Overcoming Stage Fright

At our recent Concert Finale 2017, a student of mine came up to me and said that she would not perform again (this is her second performance on the violin) and may quit her violin if part of our music course were to entail her performance again in our next bi-annual concert in 2018. I told her of course I would rather she continues with her lessons than to quit the violin completely, which would be a waste. I am glad that she is following my recommendation and not giving up with lessons altogether, and may enter the stage if she ever feels ready again.

Playing any instrument’s main goal of instruction is to eventually perform. Just like training a basketball player to shoot hoops everyday, which would result to participating in a game of (competitive) basketball at some stage. So if taking up an instrument like the violin, I have in mind that the eventual result of that besides for personal enjoyment would be to perform one day. After 20 years of teaching and performing, I am not immune to nerves, in fact I am still looking for an antidote for decompression after a concert. But I have come up with the following things that may help with stage fright:

1. Be prepared. – this means that you should do the adequate practice for the pieces for performance.

2. Practice in every way possible. – whether it means listening to many versions of recordings or videos of the same song and also a visualization of the score in your head while humming the tune outside of the practice room.

3. Visualize yourself performing. – this includes seeing yourself on the stage performing the piece, visualizing every note and position change with your fingers. ( I always find myself memorizing the steps of my fingers on the fingerboard of the violin like a ballerina finding her steps on stage)

4. Have adequate everyday technical practice. – at every practice and lesson, I make sure that my students show me a very slow bow on whether a note or an open string, this greatly helps with grasping a good bow control so as to avoid “shaky bow” syndrome. Being technically apt on the violin also ensures that you are confident in playing your instrument. If you have a really bad case of nerves on stage, never choose a piece for performance out of your technical ability. You should ideally find a piece of music that you are comfortable to perform which corresponds with your technical ability at whatever learning stage you are at. It will also help to like the piece that you are performing if you have to overcome stage fright.

5. Go to the venue. – do not be late for rehearsals and if there is a chance to rent the venue at an affordable rate, you should by all means do at least one or more rehearsals on site, this will help you to visualize and have a feel of the atmosphere so that you are not caught off guard completely during a performance. Of course with a full house at the venue, the atmosphere and even acoustics may be different, but at least you have sized up the room and you can also practice the vision of yourself on stage playing the piece many times before the actual performance.

6. Be your worst critique during practice but your biggest fan on stage.- this holds true, I purposely record a lot of my practice and try not to allow the slightest mistake to slip during practice as if I can hear it, chances are somebody else will too. But on stage, before any performance, I psyche myself that I can do it and that I have already been so prepared and will give the best performance there even if there was only one person really listening out there. I also like the suggestions in the recent strings magazine article especially on visualizing how the first notes will sound like and even feel like for five seconds before going onto stage.

7. Be focused on the emotion of making music.- it is that passion of music that leads us to making music for others to enjoy it with us. So therefore, instead of being focused on the emotion to be nervous during the performance, it will be better to really get deep into the emotion of the music and bringing that energy into communicating the emotion and passion of the music to the audience. It would be a waste to be caught up with nerves and lose that opportunity to. I really personally find getting into the focus of the music very helpful to survive during a performance on stage.

8. Be practiced and perform as much as possible.- I am sure that for the first time a surgeon does a surgery, would be very nervous no matter how trained or well researched he is. However, over time doing the same surgery even with different patients, the entire affair would turn out to be more of a routine. He would also better his reaction and ability to deal with situations arising during the surgery. A well seasoned performer will also be able to tell you that the more practice being on stage and the more frequently that you go on stage, chances are with some few exceptions, most of us would also be able to become accustomed to the feeling of going onto stage, and that yucky feeling of nervousness would transform only to the exhilaration and excitement of wanting to transmit what you have prepared to the audience for the day. Also, do not underestimate small menial performance opportunities such as performing for friends at your own home. I never forgot a good piece of advice from my Professor’s wife who was my accompanist for my entire duration while understudying him, she told me to grow a really thick skin (which she already has) and just not be afraid of making mistakes. Some days, performances will not turn out the way you want them to be but at least you tried and you will do it again.

9. Professing you love to perform.- I am naturally shy as an individual and feel that if I were to say this might be telling a lie, but part of my job as a musician is to perform; rather than always saying I do not like to perform because I am scared on stage, I’d rather focus on how I like to perform because having a gift for music really does bring happiness to others when you share it.

I do certainly hope that some of these advice would help. If you have anymore suggestions, I would really love to hear them and do feel free to comment or let me know them. Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “Overcoming Stage Fright

  1. Not having any axe to grind or violin to play and in responding to your query of, “If you have anymore suggestions”, let me say only this. When your about to preform if you take just a minute to think of those of us who come from all walks of life to experience your wonderful violin’s addition to any orchestral piece
    and I for one can also attest to the power of your labors
    because of the tears that flowed at the end of those concerts.


    1. Thanks so much for that Pete. It really does make my job so much more meaningful when I hear it has touched someone’s life. Happy to be part of the experience. Keep listening and feeling!


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