How To Overcome Performance Nerves

How To Overcome Performance Nerves

by Kailan O’Dell, piano teacher at Sono School Of Music


Dealing with nerves before a lesson or performance.

Do you have a feeling of anxiety before your lessons, or suffer from stage fright before a concert or performance? Don’t worry, that just means you’re human. “Nerves” are probably the most common problem faced by aspiring musicians. Even seasoned pros still get butterflies before they go on stage. In fact, in a survey, 96% of Orchestra musicians admitted to feeling anxious before a performance (Dr. Noa Kageyama, 2014). You’re not alone in these feelings. This article will give you some tips to help overcome or even harness these nerves and put you in a better frame of mind.

Don’t panic!

Take a deep breath…your nerves are normal. There is one thing that you should keep in mind at all times. You are performing or going to your lesson because you want to. You are doing something you’re passionate about, so as long as you keep that in mind you’re one step closer to dealing with your nerves. Try to relax and recognise that anxiety before playing in front of someone is a completely normal feeling.

Use Your Nerves

Surprisingly, getting rid of your nerves and anxiety completely isn’t the answer. Especially during a live performance, the best thing you can do is to learn to channel these feelings into your performance. It may sound a little bit over-the-top, but if you got up on stage with the same feelings you have whilst making a cup of tea, you might even find that you look bored, or that your performance may end up coming across as stale. A feeling of anxiety is healthy, and it can help fuel your energy when you step out onto the stage.

What To Avoid

If you’re anxious about a performance, don’t over-practice. If you’re underprepared and you’re not sure about what you’re playing, then practicing may be a great option, but more often than not, the nerves come from worrying not about if you can play the music, but rather if you can play it on stage. So you do know what you’re doing and you can play everything well in the practice room, then practicing your songs over and over again may not be helping at all, but rather feeding your nerves and making you even more anxious.

If you’re not a regular coffee drinker, don’t go overboard on caffeine beforehand. Many people think that having lots of caffeine will keep your energy up and will keep you more excited than nervous. In reality, coupled with your nerves, it can make you even more jittery and anxious than normal, although it will most likely just make you need to take more trips to the bathroom!

Be Realistic

Stage fright is your body eliciting a fight or flight response. Subconsciously, your mind is playing out all the worst things that could happen in this situation. When you perform, more often than not you are going to be fine, but even if you do make a mistake, don’t worry! Every musician has played their fair share of bad shows, we’re only human!
There’s no reason to worry about playing badly or making mistakes in your music lessons, that’s why you have them! The point of your lessons is to improve, and very rarely do things happen perfectly the first time. The reality is that you will make mistakes, and it will take time, but don’t stress, your teachers don’t bite! Whether you’re performing in front of one or one-hundred people, it’s completely normal to feel a bit anxious. Even massive celebrities such as Adele, or Radiohead’s Thom Yorke get nervous before performing. Nerves are a completely normal part of performing music. They are definitely not a bad thing, and they can even be an asset to you if you can harness them to your advantage.