Since I was a young girl I have been playing piano, I think I was about 10 years old. I remember my first piano being really old, wooden, and really beautiful with carved woodwork on the front with red velvet behind – it really was a piece of art. However, it didn’t sound too great; it was like a honky-tonky piano you get in the Western movies…I’m sure you know the kind. Anyway, I now have a Julius Blüthner upright and have now been playing piano for around 12 years and I suffer with performance anxiety. Yes, I have been playing piano for 12 years and still can’t perform in front of people, it is actually more common than you think. It is not just in music performance where people feel anxious about presenting their musical talent; I was talking to my class mate and he was saying that he even feels too anxious to advertise his music on social media as he is too worried what people will say. The music world is a really tough place, and I think it takes a lot of guts to throw yourself out there.
I was in a music tuition lecture one Thursday afternoon, and we were discussing ways to teach students who are disabled, dyslexic, adult learners, suffering with performance anxiety or anything else that may affect the way they perform and learn. We had to go to the library and do research on a topic that is relevant and interesting to us, which could be done individually or as a group. I paired up with two guys and we looked at books and websites such as “The Inner Game of Music” by Barry Green and Timothy Gallwey where they talk about how the power of awareness can help overcome performance anxiety. “Here’s the strategy: by accepting distractions and then consciously choosing to focus our attention elsewhere, we can increase our awareness of the music – and lesson the amount of frustration we feel at the distractions.” (p51, B. Green & T. Gallwey 1986). This is a really good book to look at if you suffer with performance anxiety, it outlines different strategies and thinking methods that you can apply to yourself during practice and performance.
Another piece of advice that I thought was really interesting was in the book “Mastering the art of performance” by Stewart Gordon. It says that by overcoming the fear of making a mistake you should “actually mark these places in your music or stage directions, so that your entire blueprint is marked off into segments. Give each a number” (p88, S. Gordon 2006). I thought this was a really good way of dealing with the fear of making a mistake…I do this regularly when playing and since reading this section of the book I will be marking these places in my own music with hints and tips like which finger I need to use, or by highlighting an accidental I miss.
From the blog “Bulletproof Musician” (www.bulletproofmusician.com/how-to-become-a-more-confident-performer) it says that we should self-talk to encourage us to think positivley. The quote says “For better or for worse, we tend to listen to ourselves and believe the things that we say to ourselves. If you tell yourself that you are a failure and untalented hack, and do so consistently and repeatedly, you will start to believe that you are indeed a failure. You will soon begin to feel like a failure, and ultimately act in ways that will confirm this perception of yourself, “proving” that you are indeed a failure.” (N. Kageyama, nd.)
Below is a comparable table from the “Bulletproof Musician” which shows the negative way of thinking against how you can turn it round to be positive thinking. It really is an eye opener.
Something from the blog of “The Cross-Eyed Pianist” in their article “The Piano and the Neurolinguistic Programming” (http://crosseyedpianist.com/2013/02/11/the-piano-and-neuro-linguistic-programming/) suggests that as a teacher at the beginning of a lesson, should the student make mistakes you should still make positive comments and give positive feedback as this gets the lesson on to a good start. Then you can move on to improving where they have made the mistakes. “The student may have played with errors, but I would never start a teaching session by saying “Oh that was dreadful! So many mistakes! You haven’t been practising this properly, have you?”. I will always try and find something positive even in the most ropey performance. This gets the lesson off to a good start and the student feels rewarded for his/her efforts. Rewards lead to emotional and physical relaxation, which encourages a positive learning experience, and (hopefully) better playing.” (F. Wilson 2013)
For anyone suffering with performance anxiety I would suggest reading these books and articles as they are so interesting, you can apply them to your own practice and playing and if you’re a teacher there are some really good suggestions for methods of teaching people who suffer with performance anxiety.
I hope that this has been helpful to at least one person, I know how awful it is to be anxious when you are about to perform. I have my Grade 8 ABRSM exam coming up, and to be honest…I am absolutely terrified but I hope that after a bit more practice, digging through blogs, articles and books that I will start to apply these methods and start to feel a bit better about it.
If anyone would like to comment, share your stories or methods then feel free to do so, it would be good to hear from you.
- Gordon, S. (2006). Mastering the art of performance. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press. Page 88.
- Green, B. and Gallwey, W. (1986). The inner game of music. 1st ed. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday. Page 51.
- Kageyama, N. (n.d.). How to Become a More Confident Performer. [Blog] Bulletproof Musician. Available at: http://www.bulletproofmusician.com/how-to-become-a-more-confident-performer [Accessed 15 Oct. 2014].
- Wilson, F. (2013). THE PIANO AND NEURO-LINGUISTIC PROGRAMMING. [Blog] Cross-eyed Pianist. Available at: http://crosseyedpianist.com/2013/02/11/the-piano-and-neuro-linguistic-programming/?blogsub=confirmed#blog_subscription-6 [Accessed 15 Oct. 2014]