Updated: Nov 4, 2019
Performing 101 – Open Mics, Concerts & Recitals – Dealing with Stage Fright
When you imagine a musical performance, a variety of places such as coffee houses, recital halls, college campuses, bars and restaurants, outdoor band shells, your own living room. and more.Even though the venue may be different, the way you present yourself on stage is important. While some venues may be less formal than others, as the performer it's important to display your professionalism and excellence when on the stage. This can definitely be nerve-wracking, and performance anxiety or "Stage Fight" can make this feel impossible. After years of music practice, I still struggle with stage-fright myself; however, here are some basics that will help you shine like the star you are!
1. Remember why you are on stage.
Although the "Diva" or "Divo"stereotype might make us think otherwise. Performing music is not about us as performers; it is not about our egos. It is about the music—it's message, not our perfection as performers, is what is important.
All music whether it's a Chopin Étude or a Top-40 pop song has a message behind it. Sometimes it's emotional and serious and sometimes it's just that "Girls Want to Have Fun!" Other times, it is about creating a mood like a solo jazz pianist rolling out a lush arrangement of "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." But that is what the audience is looking for when they are watching and listening to you, they want to receive the message of the music. If you find yourself shaking, focus on the message or mood you are trying to create and as Eminem said, "Lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it..." You are sharing something of value with your audience, remember that!
2. Live healthfully.
While the "Rock 'n' Roll" lifestyle trope has existed for centuries. (Think of how Mozart was depicted in Amadeus.) A healthful life will help you perform our best. Mindfulness practices such as deep breathing, yoga, and mindful meditation can all help to curb stage fright, and over time, they help prevent it from taking over your body and mind in the first place. I have a post dedicated to Mindfulness for Musicians that you can find on this blog here.
Regular aerobic exercise and strengthening activities also contribute to a show-stopping performance. Research has shown that regular exercise has a direct effect on the brain. It increases neuronal health by "improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients; and through an increase in neurotrophic factors and neurohormones that support neuron signaling, growth, and connections." This includes the hippocampus, an area of the brain
Of critical importance for mental health is the hippocampus—an area of the brain involved with emotional regulation, memory, as well as learning. You need all of those skills to perform your best.
Diet is also an important factor to quelling the pre-show jitters. Limit caffeine before performing, if can make nerves worse and dry out your throat (especially an issue for singers and wind players). While one-half glass of wine (if you are of age!) may calm your nerves, alcohol intake can derail a performance. Be mindful or your body and know your personal limits. Drink enough water on performance days. Additioanlly, herbal "teas" or tisanes can be a great help. Look for caffeine-free teas with lavender, chamomile, lemon balm, and rose. These herbs are all naturally calming. However, some calming herbs, such as Valerian root, can cause drowsiness. Another option is rooibos or red tea which comes from South Africa and does not contain any actual "tea" and is therefore caffeine free. I have included an herbal blend I love below.
Lavender Herbal Tea
½ teaspoon culinary lavender flowers
½ teaspoon high-quality chamomile flowers
½ teaspoon culinary rose petals
Bring six ounces of fresh water to a boil. Let the water cool for two minutes before pouring over the flowers. Let steep for five to ten minutes. Serve your tea with a teaspoon or two or honey, if you like, or make an herbal latte with frothed almond milk.
Eat healthful food. Complex whole grains can help calm nerves; filing you up without making you feel weighed down. A whole food plant-based is a good place to start. (Note that plant-based doesn't necessarily mean vegan or vegetarian, which are diet choices that some musicians find beneficial but others may not). Healthful fats such as the omega-3's found in salmon or flax or those found in almonds and avocados can also help. Getting all your nutrients is crucial to performing well. Notice what foods make you feel your best.
Get enough sleep the night before a performance. If you are having trouble sleeping the night before, the aforementioned Valerian root tea can be a big help. (These suggestions are not in any way in place of medical advice. Speak to your medical professional before changing your diet or making lifestyle changes.)
3. You are your own "Biggest Fan."
Self-love goes a long way to improving your self-esteem. Having good self-esteem may be one of the most important factors when it comes to performing well. This includes knowing that you have prepared and as ready as you can possibly be in that moment. You are in the present perfect, meaning the moment is as perfect as it can be as it is happening right now! In Japanese tea ceremony, there is a saying, "The perfect tea ceremony is the one that is happening." This is true of all performances. The perfect performance is the one that exists, not some imaginary one in your mind that may or may not ever happen. The performance that is happening now is as perfect as it can ever be. If you feel you didn't practice that passage enough, that's okay, there will be future performances. Or if you forget your lyrics, that's okay too. Remember music happens in time; that note, phrase, or word comes and it is gone. The audience probably won't notice any errors that you notice unless you stop and bring attention to them. (Believe me, I have learned this the hard way!) Keep going; you got this; the music is in you!
Additionally, feeling that you look great can also boost your confidence. Dress in clothes and shoes that are appropriate for the venue and make you feel great. If high heels make you feel uneasy, leave them on the shoe rack! Or, if that shirt makes you itch, leave it in the drawer. Also, if you chose you wear make up, make sure it makes you feel beautiful and as well as look it. And remember, your inner-beauty is where the beauty of the music will comes from. Let your inner-beauty shine!
4. Support fellow musicians.
Most of the audience is there because of number 1; they want to share in the message of the music. I've heard from one of the premier live onstage consultants that "Ninety-seven of the audience is there to watch your succeed and have a great experience, and three per cent is not on your side. You will never please that three per cent." Focus on the majority who wants to enjoy the gift you are giving. The others are the type of people who would complain that the ocean is too wet; they want to be miserable. Or perhaps, they are other musicians who are insecure in themselves and want to bring you down because they are unhappy. Don't let them win! Bringing you down isn't going to make them better.
Although you can't control what others think and do, you can control yourself. Support other musicians. Clap at the end of songs or at the end of pieces. Cheer, if appropriate. Congratulate them and remind them how brave and awesome they are. Look for the positives in every performance and don't focus on the negatives. There are always positives. Positives include that the fact they they went on stage and did something scary. If you notice something that you do not like about performance, reflect on why you don't like it. Was it because it was new or different? Was it because if made you insecure about your own performing abilities? Was it because you just didn't like that type of song? We will discuss Critique Vs. Criticism in a future post.
Writing this post has been very good advice for me to take myself. These are important reminders for all musicians to keep in the back of their minds. Even if we don't think of ourselves as "performers," performing is part of the nature of music. We make music to share it and connect, as well as learn and grow. We are constantly learning and improving. It is important that we be patient with ourselves and prepare. Each performance is unique that is one of the great things about music; it is always happening in the moment and always new. No matter what happens on stage, be gracious and thankful that you were given the privilege to share music with others.
With these tips, we can decrease unnecessary and harmful anxiety that prevents us from doing our best. But it is important to note that a low-level of anxiety actual helps us to perform. It keeps us "on our toes" and in the moment and prevents us from becoming complacent in performance. It helps to be prepared, stay motivated, and keep focused.
What are some ways you beat performance anxiety? We want to hear from you! Feel free to sign in and comment below or comment on Facebook, or tag us on Twitter or Instagram. You can always email us at email@example.com as well.
Janae J. Almen is a professional music instructor, composer, sound healer and writer. She has a BA in Music/Education from Judson University and a MM in Computer Music/Composition from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. She created the Perennial Music and Arts concept with her colleague, Jacqueline Bata in 2016 .She is passionate about tea and creating our own daily rituals. Visit www.PerennialMusicAndArts.com for more about music lessons and www.JanaeJean.com for more about a variety of wellness related topics including tea, sound healing, and recipes. Contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org for questions about tea, ceremony, music composition, sound healing, writing, photography, or other relevant topics.
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