Battling Your Inner Critic During Performances

microphonePerforming in front of others can be both exhilarating and frightening. And often, the biggest critic you come in contact with – both before and after your performance – is yourself. Luckily, there are methods to use to combat the anxiety and get through it unscathed. Here’s some great advice from Philadelphia teacher Victoria W


You rehearse endlessly, and you enjoy the material you’ve been spending hours upon hours mastering. You’ve done this a million times now; performing it should be no problem, right? But when the lights come up and you’re standing in front of a crowd of people, your mind goes blank and your competence seems to go out the window. Though this is an immensely frustrating problem to encounter, it is a tragically common one. The idea of performing in front of people remains one of the greatest fears among adults. So one can conclude that the first rule of overcoming this problem is…. to give yourself a break! There is nothing wrong with you. In fact, you can count yourself as being incredibly normal (whatever that means these days!). There’s definitely no formula for curing this problem, since every individual is so different, but here are a few ideas that you might find helpful…

First, you must ask yourself, why do I get nervous in the first place? There are myriad reasons why we fear performance: fear of embarrassment if something goes wrong, fear of judgment if someone doesn’t like our music, or even fear of letting down others or ourselves. Identify the cause of your nerves and then you can start learning how to overcome them. It’s important to remind yourself that the stakes are never as high as we build them up in our minds. Sure, a performance could be a total disaster, but what’s so terrible about that, really? Most likely, you’ll have another chance to perform and redeem yourself. And most people will respect you for even trying; very few judge as harshly as we imagine. Also, keep in mind that most people have short attention spans (and often even shorter memories), which means they will have forgotten about your botched attempt long before you will. Stop kicking yourself, and just enjoy the experience for what it is: a chance to do something you love!

Some have asked what they can do right before performing to help rid themselves of nerves. The best action I can think of? BREATHE! This may seem so simple that one could deem it an unnecessary point to address. But I assure you that it is vital to remember. Breathing not only serves the obvious purpose of giving your body oxygen, but it also gives you a focused activity to calm your nerves. Staying calm is key for musicians of all types. For singers, staying calm helps your breath support and keeps your diction nice and clear. For instrumentalists, steady nerves equals a steady tempo. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done shows where tempos were severely sped up simply because musicians were nervous. When practicing your breathing, sometimes lying on the floor can help. It opens up your chest more and relaxes your body for both increased calm and maximum air inhalation. It might be helpful to find a relaxing activity, such as reading or knitting, that you can do in the 15-20 minutes prior to performance. This can serve as a distraction from negative thoughts and an exercise to channel nervous energy.

I have one last thought about silencing internal criticism: I’ve found that I always regret things that I don’t try, far more than the things I try that turn out badly. You have to put yourself out there and know that you gave 100%, or else you’ll always wonder what if? Get out there and do your best! If it goes badly, just remind yourself that there’s always tomorrow. And if it goes spectacularly, you’ll experience that special kind of satisfaction that only comes from overcoming difficulty. No matter how it turns out, you know you gave it your all, which is an accomplishment all its own.

You might also like…
What You Can Learn From a Less-Than-Perfect Gig
What’s Causing Your Stage Fright?
How to Bounce Back From a Bad Audition

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