Overcoming Stage Fright with Piano-Yoga® - Part One of Three
I consider there to be three types of performers:
Firstly, there are people who like playing in public and actually play better in a performance environment.
The second group includes people who enjoy playing, but experience problems with nerves and stage fright. This group has learned techniques that help them overcome stage fright so that they are able to perform very well.
The third group are people who experience stage fright to the point where it is almost crippling. Unfortunately, these people may get to the point where they stop performing altogether.
Usually, when a person walks onto the stage, their brain sends signals to the body to produce more adrenalin and, in effect, the body goes into the so-called fight-or-flight response. Animals also demonstrate this response; you can see it in cats when they are frightened and the fur on their back stands up. When people are nervous, they may blush or have sweaty palms. Others may find that their hands or legs shake and that their breathing pattern speeds up, even inducing a panic attack!
Despite the enormous range of responses, adrenaline is present in all three cases of the groups I have outlined? The difference? Some people react favourably to it while others do not. In this essay, I share how Piano-Yoga® can help people who experience negative reactions to nerves. My aim is to help individuals who are in the third category to move to the second category and perhaps, over time, even to the first category.
One month before a performance
Preparation for a public performance should not happen the day before, not even a week before, but months before the actual performance. This preparation should consist of two different elements. The first element is physical preparation. This relates to learning and, in many cases, memorising your pieces, perfecting difficult passages, and so on. The second aspect relates to the psychological preparation. This issue is often avoided by both teachers and students alike, but is equally important to physical preparation. As physical preparation is typically covered in piano lessons, I have chosen to focus on the psychological aspect of performance.
If you suffer from stage nerves, you will probably lose some quality of your playing ability when you step on stage. This means that you have to be overly prepared for the concert so that when you do lose some of your ability, you can still play very well. In practice, this means that all difficult passages and points of climax have to be learned very well. It is here, when the emotions and adrenaline both increase, that people often lose control.
I also suggest that you regularly play with emotion, which is appropriate for a section of a composition, when you practice. I want to emphasise that one should not only practise pieces mechanically, but also practise them musically, as though conveying the emotion of the music to an audience. When practising, people can get into the habit of focusing on the technical aspect of the piece and lose its musicality. This is not surprising as the body gets used to playing in a certain way.
Another important aspect is that you feel physically comfortable when playing. This means finding the right sitting position, which includes the height of the bench and its distance from the piano. You need to remember this position and to try to recreate it when on stage. People can often become disorientated when they feel that the bench is, perhaps, very low. Therefore, it is essential that you remember your optimal sitting position and spend an extra moment recreating it when on stage.
The next point, I feel, is one of the most important, and I suggest that all of my students do this. I ask my students to record themselves playing a mock performance as much as possible. I then ask them to listen to themselves the next day so that they can be more objective about their own performance. When you listen to the recording, take the time to actually sit with the music and make notes about what you liked and what you would like to improve. If you keep doing this, perhaps once a week, you will find that the quality of your playing will improve. You will also find that your attitude towards your own playing will become more objective.
Always perform in front of an audience, as much as possible and as early as possible. This can be as simple as inviting one or two people to listen to you where you usually practise. After you have done this a few times, I recommend that you start playing on different pianos. Unfortunately, as piano players, our memory not only relies on the music, but also on the position and circumstances of where we practised. Some people can become very disorientated when they perform in a new and unfamiliar venue.