There’s nothing quite like stepping on stage in front of a crowd with only your instrument in hand. As a musician, every performance is an opportunity to share your music with the world and it is a privilege to do so. Unfortunately, even the thought of performing causes some musicians so much anxiety that they avoid the stage altogether. If you experience musician performance anxiety (MPA), you’re not alone.
According to the German University of Paderborn, nearly one-third of orchestra musicians suffer from MPA. Also known as stage fright, musician performance anxiety is more than just nerves – it leads to physical symptoms like racing pulse, rapid breathing, trembling, nausea, and vision changes.
For many musicians, performance anxiety is a reality, but it doesn’t have to keep you from sharing your gifts with the world. Follow these six simple tips to learn how to manage your stage fright:
- Stick to a Pre-Performance Routine
In the days leading up to a performance, try to stick to your regular routine. Create a schedule for sleep, meals, and practice, and try to incorporate exercise to work off nervous energy. Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption and eat healthy so you feel your best on the big day.
- Identify and Manage Symptoms
Stage fright affects musicians in different ways, so learn to identify your own symptoms so you can take steps to manage them. Learn breathing techniques and practice relaxation exercises to calm your nerves, making them part of your pre-performance routine. As you work to understand and control your stage fright, however, you may need some extra support. Beta-blockers like propranolol might help mitigate stage fright symptoms while you learn to manage them.
- Practice as Much as Possible
You may not be able to prevent the nerves from creeping in prior to a performance. Just remember the strongest weapon you have in your arsenal is practice. If you know your music backward and forwards, there’s one less thing to worry about. Practice starting the piece at different points in the music as well, just in case you lose your place and need to adjust during the performance.
- Simulate the Performance Situation
Knowing your music is essential, but another important element of practice is simulating the performance situation. If you have access to the venue, run a dress rehearsal with family and friends so you won’t be stepping on that stage for the first time the day of your performance.
Another tool you can use to overcome stage fright is virtual reality. Virtual reality treatment enables you to step into a 360-degree simulation of the performance situation. Over time, this treatment may help desensitize you to the experience, reducing your physical symptoms of anxiety.
- Maintain a Positive Outlook
The worst thing you can do is feed your anxiety with negative thoughts. Remind yourself how much you’ve prepared for this moment instead of thinking of all the things that could go wrong. Imagine the audience being full of your friends if it helps and remembers they are there to enjoy the performance, not waiting for you to fail. If all else fails, pretend your anxiety is excitement and try to focus that nervous energy into your performance. Forcing yourself to calm down when your body is full of adrenaline may only make matters worse, so try to channel your energy instead of repressing it.
- Keep Performing
They say practice makes perfect and, while you may never completely overcome your stage fright, the more you perform the better you’ll get at coping with your symptoms. Research suggests the first few minutes of a presentation are the most stressful, so make sure you have the start of your performance down pat. Before you step on stage, tell yourself you only need to get through those first five minutes. By then, you’ll have found your groove and all you have to do is keep going.
As a musician, it’s strange to think the same thing that brings you such joy can also be the cause of severe anxiety. Don’t let your stage fright keep you backstage. Start taking steps to overcome your nerves so you can keep doing what you love: sharing music with the world.