Conquering Performance Anxiety: a Pianist’s Perspective

Megan RaineyMusic Education, Musicologie DublinLeave a Comment

About the Author
Megan Rainey

Megan Rainey

Megan is lead voice and piano teacher and Community Manager of Musicologie Dublin.

Performing is one of the most important components of being a musician. It provides a tangible goal for our practice, and it allows us to share and celebrate our art with our loved ones. Although live music may not be so common during the COVID-19 pandemic, at Musicologie, we frequently host Virtual Student Concerts to help our students continue to build their skills and support each other’s hard work. (Pictured above: Dublin voice student Alex Rector sings his rendition of “Anything Goes” at our last Virtual Student Concert.)

But sometimes, let’s face it: performing for others can be a little intimidating, even if your audience isn’t in the room! Here are some tips and tricks for conquering the pre-performance jitters:

Perform for a family member

Going straight from private practice to a public concert is a jarring experience for any musician. Transition more gradually to the live performance experience by playing in front of a family member or friend. Recreate the space in which you’ll perform as closely as you can; set up chairs for your viewers in a similar place to where the audience will be, and even move your lamps around to prepare yourself for unfamiliar lighting. Or if you’re preparing to perform for a virtual crowd, pull up Zoom and play your piece for Grandma a few states over! She’ll be happy to hear from you!

Don’t over-practice the day of the concert

I tell this to my students all the time: by the day of the performance, the hard work is done. Now all that’s left is the fun part! The day of a concert should be spent relaxing, warming up gradually and playing a few selections of your song leisurely. Over-practicing on the day of will only lead to micro-management and heightened anxiety. Sit back and enjoy the ride!

Hydrate!

This doesn’t only go for vocalists and wind instrumentalists. All of us need to stay hydrated and healthy in order to feel our best for a performance! Avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee or black tea; not only can they leave you dehydrated, but they can also lead to an accelerated heart rate and unsteady/shaky hands (every pianist’s worst nightmare). Opt for lots of water or warm herbal tea, and if you’re an instrumentalist, stretch your hands under warm running water to get your tendons ready to move!

It’s not a race – pump the breaks

One of my collegiate mentors once told me “There is always time to breathe. Take that time.” Take a moment before you begin to take a deep breath! And before you start, think about your tempo. How fast do you feel like taking your piece? Take that tempo, and slow it down a few clicks – or as I always say, “play on the back end of every beat.” You want to feel like you have control over the music, not like the music has control over you!

In this same vein (so to speak), if nerves have got your heart pumping, take control by slowing and deepening your breathing. You can also try one of my favorite tricks I learned from a colleague in undergrad: tap your fingertips on your sternum in time with your heartbeat, then gradually slow the tapping. Eventually, your heartbeat will follow and slow down. Try it! I still do this before every concert.

Whether it’s your very first concert on your instrument or you’ve been rocking the stage for decades, we all know what it feels like to be nervous for a performance. These are only a few of my personal favorite strategies for showing performance anxiety who’s boss! What are some of yours?

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