Overcoming Stage Fright
I have suffered from stage fright for a long time. When I played the piano
in recitals as a child, my knees would shake so much that the whole piano
vibrated loudly. I have now played the cello for 10 years and have ways of
dealing with the problem which might help others.
Primarily, I have changed my attitude and now play solely for the pleasure
of moving others. I try not to think about whether the audience will like
me or my playing but focus on reaching out to them with my cello.
It helps to realize that stage fright is a physical response to something
chemical going on in our bodies. We are frightened and our body produces
adrenalin. This can happen very quickly. You know it is happening when
you feel the rush of sweat to your palms, your heart pounding, or
butterflies in your stomach. Once this occurs, it takes a while for the
chemistry to normalize, no matter what you do and your playing will be
affected. So it is important to minimize the chemical rush. A little bit
is not bad, it can enhance your performance. During the day of the
performance I try to have a positive attitude that I am going to enjoy
this. I eat something before hand and try to get a back rub . I make sure
that I know exactly where I am going and arrive early so that extraneous
anxieties do not trigger the rush. When I am waiting to play, I am most
vulnerable and watch my body very carefully. I breathe slowly, deeply and
calmly. Most important, I imagine the adrenal gland has a valve which I
can control. If I feel it is open too much I visualize turning it down,
manually. This works! Once I am playing, the pleasure of the experience
takes over and I can concentrate on the music and performance.
1. There are several books and articles regarding your question. The topic
bring up is much discussed -- stage fright and self-confidence. Remember
that you are not alone. I have seen it from little kids to famous soloists,
including the legendary Leonard Rose, who visibly tightened when he had to
play big shifts.
Some resources are:
"The Inner Game of Music" by Barry Green with Timothy Gallwey, 1986, Ancor
Press/Doubleday. This book dwells on how to overcome stagefright and uses
kind of a Zen approach. I found this book to be very helpful.
The Spring 1995 issue of American String Teacher Magazine contains an article
in the Guitar Forum called "Six Golden Rules for Conquering Performance
Anxiety," by David Leisner.
"Stage Fright" by Kato Havas, 1973, Bosworth & Co. Ltd is also good. The
examples in the book are directed toward the violin, but are easily extended
to the cello.
I have some other tips for you:
Always stress the note before a big shift.
If the hard part is in your left hand, think about your right hand. If the
hard part is in your right hand, think about your left hand.
Breathe, breathe, breathe! We often forget to breathe when we are anxious.
This makes things worse. You may want to put breath marks at each phrase to
remind you to breathe. This will reduce your overall tension and may
distract you from your fears.
Don't forget to think when you are nervous. You don't want to forget about
the helpful tips you discovered while practicing. Don't fall into the common
trap that performing means it's time to just think about the music. Thinking
doesn't mean dwelling on thoughts like, "Oh my god, I'm going to miss that
shift," which is called "inner chatter" in "The Inner Game of Music."
Some other ideas that have been mentioned in past discussions are:
Count the beats and their subdivisions or to think the note names as each one
is played. The idea is that this will keep your brain distracted from the
inner chatter activity. These things must be practiced, though. So don't
just go into a concert without having worked on these skills.
Practice the rests in the music. If you haven't practiced the rests, you may
not know when to come in during a performance, while will intensity the
Always arrive early and get acclimated to the performance hall.
Tune before you go on stage. You may be too nervous to do a job with