Working with Performance Anxiety

Have you ever felt that you couldn't play to your full potential during a performance?

You did a wrong bowing during an orchestra concert or you played a wrong note. Then you hit another wrong note. It throws you off. All these little mistakes slowly get into your head and when they add up, your brains shuts down on you. 

You know what I do when I perform my first mistake? I celebrate it!

"Wtf Eric, don't you want to play everything perfect?"

Of course I do. But that's not the point. I celebrate the first mistake because I got it out of the way! I can finally relax and focus on the music in front of me. I know for myself that I actually focus better after that mistake's been made. The moment you start fighting against your body's natural reaction is when you won't play your best. I've experienced that more than a handful of times and I'm sure I can speak for some of my colleagues out there. 

But,  there are times where are so many things happening in your life that the stress overwhelms you which can harm your performance. If you're one of those people, then this blog post is for you and to overcome performance anxiety.

Fight Or Flight Response

Let's define what the fight or flight reaction actually is. For thousands of years, humans were given this God-given ability that if there's a threat coming our way, we either run, or fight. Unfortunately, as humans evolved this fight or flight response encoded in our DNA is stuck with us. Let's explore some ways to work WITH this response (notice how I didn't write AGAINST)


Learning how to breathe in stressful situations can help ease the tension in our body. You need Oxygen to relax. Personally, I found that meditating in a quiet room or doing yoga is very helpful. I'm a fan of yoga because not only does it help you focus on your breathing, but it teaches you to find your balance in different poses.

Visualize Your Performance 

Do you ever take a moment to think about what your performance is going to be like? Do you imagine how big or small the hall will be, the creaks in the floors, the way you're going to bow to your audience, and the moment you play your first note? Visualizing these detailed moments can help you perform your best  it reduces a layer of anxiety before you walk out on stage and you've already envisioned yourself in that scenario. You'll walk out on stage with more confidence!

Set Small Short Term Goals

Now that you're on stage, let's focus on how to manage the fight or flight response while you're performing. Believing that you can achieve a number of smaller goals than to achieve one BIG goal can bring success. Why do I say that? Because when you have 1 very specific goal that you want to accomplish, then you feel like an automatic failure and the rest of your performance will suffer because it didn't work out That's 0/1 goals achieved. 0% accomplishment

But let's say you're playing a three movement sonata and you give yourself a goal of 7 tiny achievements in each movement. That's 21 goals that you have and if you mess up two things, who cares! 10 out of 21 goals achieved is better than 0 out of 1!

Practice makes permanent

There is no such thing as a perfect performance, ever. We will always make mistakes.All of the things I listed above can't happen if you don't practice it. Practicing only once will not reduce your performance anxiety overnight. It takes time. And with that I want to leave you with a quote by Henry Ford:

"If you think you can or you think you can't, you're right" 

The moment you believe, is the moment you'll succeed

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