By Hilary Abigana
Let me let you in on a little secret: we all get nervous, especially when we first start performing. Your heart starts pounding, your mouth gets dry, and your hands start feeling tingly as if there are ants crawling under your skin. Sometimes you get so nervous, that all you think about is being nervous, instead of thinking about the performance. Trust me – we’ve all been there!
Being a little nervous is good for performing! Those butterflies in your stomach can help heighten your sense of awareness, making all your senses a little bit keener. Maybe you can hear your pitch a little better or see all those notes a bit clearer. What you want is to get those butterflies to fly in formation and work for you, not against you. This is your body and your mind, so let’s help you take control of it.
Here are some ideas to help you deal with those nerves:
Keep Your Imagination in Check
When we get nervous, logic goes out the window and we start imaging scenarios where the audience throws tomatoes and boos us off the stage. Bring logic back and get your imagination on your side– they won’t throw tomatoes and they won’t boo you off the stage. Instead, imagine positive scenes like the audience leaping to their feet cheering! As soon as you let your imagination run wild creating negative scenes, that’s going to add to your butterfly hoard. You do have control of your thoughts. Anytime something negative tries to invade your mind, spin it into a positive.
Once you’ve got your imagination in check, mentally go through your music. Imagine the ideal performance, how you want each phrase to sound, how each rhythm will bounce to life. And once you’re in the performance, stay in the moment. If you make a mistake, let it go. If your collaborators make a mistake, go with it and musically respond in the most flexible way you can. Keep your attention and your passion in the present without worrying about the past or future. After all, there’s nothing you can do to change the past and you can never fully prepare for the future. So, enjoy the moment and keep your mind in the present.
Take Care of Your Body
This is a very important factor when it comes to performing! Your entire body goes into a performance, so take care of it. Get a good night’s sleep before your performance. That will help with keeping your imagination on your side and staying focused. Eat healthy, well-proportioned meals before you play. Performing burns a lot of calories, so make sure there’s food in you to burn! Eating a too small meal will not provide you with enough sustenance to maintain that focus. On the other hand, eating an overly large meal will make you sleepy and lethargic. Drink a lot of water. We’ve all had problems with our mouths going dry during a performance. I recommend eating something prior to your performance (don’t forget to brush your teeth before playing, though!) to keep your saliva glands working in addition to drinking a good amount of water. Hydration is important!
The first thing to go when we’re nervous is our air. So, take a slow, deep breath through your nose and out through your mouth. Do this a couple times, though not too many that you get extra tingly or start to hyperventilate!
Smile and Stand Tall
This might seem silly, but by looking confident on the outside, you can fool your inside into being just as confident. So to start off, smile. Smile confidently as if you’re not nervous at all. Second, stand tall with ease and poise. There are studies that show people who’s posture takes up more room (like standing tall and arms uncrossed) are more likely to do well in job interviews and auditions than people who’s posture is small (like crossing your legs, hunching your shoulders, and generally trying to be small). Stand or sit tall, smile, and that confidence you show on the outside will calm those nerves on the inside. For more information on this study visit:
Admit you are Nervous
Sometimes just saying out loud to another person, “I am so nervous” helps make the extreme jitters go away. This happens, because once we identify that something is happening, it isn’t allowed to get blown out of proportion. So turn to the stage manager or your chamber music buddy, smile, and say, “I’m a bit nervous!” Most likely, they’ll look back at you, smile, and say, “You’ll be fine!”
Identify what is Making You Nervous
Are you worried that you’ll mess up? Do you feel under prepared? Are you worried that the audience will laugh at you? Again, sometimes just putting a name to the worry helps bring logic back on your side. For example, if you’re worried about making mistakes, remember that for the most part, the audience doesn’t have the music in front of them. They’re not looking for mistakes. Instead, they want to enjoy your performance.
We are All on Your Side
This is an important one. Every performance you do will be for an audience that wants you to do well. Yes, even competitions and auditions! In fact, even more so for competitions and auditions! In those situations, yes, you have a judge or jury with the music in front of them and they’re taking stock of your mistakes. But every time a new competitor or prospective student comes in the door, the judge or panel thinks, “Maybe this is our winner!” They want to find that winner and they’re hoping it’s you. So go show them that you’ve got what it takes. Yes, you might be nervous, but that doesn’t make you a bad musician. It makes you human.
Hilary Abigana is a founding member and flutist for the hybrid arts ensemble, The Fourth Wall. Praised by The Wall Street Journal for their “deft choreography,” The Fourth Wall explores a new hybrid of the performing arts in which musicians are also dancers and actors. Stretching the boundaries of instrumental performance, The Fourth Wall commissions new interdisciplinary works and reinterprets established repertoire to make music that leaps off the stage. Most recently, they made their Off-Broadway debut at the SoHo Playhouse after completing a three-month long tour along the fringe festival circuit in North America with their multi-award winning neo-vaudeville variety show, Fruit Flies Like a Banana. In addition to performing hybrid arts shows, The Fourth Wall travels all over the continent conducting workshops in the basics of this genre, and encouraging participants to utilize music, dance and theater techniques in their performances. Their presenting series, The Fourth Wall Presents…, is a monthly performances series in the Greater Boston area that showcases artists from around the country alongside the trio’s own antics. Hilary has been on faculty at the Floot Fire Dallas.1 location and is a contributing author to the Floot Fire Books.