Preventing performance nerves - Anyone have some advice?

Discuss the joys and pratfalls of performance

Postby InspiredPianist » Sat Feb 24, 2007 9:28 am

I read Dr. Leland's article on Relaxation at the Piano and found it interesting. Does anyone have some of their own advice on how to prepare yourself for a performance?

My teacher at school tells us that however much we put into practice is how much we put out in a performance. Sure, it's pretty much true, but what about nerves? When you practice, you're not nervous because you're either by yourself or playing for people you know. When you perform, it's a whole other story.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sat Feb 24, 2007 11:07 am

Hi Inspired,

Without wishing to limit comments and input from others, let me mention that you can find a pretty long page on PEP with performance-related tips at our Tips for Students and Parents - Performance page. This page deals specifically with the "nerves" issue, as well as lots of other performance issues.
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby InspiredPianist » Sat Feb 24, 2007 12:40 pm

Thanks! I'll go check it out! :)
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Postby LK123 » Wed Feb 28, 2007 5:08 pm

I have always suffered from "nerves" or performance anxiety, for as long as I can remember. I thought that as an adult returning to piano that this problem would disappear - ha! Was I ever wrong. My teacher, in order to get students prepared for festivals or exams, holds group lessons throughout the year for students to perform for each other. Afterwards we discuss each piece, what was good, what needed work etc. I have found that over the last year that my anxiety about performing IS starting to subside (a little). In fact, I volunteered to play in a master class with a renowned pianist last Friday (it went well). I then played in a group lesson on Friday night and performed in a recital on Sunday. I think my kids thought I had gone AWOL!! Anyway, I guess my point is that I am starting to feel more comfortable in front of others which is good because I am playing in a festival in May and am doing an exam in June. I also think that since I am taking the initiative and volunteering to play different places that I am taking ownership of my nerves. Any other thoughts?
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Mon Apr 16, 2007 6:52 pm

Playing in front of others is, as you noted, probably the best way to become relaxed when performing. Starting with you family and friends and then small groups should help. ALso, it helps to really enjoy the music you are playing.

You might also try recording yourself at home - the tape recorder can be a good and critical audience.
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Postby Glissando88keys » Wed Apr 18, 2007 12:47 pm

loveapiano wrote:Playing in front of others is, as you noted, probably the best way to become relaxed when performing. Starting with you family and friends and then small groups should help. ALso, it helps to really enjoy the music you are playing.

You might also try recording yourself at home - the tape recorder can be a good and critical audience.

The more one plays in front of others, usually, the more "natural" it becomes. I do feel, however, that there are exceptions to this rule. I say this, because even though I am quite experienced at playing in front of an audience, there are times when my nerves could get the best of me, if I let them. These instances are completely unexpected. Sometimes a case of nerves catches me off-guard, when I least expect it.

I have learned to accept that maybe I will get a case of momentary nervousness, however, I realize that my performance will go on more or less as planned, regardless. The nervousness usually subsides as I step up efforts to focus on the music. The more I focus, the less attention I have to devote to my nervousness. The result is that my nerves calm down, and nervousness disappears.

It is comforting to know that even when I experienced my worst bouts of nerves, the audience was completely unaware, although, it feels to me as though the whole world could see. I have thought, for example, that my shaking foot or hands must be obvious to everyone, as my pedal foot trembles uncontrollably off the pedal. The only remark I ever heard was from either my teacher, who knew and understood, of course, or my mother who noticed something amiss.

As my teacher. a concert pianist explained, several famous performers suffered from performance anxiety to varying degrees.




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Postby jenscott90 » Tue Jun 05, 2007 7:07 am

We music types are emotional, self-critical balls of nerves. We rarely are judgemental about others' performances, since "we have been there". But, we get SOOO worked up about others judging us!

I think this is for a couple of reasons:

1) We are afraid of being judged unfairly.
Seriously...who has not played their recital piece(s) at home with no problems, no mistakes, in their sleep and gotten up and thrown up before the performance? We are afraid that someone will hear a mistake and think we didn't practice enough or that we didn't do somethine else right and make a snap judgement about OURSELVES instead of realizing that it was performance jitters. Some of us have even gotten conflicting comments on the same piece, played at the same time! One judge will love the speed of the piece, that you took it slightly below suggested tempo in order to preserve the spirit of the piece...and the next one will tear that decision to shreads, announcing that that tempo was the minimum and that you had better put in another month or two of practice to bring it up to par. Such misunderstanding cuts our hearts out, often!

2) We are not playing for ourselves; we are playing to please others.
Performers are natural "people pleasers". There is something vulnerable and inherently risky in putting yourself in front of others who often know WAY more than you do about what you are doing! We play to gain respect of those we respect, or we play to please our teachers or to make our parents proud. We try to live up to someone else's standards, even the composer's! With all of that pressure, we forget to play for ourselves. At home, this is easy. We are often the only ones in the room and we can play for our own enjoyment of the beauty of the art. What if we train ourselves and our students to also play for that on stage? They will still be aware that they are being critiqued, but perhaps they will not feel JUDGED.

My two cents, based on my feelings and experiences, and ones I have imagined in others.

Hugs,
Jen
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Tue Jun 05, 2007 10:42 am

Jen,

What has worked well for me and for my students is to develop the routine of "practice performing".

1. Perform for yourself: walk to the piano, bow, and perform your solo WITHOUT ONE STOP; you must keep going no matter what happens--ignore mistakes, override the habit of stopping to correct, and work your way out of memory slips.

2. Record yourself performing. A microphone can be as daunting and nerve-wracking as a live audience.

3. Play in as many different rooms and on as many different pianos as possible. You are going to have a strange piano with an unfamiliar action and a different sound--not to mention its own quirks--to deal with. Get used to adapting instantly to a new feel and new room acoustics.

4. Go through the piece in your head as a regular part of your preparation--learn where the blind spots are.

5. Practice the same piece in different tempos, with different dynamics and other variables. You are learning control that way. (Playing very slowly can throw your memory off if you're relying primarily on muscle memory.)

6. Play for others--anybody. Family, friends, even your dog--anybody who will listen. Do it a lot. (My dog howls and leaves the room.)

I'm sure others can add to this.

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Postby Stretto » Tue Jun 05, 2007 11:07 pm

Funny I have been thinking about this recently.

Here's some things that have helped me:

When I feel myself starting to tense up, I tell myself, "don't go there" and allow myself to stay relaxed. Practice becoming aware of where you tense up and permitting those areas to stay relaxed. When you tense up think about letting those muscles be outward and elongated rather than scrunched in.

The more I stay relaxed while practicing and in staying relaxed while "pretending" I'm performing, the more I realize there is really no reason to be nervous playing for others.

If I play to move the audience emotionally, it helps me relax as the focus is not thinking about "me" but "others". I consider what kind of stress people are under in their lives and play thinking about how the music might be providing them a moment to forget about "the day".

Another novel thought, if a person does mess up here and there "so what".

It's when others mess up in performance that makes me feel better about not being perfect. I like making a few mistakes when I play for students so they realize they're not alone. I remember a college prof. for piano literature I had who would plow his way through lots of the piano lit. just sight-reading so we could get an idea what the pieces sounded like or certain aspects of the piece. I really admired him for playing for us without worrying about having to have the music perfectly. Then a piano prof. that gave a lecture at a piano teacher's club I went to recently made a few blunders (also sight-reading a piece) as you could tell he got nervous. I really love that because it says if piano professors can mess up so can I! It's a reminder we're all human.

I think part of it is if one gets to a point you don't worry so much about messing up, then you're less likely to mess up.




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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Jun 06, 2007 2:06 pm

Once I was performing onstage, feeling pretty comfortable, when I suddenly realized I hadn't yet hit a wrong note. Then I got nervous! Of course I didn't play a mistake on purpose, but I was relieved when I accidentally did. I felt like a pitcher with a no-hitter going and a batter scratches out a single in the 6th inning--at least it takes one kind of pressure off.

It's a crazy business!

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Postby Stretto » Tue Jun 12, 2007 4:18 pm

Life's not perfect so why do we think a performance has to be perfect?
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Thu Jun 21, 2007 11:50 am

I like the idea of playing to a microphone, suggested by someone. It is indeed nerve racking because it hears everything and lets you know.

A shift in thinking helps me. We are not performing and presenting ourselves; we are presenting the music and all ears are on the music, including our own, and not on us.

Some advice needed: I have done violin recitals, where I play my own familiar instrument, can change how I stand, which direction I face. In a few days I'll be performing on the piano. You come up to an unfamiliar bench, the keys are weighted differently, some of them may be out of tune, it's foreign territory. In those first seconds do you get familiar with the feel of the piano and then settle into your piece? This is the part that concerns me.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Jun 22, 2007 9:37 am

You have just described the great curse of all performing pianists. We're all convinced that you string and wind players have an easy life because you get to have your own instrument to play on wherever you go. Unless we're Horowitz, who took his own piano to Moscow and everywhere else, we have to readjust to strange instruments all the time.

What I've tried to do is practice and play on as many different pianos as I can find--good, bad, and disastrous--in order to get used to adjusting as much as I can. That, and of course getting a chance to try the piano you're going to play ahead of time, can help a lot.

One other thing: although you may not be aware of it, much of the strangeness comes from the sound you're hearing, not just the feel of the keyboard. Not only the piano itself, but the room acoustics and the change of reverberation time between an empty hall and one full of people.

Now don't you wish you were playing the violin instead?

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Postby 112-1182392787 » Fri Jun 22, 2007 11:45 am

We're all convinced that you string and wind players have an easy life because you get to have your own instrument to play on wherever you go.


Well, if you're out of tune, at least you can blame it on the piano. :;):

I am serious about my question, though. I am learning piano properly for the first time, I have a series of variations (5) to play that have to come one on top of the other non-stop, I've only had a proper piano for 3 months, and I don't have the strength, flexibility, or control yet. I am concerned about getting thrown in the first seconds, and then remaining off balance.

Other than playing a lot of other instruments (which I can't do in the space of 2 days), is there a strategy such as feeling out the instrument in the first couple of notes, adjusting, then settling into the music?

I do have the opportunity to come in 15 minutes early and try out the piano. Would I be right that if I find out at that time what the best distance for the bench is and remember it, that this in itself could be of great help?
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Jun 22, 2007 9:00 pm

The only thing that really helps consistently in the long run is the experience of playing before an audience many times, and of course you don't have that option. But two things you can do are these:

Practice performing. That means performing the piece for yourself without stopping once, no matter what happens--you have to keep going and work your way out of it. Get out of the habit of stopping and correcting.

The other is to not take it so seriously. No matter how badly you play, I guarantee the sun will come up next morning. Accept the fact that you have limited skills at this point, that no one expects you to be Franz Liszt, and that there will be flaws in your playing. But don't let the first mistake or the first little memory slip throw you--don't sit there thinking "what did I do back there?" or "now I've blown it!" Keep going and try to communicate your musical sensitivity to the listeners and give them a pleasant experience--most of them will miss 90% of the mistakes anyway. It's the music that counts--you're not walking a tightrope across Niagra Falls, where one little slip means disaster!

Good luck--be sure and tell us how it went.

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