Perspective on Performance Anxiety
Ken Stoudenmire, School of Music Mentor
One of the great things about the music program at WCU is the number of different performance opportunities available every semester. By participating in a variety of ensemble types, we are able to extend our musicianship to new heights, thereby getting the most out of the WCU music experience. Although having so many different performance outlets is necessary for personal development and career success, the act of performing itself can often be stressful. As music students adjusting to more and more playing situations, it is important to understand that nerves before a concert or recital is not uncommon, even for professional musicians, so there is nothing abnormal about feeling anxious prior to the event. The good news is that some pre-concert jitters can actually be a good way of focusing us for our performance. They keep us alert and energized, which can improve concentration and result in a better outcome. All nerves are not bad nerves! However, should the thought of playing in front of people cause excessive tension and stress, there are a couple of ways to help reduce the nerves.
A great way to become more comfortable in performance situations is to get into performance situations! Low-stress, relaxed playing environments, like family gatherings, church, or community ensembles, etc., can lower the stakes, helping to reduce nerves. The memory of each successful performance can build confidence going forward. The only way to get a lot of positive performances is to give yourself a lot of opportunities for positive performances. At WCU, the weekly studio hour is also a great way to gain experience playing in front of a supportive audience of your peers. By approaching studio performances with the same deliberate preparation as you would any other performance, you can get the most benefit out of the studio experience.
In addition to playing as often as possible, it is important to keep a healthy perspective on playing. Anxiety is often caused by the sense that something terrible will happen if the performance does not go well. A performer’s career is not based on one performance, whether good or bad, but on an entire playing career. Just as our overall success is not guaranteed by one good concert, in the same way, a concert that does not go as well as we had hoped does not doom our future as musicians. As your colleagues in the School of Music, we have all been in situations where a performance did not go as well as we had hoped. Keep things in perspective! No matter how a concert turns out, the world keeps turning and the sun will rise again. Just keep moving forward. Do a post-concert analysis each time you play and use the good and the bad things as ways to improve for next time.With this type of careful reflection, paired with diligent practice, the likelihood of better and better performances is increased. With each successful concert, confidence increases, which helps to reduce the fear and doubt that leads to performance anxiety. This can pay huge dividends over the course of a career.
Whether we experience many or few nerves prior to a concert, it is crucial to keep in mind that each individual performance is a single step contributing to our overall musicianship. While we give detailed focus to each of these individual steps on our path to success, maintaining the overall big-picture perspective is of utmost importance if we are to get the most out of our musical experience.