What’s Causing Your Stage Fright?

stage frightSeason Two of The Voice debuted last night on NBC, with the usual hype and over-the-top antics we’ve come to expect with the growing list of talent-based reality shows.  Did any of you catch the season premiere?  Any fan favorites emerging yet?

Even for practiced performers, we can only imagine how nerve-wracking it must be to audition in front of music industry veterans like Christina Aguilera and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine.  But if performance jitters are holding you back from showing off your talent, it’s never too late to start combating your fears.

Most of the time, performance anxiety stems from three main roots: the individual person, the task at hand or the performance situation.  When you understand the cause, it can be much easier to take a step back, realign your focus and take control.  Even if you start out reserved, you can learn to unleash the powerful, confident musician inside of you!  By learning how to handle each of the causes of stage fright, performing in front of others will get easier and easier. Here’s a great rundown from The Musician’s Way Blog:

1. Person
Our personalities and beliefs strongly affect our experiences on stage.  For instance, self-assured, extroverted people who view performing as a rewarding challenge are generally less jittery than those who are shy and dread being the center of attention.  Our performance histories then multiply our natural tendencies.

Timid musicians who have endured repeated episodes of shakes, dry mouth and butterflies, let’s say, will probably be extra worried before concerts; outgoing ones who have regularly enjoyed and succeeded at performing have reasons to look forward to making music for audiences.

The good news is that with well-directed effort, even anxious musicians can replace negative thoughts and experiences with positive ones.

How to take control: Take a moment to consider which of your personal qualities and past experiences enhance or interfere with your ability to perform.  Write the positive memories down, and focus your energy on these before you perform.

2. Task
Needless to say, exceedingly difficult tasks are more stressful to perform than easy ones. Similarly, insufficient practice can leave us feeling on edge when we step under the lights.  Two less-obvious but vitally important factors that affect our security are our practice and performance skills.  In particular, students who don’t practice their music deeply but depend on automated types of learning will feel their control drain away under pressure.

Likewise, when musicians aren’t skilled at basic performance tasks, such as speaking to audiences, performing can be extra nerve-wracking.  All musicians can increase their task mastery and therefore their stage power by choosing accessible repertoire, practicing it deeply and learning performance skills.

How to take control: Make note of the task-related actions you’ve taken that have supported or undermined your success on stage. Supportive actions include selecting manageable music and practicing it regularly.  Remember these as you prepare for your next performance.

3. Situation
The greater our concern for the outcome of a performance, the greater the potential for stress and anxiety.  An out-of-town audition, for example, exerts more pressure than a casual gig at a local coffee shop. A recording session at a pricey studio comes with higher stakes than a laid-back session at home.  Unfamiliar or poorly run venues can also add to a performer’s discomfort. Plus, intense public scrutiny can be unsettling, especially when vast numbers of people hear us and then tweet, blog and otherwise publish their reactions.

But whatever the performance situation, when we know how to prepare, we can deliver thrilling performances.

How to take control: Recall performance situations that have enhanced your creativity and ones that have fueled your nerves.  What was it about those positive experiences – did you have family and friends there to support you? Were you performing in a specific place?  Even if these things aren’t exactly the same, practice visualization techniques and imagine you’re in that familiar situation.

Readers, do you have any other tips for battling nerves?  Share them with the community by commenting below!

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Photo by B. Rosen

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