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7 Ways To Handle Music Performance Anxiety (Stage Fright)

Young boy dressed representing performance anxiety

What is Performance Anxiety?

Performance anxiety also known as “Stage Fright”, is a state of anxiety of fear whilst talking or performing in front of an audience, whether it be a large or small group of people, in person or in front of a camera. 

One of the main reasons performers (Whether it be musicians, politician, actors etc) experience “Stage Fright” is usually because they feel an immense amount of pressure. The pressure we put on ourselves is mostly from the fear of making a mistake – For example, it could be fear of playing the wrong part, saying the wrong line, maybe forgetting our lines or even freezing up and saying nothing at all. The situation in which your performing can also be a massive factor. It may be that you are performing in a competition, a graded exam, and you know that you are being judged – that all eyes are on you.

It is perfectly normal to have nerves before a performance, it is very common. Most people have experienced a form of stage fright at some point in their life, it may just be getting in front of class at school and presenting to your peers or work colleagues.

In this article, i would like to offer a few tips to help you manage your anxiety better.

"If you have stage fright, it never goes away. But then i wonder: Is the key to that magical performance because of the fear?" - Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac

I have to agree with Stevie on this. I am a firm believer that a little bit of nerves before a performance is a good thing, however if you are unable manage your anxieties before a performance, it can be crippling and have a detrimental effect on your confidence and self-esteem. 

Whenever i have experienced performance anxiety (and believe me sometimes i still do), i have found some useful ways to calm the nerves that have allow me to get through the performance, and play at my best! 

Here are some 7 useful tips thats helped me to conquer stage fright – 

  • Deep Breathing – Whenever i get nervous before i take long but comfortable deep breaths, nice and slowly. I also try to observe the sensation of the air travelling in and out of my lungs and how pleasant it feels. I even try to imagine when i’m breathing out that i am releasing any tension that may be present in my body, and with that positive affirmation, it helps me to get to a calmer state of mind.
  • Stay Hydrated – This one is such a useful tip and really easy to do. I usually find when i get nervous, i get hot, my palms and forehead might even get a bit sweaty, and my throat gets dry. Staying hydrated helps to keep these symptoms at bay, as well as improve your cognitive functions and help you stay focused on the performance.
  •  Good Night’s Sleep – This one is important, but depending on what your sleeping patterns are like, it may not always be easy. Making sure that you get enough rest helps our minds to focus. Try to avoid consuming caffeine or alcohol or anything that may have an impact on your sleep.
  • Try Not To Obsess About Being Perfect – This one can be a hard pill to swallow, but bottom line of it is, we all make mistakes and nobody is perfect. Even those that are considered professional performers make mistakes from time to time. You could have rehearsed your performance 1 million times, and on the day certain things can go wrong. If anything the mistakes that you make are part of a learning curve, which allows you to grow and develop even more as a performer.
  •  Try Not To Dramatise Mistakes – You would be surprised at how many mistakes go on unnoticed with the audience. I have experienced many situations where i have made mistakes in my performance, and have been beating myself up about it after the show, but when i get feedback from my friends or family in the crowd, and i spoke to them about my mistakes – They tell me that most of the time they didn’t even notice. If you do make a mistake on stage, try to keep going as best you can, the audience might even think your mistake was intentional. The worst thing that you can do is make a mistake and make it really obvious. Regardless of what happens in that moment, the show must go on right?
  •  Be Prepared – Sometimes anxiety comes from lack of preparation, like not rehearsing enough before the show. If you have done everything that you can to get ready for your performance, this will automatically boost your confidence. As they say “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. 
  • Focus on something that isn’t the audience – I have been given this advice from many people over the years. When i was playing my first school talent show, i was super nervous about having 300 judgemental kids looking at me, so i was advised to look at the back of the hall and stare at the Fire Exit sign above the door. From the audience point of view, it made me look more confident because it appeared i was looking into the audience, but what they didn’t know is i was terrified to look down. After a few shows, my confidence started to build and i started to look around at the audience, and to my surprise I realised they were enjoying it, which boosted my confidence even more.

I hope that you try some of these tips and find them useful. Just remember that being in front of an audience, and performing is a big deal. Not everyone has the courage to be able to get up and perform in front of people, and with anything thats new you are always going to have the fear of the unknown, regardless of whether its performing or not. 

The more you throw yourself into this type of situation the more comfortable and confident you will become overtime, and will find your own ways to overcome your own performance anxiety.