Dealing with Pre-concert nerves

Nerves are something that a great number of musicians suffer from. The prospect of being on show for all to see, any mistakes being amplified can be very daunting for some.

We’ve had a number of submissions to the practice clinic asking for help dealing with these pre-concert nerves.

Typical of the questions we receive is this from a violinist:

I’m very tense, even when I’m practicing alone. When I’m in my lesson, or on stage, I get even more tense, excited and nervous. My tension causes lots of shifting and intonation problems. I can get it in the practice room, and then on stage its like I’m back at square one because of my nerves.

Our reply:

It’s very encouraging to see that you recognise you are tense. I would be more concerned if you were like the many other musicians who do not recognise the tension in their bodies.

Let’s deal with the practice situation first.

I would encourage you to check a few basics. When focused on the technical difficulties contained in a piece of music we can often forget the more fundamental elements such as posture and breathing. Spend some time, perhaps a few days making sure that your breathing is regular and relaxed before everything you play. There’s no special method needed here, just take the time to notice it.

In terms of posture I would encourage you to stand or sit in an upright and comfortable position. Notice how your body feels in that position. Where are your arms? How are you holding your hands? How does your neck feel? Take time to notice each part of the body. If you feel tense in any part spend some time to notice the tension. Most times simply bringing attention will help you relax. Once you are completely relaxed begin to slowly move into your playing position. Again notice every movement of the body. If a movement causes tension then spend a while to notice it. You should eventually bring yourself to a relaxed and comfortable playing position.

Spend a few days focusing on the breathing and relaxation a lot, before everything you play. Even if you did them well before it is still a very useful exercise and in the practice room should help to relieve most of your tension.

Having done this the trick is to take that relaxed state into lessons. Your teacher should be aware that you are working on being more relaxed and will therefore understand if you take a little more time in lessons to settle in to playing the sections of music required.

One reason why you might be tense in practice and lessons is the fear of making mistakes – don’t be! Mistakes are great. Mistakes are useful. Without mistakes we wouldn’t know how to get better. Actively look for mistakes. The more you find the better your playing will become. Giving yourself permission to make mistakes can be a great relief. View each as a learning opportunity. Notice it, analyse it and incorporate it into your practice.

Mistakes are not just useful in practice but also in lessons. Just think, if you played perfectly in every lesson why would you need a teacher? The mistakes you make in lessons are what helps your teacher to help you so relax and don’t be afraid of them.

I am preparing my junior recital, and I would like to feel more relaxed and natural on stage.

I must admit I am an advocate for practicing in the same way that you perform. Whilst you can replicate many aspects of a performance it’s very difficult to bring an audience in and create that environment for practice. But as far as possible try to play in the same way, same speed, same dress etc as you would when you perform. There are some methods on this site that can help with preparation for concerts:
Prepare Properly
In at the Deep End
Final Thoughts

I’ve spoken before about the two types of nerves. You can read more in the Christmas concert clinic.

Whilst you may not ever completely remove the nerves that you feel you can control them. Being thoroughly prepared is a way to minimise the effect of nerves.

Would you like to be the subject of a future practice clinic? Contact us with any practice problems and we’d be happy to help.

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