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  • Writer's picturemargueritelevin

Nerves and Stage Fright

Updated: Dec 17, 2019

Part of being a musician is taking auditions and playing live before audiences. It is perfectly normal to be nervous about any performance situation. Oftentimes, a little adrenaline makes a performance that much more exciting and exhilarating, not only for the listener, but for you as well.

Dealing with nerves and learning how to control thoughts of fear and worry are important elements in your development as a musician. A common comment from students is that because they were so nervous, they felt out of breath during an audition or performance. Some wind players will exhibit an unexpected and unwanted shake in their sound. For some, their fingers become quite cold and they lose flexibility and facility in technical passages. I will say that I have experienced all of the aforementioned maladies at some point in my music career. They were unpleasant to say the least, but I can tell you I survived another day and I am still here performing and even taking auditions. Here are some things I have learned and suggestions to help ease your suffering.

· Have you prepared to the best of your ability? Being well practiced and rehearsed should ease your mind. Be happy with the work that you have done to get you to that audition. You know that you have made a lot of improvement and be excited about that. Love what you do and that will come through your playing.

· Try this meditative breathing exercise. Breathe in through your mouth for four counts, hold four counts, then blow out the air for eight counts or as close to it as you can. This will slow your breathing down and teach you to get rid of the air that you have taken in. Many times during a performance, we take more breaths than we need. You might even feel discomfort in your chest. This is because you have not rid yourself of the old air before taking in new air. You can do this exercise silently during rests before a big passage.

· Do something mindless to relax. This could be doodling, coloring, playing solitaire, reading, handwork, video games or whatever that allows your mind to stop turning and zone out.

· Have you ever watched and listened to ASMR videos? If you have ever become sleepy listening to someone talk, you may be someone who would benefit from this free therapy! ASMR stands for Audio Sensory Meridian Response. You can google for more information. There are thousands of video recordings on YouTube. My favorite one to relax is the one that "Gentle Whispering" does on folding towels. I know this sounds crazy, but it is very relaxing for me.

· Drink lots of water daily. Don't eat things that are difficult to digest or that perhaps might upset your stomach. Do something to exercise your body. If you can't go to a gym, simply walking 4-5 times a week will help alleviate stress. Stretching is very important for all musicians. There are so many books available that address this topic. Many artists swear by Yoga. My current favorite exercise is Pilates.

· For cold fingers, always have warm gloves on hand, to keep your fingers warm. You could also use those little packets called HotPockets. They can be found at your local pharmacy, Target, or your local hardware store.

· Try keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings. It does not have to be long-winded nor does it have to be complete sentences. Nobody is going to grade it. Putting our thoughts on paper, handwritten, can have a therapeutic effect.

THIS JUST IN: Noted New York clarinetist, Robin Seletsky offers her advice on dealing with stage fright:

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Hey Marguerite, I love your blog - and thanks so much for including my video. Boy, I think about this topic a lot and I have such a strong desire to help students overcome it. If, in addition to everything you noted, people can add into their strategies the notion that "you can't feel fear and inspiration at the same time" I think they would have all the right tools in their toolbox. My idea (which is not anything new) is that when you listen to something that REALLY inspires you, the moment in a Beethoven Symphony that gives you goosebumps perhaps, then you're connected to inspiration. And it's at that moment that you feel no anxiety at all…

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