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.
In summary, in the month before a performance:
Know the piece very well
Play your pieces and passages with emotion when you practice.
Find your most comfortable sitting position and recreate it wherever you go
Try to record yourself at least once a week
Perform in front of an ever-increasing audience, even if it is only for friends and family
Practise and perform on different pianos in different locations
Analysing Stage Nerves
As mentioned before, I stress the importance of analysing the psychological aspect of your playing as early as possible. By trying to determine why you suffer from stage nerves you can begin to find solutions. For example, you can learn a lot just by analysing your own motives for playing.
Examine the reason why you are performing. What motivates you to go on stage and perform in front of other people? The answer is different for everyone. For some, performance is used as motivation to learn or memorise new pieces. For others, it is simply the pleasure of sharing music with others. But whatever your reason is, you need to have a very conscious understanding of why you want to play in front of people.
Stage nerves are often caused by lack of concentration while on stage for long periods. One of the best ways to improve your concentration is meditation. If you can set aside some time, meditation will help, but I understand that this technique may not be for everyone. You can join me for a guided meditation in this video.
Here is another powerful tool is creative visualisation. I was first introduced to this method while reading Shakti Gawain’s book, 'Creative Visualisation' . When applying visualisation to public performance, I suggest that you close your eyes, imagine one of the biggest concert halls you can, and fill it with people. Visualise yourself walking on stage, bowing, sitting, and playing. While visualising your performance, try to feel the space between you and the audience. Imagine that when you have finished playing that you get up, bow, and sincerely feel how the audience is appreciating you. If you do this a number of times, you might find that performing is not as stressful. Imagining a crowd of thousands will make an audience of fifteen feel like a piece of cake!
Finally, you may want to consider working with your subconscious. On a conscious level, ideas, thoughts, and feelings can come and go, whilst in the subconscious, these aspects become permanent. Scientists have found that the best time to put information into the subconscious is just before you go to sleep. So, before you go to sleep, you could say to yourself, with conviction, the following sentence: 'I am looking forward to giving the most beautiful performance.' If you say this every night, several weeks before the performance, you might find yourself really looking forward to giving this performance and sharing the music with others.
To summarise analysing stage nerves:
Ask yourself why you are performing. What is your motivation?
Work on your concentration though meditation or even yoga
Incorporate creative visualisation to help imagine yourself imagine the performance
Work with your subconscious by using affirmations
If you put into practice the suggestions I mention above, I guarantee that you will feel a difference in your perspective within four weeks.
And if you would like to get the more in-depth programme on how to prepare for your public performance I recommend my video programme 'Transform Your Practice: A Complete 11 Sage Guide' which covers you through these aspects in more depth and more exercises. For the month of June 2021, starting from today, we are offering this code 'June2021' which will give you 50% off the programme. The programme, which lasts 4.5 hours, allows you to get a yearly access to the course.
Enjoy your public performance and happy practising!