It is common for musicians who experience performance anxiety to think that they have to just live with the nerves, the anxiety, and the feelings of fear. Some musicians may view other performers as having been born without the performance anxiety gene. Well, there is no gene that causes or sets the stage for a musician’s fear and anxiety.
Most performance anxiety in music is a result of very real beliefs and habits that may keep you stuck on the anxiety treadmill. These beliefs and habits include maintaining strict expectations, believing that you can achieve perfection, fearing failure or embarrassment, lacking enough or effective practice or the feeling that you can’t practice enough, and the fact that some musicians don’t perform without evaluating and judging every aspect of their performance.
One way that musicians react to this fear and anxiety is to practice more. This can result in these performers getting stuck in a training or practice mindset, which causes them to over-think or over-analyze their technique not only up to the performance, but during performances as well. Practice is integral to performance preparation, but when a performer is stuck in the practice mindset, they end up “practicing” during their performances. They practice for their audiences instead of performing for them. This doesn’t work for the audience or for you!
A more productive and effective way to deal with music performance anxiety is having greater trust in your learned skills. Once your skills are well-learned, work to simulate the performance environment in your practice. Begin to practice performing without evaluating or “coaching” yourself throughout the performance or trying to “fix” mistakes as they occur. To perform your best you need to trust the skills you learned in practice when it’s time to audition or perform instead of over-thinking the how-to’s. We call this getting into a performance or trusting mindset. This allows you to trust your practice and enables you to react to the music instead of being overwhelmed by your performance anxiety.
One way to avoid getting trapped in the training or practice mindset and perform with trust is to reduce the amount of technical details you focus on during a performance. An effective strategy to accomplish this is to recognize that every performance is a work in progress and an opportunity to experience and share your music with others. After accepting this concept, it is important to declare your practice complete in the days to a week prior to the performance and start “practicing” trust by performing only—without judgment or evaluation.