Does stage fright hit you when you try to play in front of others?
Don't worry. You're in good company.
Nearly all musicians get scared at some point.
Performance anxiety can range from the mild "butterflies in my stomach" variety to very severe anxiety and physical symptoms such as shaking and sweating.
I've personally experienced the whole range!
But I'm here to tell you that you can overcome stage fright. You can learn to play piano anywhere, anytime, without fear!
In high school and college, my primary instrument was the flute. My stage fright was so severe that my mouth would shake, making it practically impossible to play with a lovely tone or play softly.
Add to that the sweaty, shaky fingers and an inability to take a deep breath -- and you have a recipe for performance disaster.
Worse yet, every time it happened I felt worse and worse about my ability to perform. That's what is so hard about stage fright -- it can be a vicious spiral. It was for me, for many years.
But there is hope!
Fear of playing in front of others can be overcome! You can conquer stage fright. I'm proof. I'll tell you all about it... but first, let's talk about why it happens in the first place.
Why, Oh Why, Do I Get Such Bad Stage Fright?
A fine question. You've practiced, you've done the work, and you can play your piece beautifully.
But in front of others, all your hard work seems to fall apart. Why?
Let's turn the question around, and think about it from another angle. Why wouldn't it be frightening to play in front of an audience?
After all, the huge majority of your piano playing happens by yourself, in your living room, with no one else listening.
I find there are a few persistent myths and beliefs about stage fright. Like:
- When I get "good," I won't be scared anymore.
- Beginners don't deserve to perform.
- I like to play, but I'll never be a performer.
The belief that getting "good" will cure stage fright is erroneous. Improving the level of your playing can boost your confidence, certainly.
But, most likely, you're still spending most of your time practicing by yourself, with a few scattered performance opportunities, like recitals.
Usually, recitals and other "forced" performances don't help stage fright -- they add to it.
But I Practice! Doesn't that Help?
Yes, it does. It helps you learn your music and your instrument. You certainly can't perform without knowing a song to play!
But practicing -- full of stopping and starting, with only your own ears to listen, in your own home, isn't performing.
You're a very well-trained practicer!
You've not trained at all - yet - in performing! No wonder it's scary!
Think about it. Performing is an entirely different set of circumstances.
Different piano, different room. Different temperature, different color on the walls, different sounds, and smells. And -- other people!
Unlike practicing, you can't stop and start, you have to play straight through. And most people, my students and myself included, put an unrealistic expectation of perfection on themselves when they perform.
Except for the music you're playing, there's nothing the same as your practice bench! No wonder your mind and body react with fear. It's completely natural.
OK, I Understand Stage Fright Better.
What Can I Do?
I didn't begin to recover from my debilitating stage fright until I was an adult.
What happened? I started dancing!
Not long after I started dancing, I started performing. Monthly, if not more often. This had never happened to me as a beginner musician. For the first time, I began to realize that performing could be fun! And that perfection was not the goal (or really possible).
My goals became to pursue excellence, engage the audience, and express myself.
Then, I started teaching music again. I became the worship leader for my church -- so I sing and play instruments every week for groups ranging from a few parents at my studio to a congregation of 150. At first, my stage fright was definitely in control, not me.
But then the magic started to kick in. The more times I performed, the more comfortable I was. The more I realized that it wasn't me singing or playing perfectly that touched people, the more fun I had.
Now I sing, dance, and perform on flute and piano regularly, in front of all kinds of different people. And I'll tell you the truth. I love it!
5 Best Stage Fright Tips
#1: Be Prepared.
There are no two ways about it: the less prepared you feel, the more nervous you'll be. Not enough practice = anxiety.
I'll be honest for a moment. Left to my own devices, I'll procrastinate. Like many people, my days are often "the tyranny of the urgent." In college, this became obvious when I'd wait too long to begin the in-depth practicing needed for a performance. And boy, did I feel it!
So the first, and most important, of my stage fright tips is to really prepare. Know your songs inside and out. Listen to recordings. Learn about the composer. Immerse yourself in knowledge.
#2: Breathe Deeply.
You've heard it before, I'm sure. But have you actually tried it?
Long, slow, deep breathing is a physical signal to your body to stop the adrenaline flow. You're literally giving your body instructions to calm down!
One or two deep breaths isn't enough. You need to take 5 to 10 minutes and breathe in and out slowly and deeply. Some people find counting helpful. I definitely close my eyes and tune out the world.
As you breathe, focus on breathing in calmness and peacefulness, and visualize the stress and anxiety leaving your body as you exhale.
#3: Have a banana.
Some musicians call it a myth, others swear it works!
The idea is that a banana's potassium, along with other nutrients, acts as natural stress relief. Having something nutritious and slightly filling can also be comforting to an anxious stomach.
Try eating a banana about 30 minutes before a performance.
Stress not only makes your heart beat fast and your mouth dry. Anxiety also lives in tight muscles and clenched jaws! In fact, stage fright affects your whole body.
I hold anxiety in my shoulders and neck. It's always an obvious sign to me, sometimes even before I realize I'm stressed!
Simple stretching can relieve your physical tension. Try stretching along with deep breathing.
#5: Do something else.
I've read articles about pop stars and classical virtuosos who experience stage fright, and have before-performance rituals to help stay calm and relaxed.
Whatever you love to do that relaxes you, do it before you perform! Some ideas to try:
- Listening to your favorite music on headphones
- Playing video or cell phone games
- Taking a walk
- Having a cup of tea
So, before you perform, you're spending time doing things you love. Instead of pacing and worrying!
My advice to you?
Start practicing performing! Learn to perform.
How? Just start doing it!
Invite friends and family over and play for them. Play for anyone who will listen, any time you can!
- Play chopsticks in the mall at the piano store.
- Hit your favorite nightspot and sing karaoke. (It doesn't matter if you can sing well, that's part of the fun!)
- Take out your kid's toy keyboard and play your easiest song on full volume in the backyard.
- Or just start by opening a window when you practice.
The point is to put yourself in front of people.
Play piano, sing, dance, do comedy, juggle. It doesn't matter. You're practicing performing.
Your stage fright will be there at first. Absolutely! Mine was. But you'll be surprised how quickly it starts to disappear. You'll amaze yourself.
In the meantime, while you're practicing performing, check out my stage fright tips.
The reality is, that many, many people would love to be able to play an instrument. For many, it's a lifelong dream.
So when they see you play, they think, "Wow. I wish that were me. I wish I could play the piano."
Remember -- you can do it!
How did YOU overcome stage fright?
Share your tips on how to overcome stage fright and help others battling performance anxiety!
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Stage fright is the most common concern - by far - that my site visitors email me about. Please share what has helped you!