5 tips to better cope with performance stress

by Adrien Bérard | March 4, 2020
article

Did you ever get on stage and not be able to correctly play the piece you had been practicing for weeks?

No matter one’s talent nor experience, we are all to a certain extent vulnerable to performance stress which triggers a set of physical and psychological reactions that interfere with our ability to play correctly. Our bodies are programmed with strong stress mechanisms which can put us in a very different state than usual. This type of anxiety is due to a complex set of factors which can vary a lot from one person to another. Therefore, we don’t pretend here to provide you with the perfect solution to this issue, but we wanted to present 5 ideas which could help you to better cope with performance stress.

1. Choose the right way of practicing

Before even talking about performance, finding a good practice method can be a difficult task to achieve. It is important that you first try to solve the issue of practice. The idea is to find an effective and guilt-free method to rehearse your pieces. Practice can itself be quite frustrating and stressful, and it is difficult to avoid anxiety on stage if you are already used to triggering stress mechanisms during your own practice sessions. In order to find your ideal practice method, consult your teacher, your musician friends, or all the resources available online about the subject. The goal here is to find a set of exercises and techniques that will help you understand your instrument better as well as the way you interact with it. You can for example check out The Bulletproof Musician, which offers a lot of free resources on its blog about stress management in music.

2. Practice in front of people

It is obviously difficult to frequently gather an entire audience only for practice purposes. However, you still have ways of getting close to the conditions of a real show. One of them is practicing in front of people. Start with your friends and family: whenever you have the occasion, practice one or two pieces in front of them and ask for feedback. This will never get close to the actual experience of a concert in front of a real-size audience, but in the long term it remains an interesting and relatively easy way of getting your mind used to being observed while playing. If at one point you feel confident enough and want to raise the bar, you can also consider playing in front of strangers. A safe and fun way of doing this is by looking for local events like jam sessions, where you can get on stage at the last moment and play your favorite tunes in a warm atmosphere, where stakes are usually low.

For even more immersion, why not try to add one of our orchestral accompaniments to your public practice session?

3. Visualization and relaxation techniques

Performance stress is a complex issue, especially because once again it is difficult to practice in the exact same conditions as the actual performance you’re preparing for. Therefore, it is often complicated to identify which combination of factors, which varies within individuals, triggers anxious reactions. In this context, it can be interesting to try visualization and other relaxation techniques, first identify your main weak points on stage, and then to learn how to react with serenity to those signals of anxiety. Visualization basically consists in imagining yourself doing something, which in this case would be performing in front of an audience. A nice way to initiate it is through breathing exercises, which will help you get into a form of meditative state and be able to clearly picture the scene. Try targetting the elements that trigger stressful emotional and physical reactions in this setting. It is a good starting point if you don’t have any clue of what makes you feel so anxious on stage.

4. Take care of yourself

This might sound obvious for some, but it is important to treat yourself correctly when preparing for an important performance, the same way an athlete would do before a competition. Practicing under high levels of pressure can be physically and mentally exhausting, without even speaking of the stress actually experienced on stage. Therefore, we recommend that you take good care of yourself, especially on the day of the performance. This includes having a full night of sleep before the concert, eating sensible meals, with complex carbs and low fat levels for example, or taking a little bit of time to meditate before getting on stage. Even though pressure often has an important role in success, don’t let it affect your physical condition too much. You need this energy to get through your show!

5. Make sure to try different methods

Our goal here is to present you with tips to build a more relaxed approach to public performance, hopefully reducing any unnecessary stress and allowing you to focus on having fun on stage. However, as said in the beginning, we don’t pretend to hold the truth on this issue, which can in some cases be very serious and thus difficult to solve. Considering this, the most important recommendation we can make is to try different methods, at least until you find something that has an effective impact on your ability to manage performance stress. In the most serious cases, this anxiety can become very problematic: instant paralysis when stepping on stage, panic attacks, deep demotivation… If you feel like no tips or methods you tried until now has any effect on you, you can still consult a professional therapist who will provide you with advice tailored to your specific profile. Sometimes, there is nothing like a true professional to address such delicate issues.