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Anxiety Before a Musical Performance

How to Manage Anxiety Before a Musical Performance

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Updated July 07, 2012

Anxiety before a musical performance can be a problem even for seasoned performers. If you are a musician who suffers from anxiety before a musical performance, you know firsthand the terrible impact that anxiety symptoms can have on your performance. If your anxiety is part of social anxiety disorder (SAD), it is important to receive treatment such as medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). However, there are also a number of self-help coping strategies that you can use to reduce your anxiety.

In the months, weeks, and days leading up to a performance, work to keep your anxiety at a minimum. Some of helpful strategies include adequate rehearsal, preparation of non-musical matters, use of relaxation techniques, and careful selection of repertoire. Here, some tips to help you manage anxiety while preparing for a musical performance.

  • Rehearsal: Try to fit in at least three to four rehearsals prior to the actual performance. If possible, rehearse in the location where you will perform; this is especially important for piano players in order to get comfortable with the instrument. In addition to actual rehearsals, visualizing a successful performance is a good way to mentally prepare yourself to succeed.

  • Preparation: Being prepared as a musician means more than being ready to perform. Make sure that you have taken care of all loose ends so that you are not scrambling at the last minute and feeling anxious. Do you need a page-turner? Make sure to arrange one ahead of time. Have you chosen your wardrobe? Be sure to have an outfit that you are comfortable in chosen well in advance of the performance.

  • Relaxation: There are a variety of relaxation techniques that you can use to help keep anxiety symptoms under control prior to a performance. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, meditation, yoga, and other eastern disciplines will help to keep you focused and calm.

  • Memorization: Choose several sections of a piece as designated "memory stations" that you can jump to if you are in trouble. Sometimes simply knowing that you have memory stations makes it easier to relax and worry less about making mistakes.

  • Assessment: Assess your abilities as a performer, and be realistic in terms of your choice of music. Do not choose a piece that is beyond your skill level or that you do not have enough time to learn. It is better to perform well within your comfort zone than to fail because you chose a piece that was too difficult.

Once you have successfully used coping strategies to manage pre-performance jitters, it is time to face your fears the day of the performance. If you suffer with severe anxiety and self-help coping strategies do not seem to be helping, you may want to see a professional. When musical performance anxiety is part of SAD, formal treatment such as CBT or medication is usually advised.

Sources:

Kenny DT, Osborne MS. Music performance anxiety: New insights from young musicians. Advances in Cognitive Psychology. 2006;2:103-112.

Kirchner J. Managing musical performance anxiety. American Music Teacher. 2004;Dec.

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Counseling Services. Coping with music performance anxiety. Accessed Sept 25th, 2009.

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