all scenarios were covered.

One can take this to such an extreme that it's no longer useful, of course. But I have to admit, there were times I went in to perform and realized my hands were freezing, and I had no experience playing that particular piece with cold hands. If I had tried this at least once in my preparations, it wouldn't have thrown me for such a loop (though it still would have adversely affected my playing).

October 3, 2022, 10:00 PM · Hello everyone,

Thank you all so much for your suggestions. I find them really helpful. I find people who say 'to make mistakes is human' sort of cliche because that's what I always get told, but our ultimate goal is to be able to play a piece at least accurately. I don't mean that making mistakes is not human I'm just saying how we can't always rely on the fact to make mistakes and if we keep reminding ourselves that making mistakes are okay, we will probably never push ourselves to play our best.

Erik, thank you for that, I might share a video in a couple of days in a separate discussion where it will be open for criticism and advice. I do believe that this method will help - I have already started doing this actually. I find that your comment about playing a piece with cold fingers is really useful because sometimes we just need to experience unexpected situations, so I will take that into consideration as well. I also agree with the fact that when we are practising, it doesn't always mean that we are 'preparing' so thanks a lot!

Elle, I am not planning on using beta blockers because as you said yourself, I would like to fight stage fright on my own without doing drugs. I believe that we can't always be reliant on drugs and facing it by yourself earlier means that you can be less worried in the future and that's what I am currently working on. I think the main reason why I am getting really nervous all of a sudden is because of the COVID lockdown and since we haven't been performing as regularly, it may be a bit frightening to start performing again. I used to be very confident on stage, now I find myself worrying about every single note of a piece!


October 3, 2022, 10:44 PM · Greetings,
Oistrakh prepared himself for the cold finger thing (part of his wartime experience) by starting out each day with. a difficult Paginini Caprice from cold. There is a lot to be said for it.
Another thing to work on is stamina. Can you play your recital through twice kind of thing.
In the end I think the more one plays in front of people the easier it gets. Just force people , animals and passing ghosts to sit down and listen to you play.
One thing I do sense is an over emphasis on the ‘m’ word. Is practicing really just something we do to get rid of ‘ms’. Doesn’t sound like a good idea to me since it presupposes the existence of ‘ms’ to begin with. I think playing the violin in the simplest terms is simply a ‘relative’ experience. You have a concept of a piece and you work at getting your delivery closer and closer to that concept while simultaneously raising the level of the concept itself. In performance (and don’t forget that you MUST be practicing as though everything -is- the performance right now) one may deviate from the ideal and adjust as part of the performance. The moment you allow your thinking to dwell on the existence of a hypothetical ‘m’ in performance you are simply not in the present which is where you belong.
Consider that what made Heifetz vastly superior to his peers in so many aspects of his playing was his sense of deviation and speed of adjustment .
Perhaps its time to reframe practice and performance without this dumb letter since it arguably doesn’t exist in the sense people seem so determined to use it?
October 3, 2022, 11:53 PM · At the risk of restarting the drug war, beta blockers will do absolutely nothing for inadequate preparation. Beta blockers will deal with many of the physical effects of adrenaline. If you're nervous mentally, a beta blocker will do zero for that. A beta blocker is in no way a substitute for appropriate mental preparation for performance, and it will not, in any way, affect any tendency to make mistakes.

Humans make mistakes when they perform. The better performers usually make smaller mistakes and cover them up better (and recover more seamlessly), but most performers definitely have "on nights" and "off nights", where they play better or worse than is their average.

Fatigue and distraction are your biggest enemy when performing. Improve the quality of your preparation. You might be practicing a lot, but is your practice truly effective?

October 4, 2022, 1:54 AM · I like your attitude, Jialin. I have to admit that when I was young and talked to people about stage fright, I was also given many cliche suggestions. For example, I was told to interpret my nervousness as being "Excited." Needless to say, that didn't work.

In a sense, what a high-level musician is trying to portray is they are *more* than human, isn't it? So if we simply accept that we are producing a human sound (mistakes and all), then we have thrown in the towel and are willing to just be ordinary.

On the other hand, once you've prepared as much as possible and it's time to demonstrate your craft, it's important to be able to move on from your mistakes, and not get thrown off by them in the middle of the performance.

I see 3 stages:

1) Practice
2) Preparation
3) Performance

In each stage, you have to engage in a totally different mindset. To make some *very* generalized points:

In stage 1, our goal is to hear our mistakes as much as possible, and to stop and fix them.

In stage 2, the only mistakes we hear should be occasional flukes. If there are consistent areas of trouble, it means we never finished stage 1. Thus, our goal in stage 2 is to learn how to play through these occasional flukes, as well as bolstering our resistance to unexpected feelings/scenarios.

In stage 3, our goal is to let our body and our mind do what we've prepared them to do. We must be completely out of stage 1 at this point. I think this is the stage where it's most necessary to "Accept that we're human". If you don't, then even a small little mistake will catch all of your attention, and it will potentially derail everything after it. The best performers are able to recover immensely well from their mistakes, and it's worth noting that I've never seen a recording or a live performance from a top soloist where I didn't hear at least one technical error (usually many more than one). But they moved on so well that no one cared (and probably most didn't even notice). "A perfect driver can never finish a race."

Anyways, I'm looking forward to seeing what you post.

October 4, 2022, 4:34 AM · I think everybody’s comments has been pretty helpful so far. I have experienced this same kind of situation before, but I think in simple terms, performing more usually helps you, and making sure that you’re well prepared in any sort of circumstance, like Erik said.
Edited: October 4, 2022, 9:07 AM · Wonderful breadth of opinions and suggestions by all. I would add only to keep in mind what makes music and its performance so significant and life-affirming. It is my favorite quote about music, by Tchaikovsky:

"Music is not illusion. It is rather revelation. Its triumphant power is that it reveals to us beauties we find nowhere else. And the apprehension of them is not transitory, but a perpetual reconcilement of life.”

Yes, strive for the highest level of performance excellence, and use whatever tools are helpful. But instead of punishing yourself if and when you don't reach it, hopefully it should motivate you even more to achieve and to fulfill your dreams.

October 4, 2022, 9:39 AM · Overpracticing can make things worse.
October 4, 2022, 2:26 PM · I am reminded of the quote (which I have always liked) by Sarasate: "For 37 years I've been practicing 14 hours a day, and now they call me a genius."

And, I gave a talk a couple of weeks ago, and started with a quote by George Jessell (the comedian): "The human mind is a wonderful thing. It starts working the minute you are born, and it never stops until you get up to speak in public."

Edited: October 4, 2022, 3:29 PM · Make a chest of drawers in your mind and put each problem or worry in a separate drawer. Open only one drawer at a time, and only when you will focus on addressing a solution to it. Never leave any drawer open when you are not specifically and constructively improving that situation. Also, has anyone yet mentioned that you should be sure to get enough sleep too? Make yourself shut everything down an hour before going to bed early enough to have at least 8 hours before getting up. And a strict rule in bed is that place is only for rest and no problem drawers are to be opened there ever.
October 4, 2022, 3:34 PM · Greetings,
I am not entirely sure what the ‘shut down’ encapsulates in Will’s post but I think I may respectfully disagree with some aspects. Sleep is indeed the time when we do organize our mental structures and actually learn what we did during the day. Lack of sleep through excess light (not just blue light) from computer screens are major issues. Coffee is a disaster and so on.
However, for optimum performance I cannot recommend strongly enough perfect vizualization on stage right before sleeping. By this means the mind focuses on and resolves the issues as one sleeps instead of indulging in the excess of practice Scott notes above. Likewise, when one wakes up the first thing to do is mentally perform your work. The pre sleep technique is well established. The morning version is neglected but equally important.
Its ultimately all about the most effective use of the mind and this does include timing.
October 4, 2022, 6:12 PM · I feel like sometimes you might be overthinking things. Try playing your whole repertoire with your eyes closed and see how you go. Sometimes during performances you will give yourself negative thoughts and self-doubts, just be sure about everything when you go on stage and you should be fine. I experimented this a few years ago and it absolutely worked for me
October 4, 2022, 6:32 PM · Hello everyone,

Thanks for all the comments so far. I think it might be because of overpractising, or it could just be me overthinking about it. I will try that, Elle. I will post a recording of my run through potentially soon in a different discussion so that you can all comment on it and give some feedback. Thank you all.

Jialin (or you can call me Jina from now on)

October 5, 2022, 5:35 AM · Performance anxiety is nothing to do with ability or practice. In my 'other' profession I'm a therapist, I work with it all the time. All artistic performance brings up psychoemotional issues and for some people these need to be processed and resolved. A little stage nervous keeps us on our toes, but if it becomes debilitating that needs sorting out.
Edited: October 5, 2022, 5:36 AM · Performance anxiety is nothing to do with ability or practice. In my 'other' profession I'm a therapist, I work with it all the time. All artistic performance brings up psychoemotional issues and for some people these need to be processed and resolved. A little stage nerves keeps us on our toes, but if it becomes debilitating that needs sorting out.
October 5, 2022, 6:45 AM · Au contraire, lack of adequate preparation (and/or awareness of the same) can most certainly bring on or exacerbate performance anxiety. It certainly isn’t the only factor but it’s a big one.
October 5, 2022, 7:08 AM · Greetings,
I would also like to add that ‘ability’ too can be a factor. Assuming one is able to make an objective assessment then it is quite possible that one could find oneself in a situation where our ability does not correlate with what is required. For example, a newbie in an experienced professional orchstra might find themselves having to sight read an incredibly difficult work form the standard repertoire simply through lack of experience. They lack both the ability to play it at that time and the ability to fake what can be faked. Is this the kind of ability you are referring to or am I misunderstanding?
I do actually find the statement ‘all artistic performances bring up psychoemotioanl issues’ to be perhaps to extreme. To the layperson , such as myself, ‘issue’ tends to have a negative connotation. If it simply refers to the bringing up of emotions or thoughts in general then the issue seems to me to be either normal or lack of ability to focus on what is happening in the present which is an ability that can be practiced via such things as Alexander Technqiue.’
Could you explain a little further what you mean?
October 5, 2022, 7:25 AM · Just a couple podcasts, likely you know about them....
Bulletproof Musician uses cognitive science and studies.
Noa Kageyama, teaches at Juilliard.
Mind over Finger uses mindfulness techniques.
I think Dr. Gauthier does one-on-one online coaching.
But, many interviews with experts on performance anxiety.
October 5, 2022, 7:30 AM · Years ago, I had the good fortune to attend a masterclass by Midori. One of the students played his Ysaÿe sonata brilliantly, and Midori asked him what he would like to work on. "Performance nerves", he said. Midori advised him to seek out as many opportunities to play for people - or for pets - as he could, and to take notice of how it went, so that he might become familiar with all that could happen, and prepare for it. I have found a video online of Midori giving similar advice: Here it is.
October 5, 2022, 8:25 AM · My son had the privilege of being gifted a few sessions with Dr. Gauthier from Mind over Finger for preparation for his first international competition. She suggested three pillars:

1. Preparation
2. Conditioning
3. Mindset

The first is probably all the stuff you are already doing, like making sure each piece is adequately prepared, setting up a practice schedule, etc. From your videos, it sounds like you have already done much of this work.

The second is conditioning yourself to be ready for the situation. For my son, a lot of this was figuring out how to quickly switch between pieces without getting flustered, using centering techniques to calm himself down, how to respond to mistakes, imagining the performance situation (the room, the feelings, etc.), etc. He also did some practical work by giving practice performances for peers and at nursing homes.

The third is getting yourself into the right mindset, and practicing how to do it a lot so that you can get yourself there quickly, even if there are issues.

If you continue to have issues, I would definitely suggest a few sessions with Dr. Gauthier (you can do them virtually) for more ideas specific to your needs. My son rarely gets nervous (except for the time he played for Hilary Hahn!) so she may have different ideas for you.

The final thing is that committees like the one you will be playing for rarely listen to every single bit of intonation or every mistake. They listen to the overall performance and then respond more generally. If you play 98% beautifully and miss one shift, they are going to judge you on the 98%, not the one missed shift (though they may mention it). My son just did another major international competition and every single kid made mistakes, some quite large, including all of the winners.

October 5, 2022, 8:32 AM · If you'd like to commiserate by seeing a well-known soloist dealing with significant performance anxiety both in general and on his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic using the techniques mentioned here (mindfulness, cognitive techniques, consulting with his performance anxiety coach in another country etc.) check out Johannes Moser | A Day in the Life of the German-Canadian Cellist. My daughter is a big fan and relates to seeing how normal and affecting this is.
Edited: October 5, 2022, 11:59 AM · This is an incredible discussion thread in it's detail, experiential as well as scientific bases, educational perspectives, differences in opinions and focus, empathy as well as disagreements, and specific examples.

For me, the major take-away is (once again) that whatever "categories" we may put ourselves and others into, ultimately there is no such thing as a standard human being. An approach that doesn't work at all for one person is likely ideal for someone else.

Also, musical education (especially in violin and other instrumental performance) is one of those areas in which the teacher is most gratified when the student gives a great performance. As Nietzsche said, "One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil." This is especially true in musical performance.

So, to those out there suffering from performance anxiety and making mistakes, take these problems as the challenges they are. Every one of the suggested techniques and points of view on this discussion thread is a potential door which when opened can take you to a new level of performance.

Edited: October 5, 2022, 8:05 PM · Greetings,
one of my favorite quotes from Marcus Aurelius:
‘You cannot quench understanding unless you put out the insights that compose it. But you can rekindle those at will, like glowing coals. I can control my thoughts as necessary; then how can I be troubled.? What is outside my mind means nothing to it. Absorb that lesson and your feet stand firm.
You can return to life. Look at things as you did before. And life returns.`
Lot of Marcuses floating around, it seems…
October 12, 2022, 10:34 PM · I come from the trumpet world as my main instrument but the principle is the same - if you can't do it in the practice room, or you're shaky doing it in the practice room, you're not going to do it better in a performance situation. Having the material down solidly is the biggest part of it.

You also need to embrace and be used to the fact that you're going to be performing in front of people and be able to focus your attention on your playing - tune out those judgmental eyes - any worry about the audience is mental energy that isn't being directed toward what you're doing. Ideally you want the material down so solidly that if you're thinking about the audience at all it's how you're going to *show off* what you can do, not being afraid of screwing it up.

October 12, 2022, 11:11 PM · Greetings,
I think this quote from Seneca’s letters quite nicely encapsulates the relationship between practice and performance…
‘ It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself to deal with difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favours on it then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs. In the midst of peace the soldier carries out manoeuvres, throws up earthworks against a non-existent enemy and tires himself out with unnecessary toil in order to be equal to it when it is necessary. If you want a man to keep his head when the crisis comes you must give him some training before it comes.’
October 16, 2022, 12:54 AM · Actually recently my anxiety has gotten better thanks to all your suggestions such as performing with a camera, performing in front of audiences etc. so thank you all, I feel very ready for my upcoming exam which is on Saturday. I highly recommend performing to audiences more frequently or even just performing in front of friends, family etc. to anybody who suffers from anxiety right now. When you are performing please don’t think about any technique, throw away everything your teacher/whoever has told you in your lessons/practice, just delve deep into the feelings and emotions of the music, hope this helps!

Thanks and kind regards,
Jina :)

October 16, 2022, 1:08 AM · Sounds like you are in a great state of readiness to perform, Jina!
October 16, 2022, 10:50 AM · “…lack of adequate preparation (and/or awareness of the same) can most certainly bring on or exacerbate performance anxiety.”

The problem is, for most of us, it’s difficult to define “adequate preparation” or convince ourselves that we have achieved it. There are those of us who will never, ever feel adequately prepared. It becomes a mindset—or even a lifestyle.

It’s natural consequence of the music we have to play, which is ever-increasing in difficulty, and our instruction, in which, no matter how well we perform, always face criticism (because that’s what teachers are paid to do).

Ever been to a master class where the teacher said. “That was just fantastic. I like it as it is—don’t change anything!” I’ll bet you haven’t. Instead, Mr. or Ms. famous violinist was thinking “hmm, great performance, maybe even outplays me. But everyone is expecting me to say SOMETHING…”

Do I have any magic advice to solve stage fright? No. But many aspiring performers should learn to recognize whether they really do have the right stage mentality before pursuing a career.

Edited: October 16, 2022, 1:52 PM · I've definitely been to some masterclasses that could have been emails, but I have been to one or two where the teacher rightfully admitted that they had nothing to add to the performance, and they usually then found something interesting to pivot to that became more of a conversation with the performer about aspects of playing that aren't directly related to the performance that just occurred. I respect a teacher like that.

Weightlifters have a concept of preparing for a competition with a very specific plan leading up to it of what scheme of reps and weights they are going to lift, so that they are able to ramp up going into it, and go for a personal best in the competition, but also so they haven't peaked too early by putting too much strain on their bodies ahead of the competition, so that they aren't properly recovered and ready.

I think that performers of all sorts need to understand their rhythms and just how much performance and preparation they need so that they feel their freshest at the specific time of their desired performance. I imagine that a soloist playing regularly throughout the year may need to do less performing to find their optimum level, whereas someone who doesn't perform that often may need to schedule some practice performances to get in the zone.

Edited: October 17, 2022, 1:11 AM · Ever been to a master class where the teacher said. “That was just fantastic. I like it as it is—don’t change anything!” I’ll bet you haven’t. Instead, Mr. or Ms. famous violinist was thinking “hmm, great performance, maybe even outplays me. But everyone is expecting me to say SOMETHING…”

Lol - I had actually thought about asking a question about that, whether there's ever been a masterclass where they sincerely said something like what you outlined - "Wow...that was superb, can't think of a thing I'd change - you obviously have a fine teacher!...Next!"

Christian says he's witnessed such an event so apparently it's happened at least once!

Edited: October 17, 2022, 2:00 AM · Hi, I will add my thoughts to this collection - maybe they are useful to you:

The more often you perform the same program, the more you get used to it. Everyone knows this, but hardly anyone really does it. I mean to ask friends or fellow students, and play your program to them as if it were a concert, not twice, rather ten times. Even if this doesn’t calm you down you get experience to play in spite of your anxiety. And you will be able to learn to accept your (current) limitations.
After all, many have said that perfectionism is a main obstacle. Also this everyone knows. But be honest to yourself: You probably agree that even the greatest players do mistakes and still are great. And, rationally, this should apply to you, as well. And still, during performance, you don’t really believe this but rather try to be perfect.
This describes my constant performance problem. When I prepared for one more audition, at the age of 42, I spent most of my preparation dealing with anxiety preparation. Whatever I tried, when I test-performed for colleagues, all my preparation seemed to have been useless.
Until I wholeheartedly gave it up. I didn’t only tell myself, I really believed that this was my limit: I would never be able to show off all my skills during an audition. And exactly this was the magic switch in my head. I could play with the feeling of having it under control, in a positive way. Although I didn’t win that audition, many came to me telling me it had been great, and I think it was far better than most of my auditions I had played when I was doing lots of them, many years ago.

So, to me it was not this positive thinking such as “you can do it”, but rather the seemingly negative “you cannot do it, anyway”, that finally made me relax.

October 17, 2022, 11:11 AM · Agree with Emily--
Repeat performances are part of the solution. Now matter how well you are prepared in private practice, without an audience, the first public performance is a big barrier. That's one reason why I enjoy doing Opera or Music Theater. The repeat performances take you from being 95% good to 99%.
Those doing pop/jazz/commercial genres do a lot of repeated songs.
October 17, 2022, 11:26 AM · Focus, concentration, attention,... As the Mynah Birds of "Island" were trained to say: "Here and now..."

A huge part of my professional career was spent lecturing, teaching, making presentations. I cannot teach you how to do what I did because I'm one of those "natural" public speakers.

I'm not a natural at performing on the violin. My favorite performance position was a chair deep in the second section. That being acknowledged, the violin has taught me a lot about why I can speak in public but not do solo performances.

When I spoke, I was "aware" of the people in the room, but my focus, concentration and attention were on the material I was being paid to communicate.

When I tuck the violin under my chin and lift my bow before an audience, I am AWARE of the audience because this isn't my natural position. The concentration and focus needed evaporate.

Because orchestras also have need for logistics, I've come to know professional musicians and I have learned that some of the successful soloists have learned how to maintain the required levels of focus, concentration, and attention to the music despite the awareness of the audience.

My only advice to anyone is to be competent in your abilities and try to Focus, concentrate, and give all your attention to playing. My good fortune is that I don't need or want to perform for an audience on my violin.

Edited: October 17, 2022, 3:29 PM · Let us know how the exam goes, Jina!

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Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine