How to Face Your Fear and PERFORM!

Musicians often live (and perform) in constant awareness of how they are being perceived by peers, teachers, audiences, and judging panels.  Let’s face it, our whole society is built on getting ahead, striving to succeed, and BEING THE BEST!  There is nothing wrong with the striving thing.  It is a good thing to want to be your very best.  Where this kind of focus derails your performing is when that is your primary focus.   Think about the difference between how you are able to perform and how you actually perform.  Is there any difference?  Is the difference a lot or a little?  Is that difference a source of frustration and maybe a source of the fear or performance anxiety you often experience?

In order to conquer your fear and bridge this gap between what you are capable of and what you actually do in performance, you need to focus on the answers to three questions:  Why?, How?, and HOW!   Let’s see…

Why? This is the part many musicians forget about in their quest for technical proficiency.  We are so busy with the next step—the How?—technique acquisition, improvement, and refinement, that we forget what got us here in the first place.  Remembering what drew us to music and performing in the first place can go a long way toward helping us focus on fun instead of fear!  Why are you here?  Why do you sing or play or direct or teach?  What made you commit to becoming a musician and what motivates you to continue?  The answers to these questions are key to your enjoyment and success as a performer.   Most of us, at least in the beginning, answered “Why?” with “Because I just love to sing.”  “I love playing my horn.” or “I’m pretty good and I like this feeling.” “I love figuring out how to play (or sing) better and learning new and more challenging repertoire.” or “I like the attention I get when I perform.”

Now, if you are one of those performers who is struggling with fear, performance anxiety, or leaving your best performances in the practice room, look carefully  at those answers to “Why?”  If your answer isn’t there, write “Why?” on a piece of paper and jot your answer down.  Some of these answers help us stay focused and committed and keep us motivated to succeed in the healthiest way—performing for the sheer love and fun of it, performing for the feeling of doing something that you are good at, and performing to achieve personal goals.  The other answers shift our focus to outcomes which can heighten our fear and anxiety about our performances—performing because someone else thinks we should, performing because when we do well or win we can feel better about ourselves, or performing because we need the attention and approval of others to boost our self-esteem.

Why? CHECKPOINT: OK, so we are at the Why? crossroads.  Answer the question.  Why are you here?  Why do you perform?  Work to keep the fun and joy in your performances.  Work to remember the music—the joy of simply playing and I mean playing with your music—having FUN!

How? How do we do it?  These answers involve technique acquisition, improvement, and refinement.  They also involve expression and stage deportment—all the nitty-gritty of fingering, melismas, high voice, triple tonguing, double stops, and all those techniques that you work hours to perfect.     Many musicians need to work on how to practice more effectively and efficiently, but many other musicians keep working on techniques they have already mastered thinking that more and more practice, alone, will quell their fear.  There is no doubt that preparing well is the surest way to feel more confident and to face your fear with trust and courage.   Defining that “preparing well” is the rub.  Remember three things about practice:

  1. Make a plan of action for each practice session (look for next week’s post for various practice models)
  2. Work your plan by practicing daily—short periods are best—it is not how much practice, but how you practice that counts!
  3. Practice performing in each daily practice session—this means to shut off evaluating & over-analyzing in a performance run-through

How? CHECKPOINT: If you are experiencing fear or performance anxiety prior to performing (and even if you’re not!), evaluate your practice and preparation regimen.  Are you preparing to your utmost?  Are you making goals for practice?  Are you mindlessly going through the motions of repetition or boring practice?  Are you practicing daily?  Are you practicing performing?  It is important that you prepare well and it is equally important that prior to performance, you decide that preparation is complete—practice is OVER—you are ready, at least, for now!

HOW! This is where the rubber meets the road.  If we are talking performance anxiety or fear here, remembering why we perform will keep our focus in check, knowing how and preparing as well as we possibly can will boost our confidence, but nothing will help you conquer your fear more than knowing HOW to train your mind as well as you’ve trained your voice or to play your instrument.  Learning what to think before you walk onstage, what you think when you make a mistake, what you think when you notice your first teacher is in the audience and learning to become mentally tough is the number one key to performing fearlessly.  This involves training your mind and thinking to:

  1. Trust your preparation and practice,
  2. Accept your performances as they are for today—free of judgment or evaluation,
  3. Deal with expectations, doubt, and distractions,
  4. Have the courage to direct your will to trust, accept, deal with limiting beliefs and doubt to OVERCOME FEAR!

HOW! CHECKPOINT: There you have it.  When you find yourself onstage, but totally in your head with self-doubt, fear, and thoughts that keep you focused on outcomes or whether you’ll be good enough, you will probably want to run to the practice room or think “I have to work harder!”  I’m here to tell you that most of the fear we feel has nothing to do with how well we play or sing—so no amount of practice is going to fix it.  This kind of fear has to do with the way we think about ourselves and our performing.  You have a choice!

Choose to get in touch with the joy of your music making.  Choose to practice well and mindfully.  Choose to learn what it takes to gain control of your thoughts to think, practice, and perform like a pro!

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like to talk further about the HOW! in your performing!  Please leave me a comment on what is working for you!

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