Sweaty palms. Shaky knees. Rapid heartbeat. These are all symptoms of the number one fear of many new musicians: performing onstage. Formally known as performance anxiety, stage fright is likely to strike anytime from several minutes to several days before a performance or recital. Stage fright may get a bad rap, but with a few simple tips, it can be easily managed.
Tip #1: Accept Anxiety
To overcome stage fright by embracing it may sound counter-intuitive, but a simple shift in perspective can make a huge difference. Accept that the anxiety is there for a reason, and has a purpose. Your body has entered fight-or-flight mode, and this gives you an extra boost in energy, concentration, and reaction time. Feeling nervous is a sign that you are invested in the experience, that you are fully present and aware of what is happening. In short, stage fright means that you care about what you are doing, which is a good thing.
Tip #2: Bite a Banana
Shifting your perspective is a great first step, but it also helps to take concrete action to counter feelings of unease. Bananas act as natural beta-blockers, meaning they prevent adrenaline from staying in your body. Eating a banana half an hour before a recital or performance is a quick way to physically calm your stress response.
Tip #3: Start Stretching
Gentle stretching can help release tension before a performance. Focus especially on the muscles you will be using, which will vary depending on your instrument. Arms, shoulders, neck, hamstrings, and quadriceps are a good place to start. For singers, wind, or brass players, breathing exercises will be helpful. Always breathe deeply while stretching to relax the muscles more fully.
Tip #4: Practice, Practice
Like scales and etudes, anxiety is something you need to practice to improve. To find out how best to tackle your stage fright, put yourself in the spotlight often. Start with low-pressure “performances.” Play for the neighborhood kids, the family dog, or even just your own reflection in the mirror. As your comfort level grows, push yourself to perform at a local “open mic” night. Talk to other musicians. Even performers who seem intimidating have dealt with stage fright at one time or another. If you have an upcoming recital, perform for a group of friends to help dissipate some anxiety before the event.
Tip #5: Maybe Medicate
For those whose stage fright becomes overwhelming or debilitating, medication is an option. Pros and cons of medication should always be discussed with your doctor. Most of these medications are beta-blockers, suppressing adrenaline in the same way as bananas. Propranolol and pindolol are two of the most commonly used performance anxiety medications. As a beginning musician, there are many strategies to consider before medicating, but it is as a long-term option.
Performance anxiety is a completely natural part of the music experience. It does not have to get in the way of the enjoyment of a recital or performance. With these tips, you will overcome stage fright and fully relish your musical endeavors.