Performance Anxiety + Making Mistakes
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!
This recent thread, despite having been a victim of the drug war for a bit, had a lot of different advice:
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."
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.
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.
Hey Jialin, here is my absolute best advice:
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.
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
I agree 100% with Buri.
Mary Ellen, I might replace "how you play" with "how well prepared you are."
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.
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.
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.
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:
Overpracticing can make things worse.
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Just a couple podcasts, likely you know about them....
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:
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:
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
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.
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.
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!
Sounds like you are in a great state of readiness to perform, Jina!
“…lack of adequate preparation (and/or awareness of the same) can most certainly bring on or exacerbate performance anxiety.”
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.
Hi, I will add my thoughts to this collection - maybe they are useful to you:
Agree with Emily--
Focus, concentration, attention,... As the Mynah Birds of "Island" were trained to say: "Here and now..."
Let us know how the exam goes, Jina!
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