• Erin Su

Dealing with Performance Anxiety

No matter how many years you have been playing piano, you probably get nervous when performance time comes. It doesn't matter if you've practiced so much that you could play your piece with your eyes closed; once the anxiety kicks in, your hands shake and and your heart races and you can't remember how the piece starts. You miss notes that you've never missed before and you wish you had practiced just a bit more.

My teacher once told me that when you practice, you cannot forgive yourself for missing a note. You must repeat that section over and over until it's impossible to play it wrong. During a performance, however, it doesn't matter how many wrong notes you play as long as you play with your whole heart.

My nerves have taken over my performance more than a few times. I've attended more competitions and recitals than I can count, but even now it is still impossible to resist panicking when I'm the next one to play. During a chamber ensemble performance a few years ago, I remember wondering why my group was slowing down so much. Later, after listening to my recording, I was humiliated to discover that I had gradually sped up over the entire piece (which was quite impressive, as it was already a difficult piece with lots of running passages).

It's completely normal to get nervous before a competition. In a way, it's actually better for your music. Without this adrenaline, a performance can easily seem stale and over-rehearsed. There will be no spontaneity, no rush of emotion within your music, and your audience will quickly become bored. I have also found that I don't tire out near the end of my pieces during performances as much as I do during practice.

A few tips to help you deal with your nerves:

1. For your cold, slippery hands: Anti-perspirant hand lotion and hand warmers.

When I get nervous, it is most noticeable in my hands. I've missed many notes due to slippery fingers, but ever since I started using these two items, my hands are always warmed up and ready-to-play, even when I'm in my most panicked state. Washing your hands and wearing gloves also helps a lot! Although I still haven't found a cure for shaky hands (besides taking deep breaths), the lotion and hand warmers are always in my piano bag. Here are the brands that I use:

2. To calm you down: Drink lots of water!

This seems obvious, but I always feel better after I drink some water. I tend to concentrate too much on the other competitors and my own music, so taking a drink distracts me and prepares me to perform. It's terrible to perform while you're dehydrated!

3. To put you in the right mindset: Think about your music and why you are performing today. Remember your goals. Don't compare yourself to the other performers. This performance may be all you can think about right now, but it is not as important as you think! You'll probably forget how many wrong notes you played by the time you go home. Focus on delivering a piece of art to your audience, not just playing all the right notes. Only you can fill the music with your personal story and style.

4. To help you perform well: Lose yourself in the music.

By the time you've walked onstage and bowed, you probably feel like your head is gonna explode. Don't play as soon as you sit down; take a deep breath and think about the start of your music to get yourself "in the zone." Take as long as you need to. As you play, try to focus on listening to your music instead of the audience or the actual notes. This is definitely easier said than done, because I still find as I perform, my mind wanders to the boba that I'm gonna get afterwards, or that funny thing my friend said yesterday... Anyways, you'll learn with experience to lose yourself in your own world with the music. As my teacher always says, play like no one is watching, even when everyone is watching.

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