Nervous? 3 ways to stop focusing on performing and start playing

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audition nervesBeing nervous is a terrible feeling. It can be physically debilitating, with symptoms from cold, clammy hands to nausea and beyond. But by far, the worst damage that nervousness causes is the psychological. We worry about how our nervousness will sabotage our well-prepared and carefully practiced performance. And in the extreme, it can prevent us from performing at all.

When I was a child, my mother and I were both taking piano lessons from the same teacher, and we were both participating in the end-of-the-year student recital. My mother went up to the piano to play, sat down and stared at the keyboard. I remember watching as she stood back up, muttered an apology and ran off the stage before anyone could see her start to cry. She was simply too nervous to play the piece she had prepared all year.

Sometimes the level of anticipation inside ourselves is so high that all we can see is the act of performing. The anxiety is much less when we can focus on the activity, the physical act of playing. It allows us to play more nearly the way we always play and helps maintain a healthier perspective.

You can find lots of advice and tricks that some people find effective. You need to find something that works for you. Here are three thoughts that I find helpful:

1. Do a reality check. However important, difficult or momentous the occasion seems, you are still you and that’s all you can be. You are one human being, doing one thing, at a particular place and time. You will still be the same person when this tiny sliver of time in your life is over. The mountain in front of you seems huge, but you have created the magnifying lens you’re looking through. Change the lens, and you can see the mountain for the bump in the road that it really is.

2. Just hit the ball. Focus on the action not the result. I’m one of those baseball fans that yells at the batter, “Don’t try to hit a homer – just hit the ball!” The best batters don’t go out looking for home runs; they just try to connect with the ball. They know that if they do what they have practiced, they will hit the ball, which is, after all, the only way to get a home run.

Do what you always do: place your fingers, make that crescendo, relax your tone. Don’t try to “perform;” just play what you have practiced.

3. Enjoy the music. If you enjoy your music, others will too. Just as a smile is infectious, so is music. When you feel the music, that communicates itself to others. How do you feel when you play that piece that you love at home? That feeling is where you want to be. Your love of the music is what the audience will experience and remember long after the missed notes or wrong pedal has been forgotten.

It’s not magic, but it’s true, and I hope it helps you – it has helped me!

Need a little motivation to practice? Try the “Etude a Day Challenge” and put something interesting, beneficial and fun in your day! Find out about it here.

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  • Toni Krall

    Thank you for these very important tips and reminders when performing. I am going to print these out and read it over and over again. Thanks so much Anne!


  • Pamela

    Thank you. I am just learning keys to play at church. Usually as a synth pad, but at times I get thrown in all alone. I’m not an accomplished pianist. I practice tons at home along with the sound track to hear the “sounds” and tempo. I get to Thursday night practice or Sunday morning, and I’m a mess. It’s like I never practiced. So frustrating. I always leave feeling deflated and more of a hindrance than asset. our worship leader tells me to play to my strengths i don’t even know what that is when in alone


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