Face Your Fears: Battling Performance Anxiety
Spring means performance season for musicians. For students, this means the impending doom of Solo & Ensemble contests, concerts, and auditions for next year’s band and orchestra. Don’t be scared! There are plenty of reasons to perform and plenty of ways to prepare!
Part I: Performance is a good thing and your student should do it.
Be a better musician
The extra practice for Solo & Ensemble (and other performances) benefits more than just your student’s sound; it gives them a deeper understanding of music. By learning about their instrument’s history, repertoire, and abilities, they start to understand the world of music, and this knowledge is instrumental to developing their craft. They won’t just get better at their instrument, they will be a better musician.
The composer put your student’s part there for a reason. Each player is important to create something beautiful. Smaller ensembles, like duets, trios, and quintets, are so bare-boned that students have to know their part, have an understanding of their partner’s, and be able to anticipate each other’s movements.
Practice public speaking
Performance is a lot like public speaking: Your student will have to demonstrate their knowledge in front of an audience that determines their success. In musical terms, this is a chance for them to practice thinking on their feet and adapting under pressure.
Learn to accept criticism
It can be hard for student’s to accept, but the only way to improve is to know what needs work. Criticism helps us grow.
Part II: Dealing with Anxiety
1. Be prepared
Know the accompaniment
Students that know their music aren’t thrown off by the accompaniment. That will keep their performance from being so daunting. If they’re struggling, have them listen to their piece online, or request a copy of the accompaniment. The band director can also give more guidance in most cases.
Know how to perform
Students need to know how to perform. Run through how and where to stand with your student: No locking knees or students might faint, music stands high so they aren’t hunched over, and tuning the correct way.
Have a backup plan
Make sure your student has extra (broken-in) reeds, valve oil, copies of their music, and anything else they might need last minute. Need to restock? Give us a call or order online and get free delivery to schools.
Know the performance pace
For Solo & Ensemble contests: Know how fast your student’s room is running. Some judges will take time to work with the students, others won’t. Accompanists can be double or triple booked for performance times and need to adjust. By end of day, some rooms can run as much as an hour off schedule! Check the room your student is performing in periodically to see their pace and when your student will end up performing.
2. Confront the fear
Shake it out
If it suits your student, try some physical exercises to get rid of the incoming butterflies. Let your student take a walk, do some jumping jacks, shake our their hands and feet, etc.
Concentrating on something else might seem counterproductive, but for some students it can be calming. Plus, taking a break now might give them the chance to really focus when performing. They can watch a video, play a game, or browse social media.
At some point the nerves will be there not matter what, so harness the power! The trick is to convince your student that they’re not nervous, but excited! If they’re able to do it, the adrenaline will work for them, not against them.
In the end, your student will face their fears and will have accomplished something. That is worth celebrating.
Part III: Damage control
A poor performance can derail a blossoming musician’s progress (take it from us!). Hopefully a little damage control will help them bounce back.
Accept the criticism
First, know that their score isn’t as important as the judge’s comments. Second, know that getting critiqued doesn’t mean your student plays poorly, it means they can improve. And don’t forget: no one is as hard on your student as they are on themselves.
Take back the power
First, recognize the accomplishment. Your student worked at something and saw it through to the end. Second, put things into perspective: this was one performance. Many more opportunities will present themselves, and chances are that this experience will have little effect on their future. Third, know that they hold all the power. They can walk away from music forever (we certainly hope not!), or they can try again.
Remember, not only does your student have the power to bounce back from a bad experience, they have the power to prepare and control the nerves that come from performing. We hope your student gets out there to perform and has a great time doing it! Good luck!