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How to Manage Anxiety During a Musical Performance

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Updated December 09, 2013

Many a performer who has remained calm prior to performing has fallen apart during a performance. If you have prepared well for a concert and used coping strategies to manage pre-performance jitters, it is time to tackle your stage fright during the performance. Below are some tips to help manage anxiety during a musical performance.

  1. Positive Thinking. Although positive thinking alone will not prevent performance anxiety, positive thoughts are certainly more supportive of a successful performance than negative thoughts. By making sure that you think positively during rehearsal, it is more likely that you will be thinking positively on stage.
     
  2. Avoid Self-Medication. Some performers cope with musical performance anxiety by drinking or using street drugs. There are a number of problems with self-medication such as a lower-quality performance, problems with addiction, and negative effects on health.
     
  3. Act "As If." Even if you feel nervous, try to act calm and confident. Focusing on feelings of anxiety will only make them worse. If you try hard enough to project an air of confidence you may actually begin to feel more confident.
     
  4. Stay in the Moment. While you are performing, be sure to stay in the moment. Don't worry about upcoming parts of the performance or a mistake that you just made. Athletes call this type of state "being in the zone." A good way to stay in the moment is to avoid internal dialogue when performing. Allow yourself to be carried away by the music and performance and tune out the critical voice in your head.
     
  5. Acknowledge the Audience. Although it can be tempting to pretend the audience is not there, a more productive approach is to imagine them as a group of supportive friends. Even if you are performing in an evaluative context such as a musical exam, imagining the examiner as warm and friendly will help to reduce your anxiety more than if you imagine him as critical and judgmental.
     
  6. Acknowledge Some Anxiety. Every performer experiences a little bit of anxiety before going on stage, and many find that a bit of nerves make for a more vibrant performance. Realize that you will not completely eradicate your anxiety, but that you can live with being a little bit nervous.
     
  7. Trust Yourself. At the end of the performance, before you hear any critiques or reviews, ask yourself how you did. Be honest, and congratulate yourself if you performed well. If later you receive criticism from audience members, know that your own evaluation was positive, and that how you feel about your performance matters the most because you know your abilities best.

If after implementing some of the above strategies you still find that your performance anxiety is out of control, it may be time to seek professional help. Musicians who suffer from social anxiety disorder (SAD) benefit from formal types of treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication. In addition, if your anxiety is not limited to musical performances but spread across a range of social and performance situations, treatment aimed at the underlying cause of your fear will be more helpful than strategies narrowly focused on musical performance anxiety.

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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