Performing is a skill just like any other that CAN be obtained by anyone.
What is performance anxiety?
Humans, the social animals we are, are wired to worry about reputation. Public performance can threaten it - what if they think I’m awful? That fear of being seen as an idiot or awful is a threat reaction from a primitive part of our brain that is hard to control whether we’d like to admit it or not. It’s the fight or flight response, I’m sure we all have heard about this concept. A self-protective process seen in a range of animals. Charles Darwin tested fight or flight at the London’s snake exhibit and he said this quote: “My will and reason were powerless against the imagination of a danger which has never been experienced.” So to your modern conscious mind it’s a performance, but as for the rest of your brain, built up to code with the law of the jungle when you perceive the possible consequences of an unsuccessful performance, it’s time to run for your life or fight to the death.
Now I hope we all understand why we experience stage fright. It’s our primitive part of our brain, aka crocodile brain, that is hard to control. We experience an urge to fight to the death or fly like a bird away, far, far away.
Your mind starts to create the hormone ACTH making your body shoot adrenaline into your blood - your neck and back tense up, your hands and legs start to shake and you start to sweat, heck even your pupils dilate and it’s hard to read anything up close. Now I gave you a little explanation of what are those emotions you feel before playing in front of others and why they exist.
Now how do we overcome it?
Firstly, perspective - it’s all in your head, but sadly genetics do play a big role in social anxiety. For example John Lennon (He was a member of the Beatles, played guitar)
John Lennon vomited hundreds of times before performing, seriously. Some people are wired more to feel anxiety, it’s uncontrollable. So start by doing something you can control - practice, practice and revise multiple times beforehand so that it feels like second nature, you are able to play it without thinking, without making mistakes.
1.)First step is to practice and practice until it feels like second nature, NEVER LEAVE ANYTHING TO THE LAST MOMENT, so you are able to play it without thinking, without making mistakes. In that lays a big portion of confidence.
This will make you a lot more confident in your own abilities and plays a big role. If you worry about that one part in a piece that you mess up sometimes, it’s going to haunt you so give extra attention to the parts you struggle with.But practice alone DOESN’T suffice, at least not for everyone.
2.) Secondly it’s time to trick your brain - Stretch your arms up and take a deep breath, hold it in and let go, repeat it for a few times, this makes your hypothalamus trigger a relaxation response.
Stage fright hits hardest right before a performance so take that last moment to breathe deeply to relax then proceed to head to the stage with a smile, sit down, completely relaxed, breath in and start. Science has shown that the mere act of smiling can lift your mood, lower stress, boost your immune system and possibly even prolong your life.
And now your charismatic look, passionate playing, even with mistakes has convinced the crowd that you are a piano genius. How? Because you didn’t overcome stage fright, you adapted to it.
3.Self-acceptance, remember that your self-worth isn’t determined by how well you play, or how well you played in a performance. Just remember that, you are still the same person you and who you love no matter how well you played in this concert but well if you don’t like yourself and your life, that’s a whole different thing that only you can change.
Trick your brain - Stretch your arms up and take a deep breath, hold it in and let go, repeat it for a few times, this makes your hypothalamus trigger a relaxation response.
Many people think that “if i’m not thinking about every single note then I’m not going to perform my best.” That is false, if you are obsessed about every single detail, it’s wonderful for practicing but horrible for performing. This is something every pianist/teacher I listened to cited. Your mind should be in a simpler place when you’re performing. A relaxed place, so don’t focus on the details, just go with the flow and enjoy your music. Because the concert isn’t just for the audience - it’s also for yourself to enjoy what your practice has accomplished :).
Be present. don’t worry about an upcoming part in a piece that you are worried about, just think about where you are now. Let the difficult parts come and just stay in the flow. BE PRESENT.
Becoming a great performer is a process, it’s a skill that can be required. Analyze your emotions and everything that happened after, after the performance, write it down, follow the progress, I’m sure the way you think and feel about it will change with time, I know it did for me!
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Now the best way to get rid of anxiety is to practice performing. Put the heat on yourself, play in front of other people constantly, expose yourself. If you have a webcam or phone that’s the best way to do it, to immerse yourself in a performance atmosphere. Face time with your online friends, the club, your grandma, ANYONE. After a while you will start to even forget that you’re performing, seriously, you’ll learn how to enjoy and listen to your music that you’ll get lost and wake up hearing 1 person clapping to you, then 5, then 10 and finally a couple hundred people. Performance is a journey just like piano playing :). Practice until you know your performance like the back of your arm, take your time, accept yourself, love yourself, expose yourself, don’t fixate on anything, go with the flow, relax, take a deep breath a couple of times and stretch your arms before playing.