Hey everyone! So I have been thinking about writing this blog post for a while, since it’s something I get asked all the time! People often tell me how confident I look on stage. They ask me how I remain so calm before a show, and why I never look nervous. I usually reply that I’m only nervous if I don’t know what I’m doing (a new piece or uncomfortable situation on stage). I think for everyone, when you do something for the first time, it’s always a little nerve wracking. Or maybe you’re the kind of person that just jumps right in. I’m a honestly the type to be prepared, but either way I’m usually pretty confident.
When I was younger though, I used to hate performing. When I got up at competitions and exams, I used to get very very nervous, especially when there was someone with a pen and paper ready to write down notes about what I was playing. It just seemed so technical. And while feedback is important, I’ve always performed better when I know that people are open to my story, and not just judging what I’m going to do.
At the end of the day though, professional performers need to put all those thoughts aside and deliver every time without fail. So how did I get over those times when my hands would get a little sweaty? Here are five tips, that I hope will help you to put away your fears:
1. Put away self doubt! find things to refocus on when you get there. When we are children we are so confident, so loving, so excitable. As we get older we learn to quash those traits we started out with, for various reasons. We were laughed at when we were very expressive, and felt humiliated so we learnt, just like a toddler touching a hot oven, not to touch it again- we learn not to show those feelings. Or we make a mistake and because of how it was handled by us and those around us, we learnt not to do something unless we could get it right- and that fear of making a mistake prevents us from trying, or it paralyses us on stage. I have so much fear from studying and playing the violin in my childhood that sometimes, (and I know some of you wouldn’t believe this when you see me confident on stage!) I feel like I can’t play. So what I do, is one of two things: A)I focus on the audience and what I’m there to communicate. B) I think of the emotion or story that inspired me to create what I’m playing.
These are habits that you can train yourself to do quickly, if you ever start going to that place where doubt creeps in. Try it!
2. Don’t confuse your feelings with facts. Don’t work yourself up with negative thoughts. Sit down and write out that negative feeling and then write the facts next to it. For example, here’s what a student of mine used to say a lot before performing: “I’m the worst violinist in the world”. That was her feeling in the moment. Fact: she was a fantastic grade 8 student! And for sure not the worst violinist in the world. When we are stressed, or anxious we come up with all kinds of thoughts and feelings around something that’s challenging to us. Make sure you don’t start embedding some of these into your mind as facts, remind yourself that they’re not, and write out some positive feelings in place of the negative ones.
3. Face your fears: go on stage more often! As often as you can! Even if it’s for family and friends, or one friend, or in front of the mirror. Record yourself playing! It’s a great way to see where you’re at as well – treat it like a performance, and listen back, focusing on improvements. Just do it until it becomes natural! Once, in Europe, I was asked to start my show on a trapeze. I thought it was a joke! I was a violinist and I had never been on a trapeze! I climbed up to see what it felt like, and my boss told the guys who helped me up there, to leave me there for a while! I was so angry I wanted to get down, but after a while, I started to feel comfortable up there. And by the time they came to get me down, I didn’t mind it at all. So if it’s performing in front of an audience, being on stage scares you then get on that stage! Not just when you need to perform- ask if you can go on stage before the show, a few days before even. Get used to the space, imagine what it will feel like, and master emotional control of that situation.
4. Have a support team: Find people that are positive, uplift you and are supportive of your goals. Those closest to you should be supportive and not create additional challenges. If you have someone around you that actually increases your stage nerves by the things they do and say, then take some space away from them, especially around a performance.
5. Remember why you wanted to perform on stage in the first place! You have a story to tell? You dream of being a performer? Unless you’re doing it because Mom and Dad said you have to…. Then during your performance, focus on why you started on the road to becoming a musician in the first place. I just focus on that inspiration and the story plays out in my mind and I forget all the rest of the things that pop into my mind. Or if I like the audience, I focus on them, and start to interact and then it becomes about communicating. We all have something special to offer. If you go on stage comparing yourself to those better than you, and thinking you’re not good enough, that is how you will play. Remember what drove you to pick up your instrument in the first place, be YOU and block the rest out. You CAN train yourself to do this.
If you want to read more about this topic, one amazing book that really helped me in my pursuit of stage command was The Inner Game of Music, by Barry Green check it out, it might be helpful to you too:
The most important thing is that you believe in yourself, even if at first you have to fake it until you make it. You know how sometimes when you smile when you’re not feeling the best, and if you wear that smile for a while, it sort of filters through the rest of you? Well, at least that’s me. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and put that confidence on, and let it filter through the rest of you! Perform like you know you can.