Performing Well Under Pressure for Musicians

Many musicians feel pressure before or during performances. What is pressurePressure is what you feel when you think you have to play or sing well, or that you should win, or when you worry about the consequences of losing or performing poorly. You can feel increased pressure during critical moments in a performance (e.g. a difficult passage). You can also feel pressure from teachers, conductors, or even parents who expect you to perform well. When you react negatively to performance pressure, you can under-perform.

Pressure to perform great isn’t something that just happens to you. Feeling pressured is a result of the expectations you have or the demands you place on yourself about how you think you should perform. Performers often set expectations that are unreasonably high, making it difficult to reach them. Examples of this type of expectation might include performing with the perfect technique or not making any mistakes, and pleasing everyone who hears you. When you are not performing up to your expectations, you feel added pressure. You can tighten up, hold back and perform tentatively, trying to avoid mistakes.

To perform well under pressure, you’ll need to stop focusing on results or the outcome of a music performance. Thoughts of worry or obsession about what might happen usually start with “What if…”. “What if I miss the next shift?” “What if I have that same memory slip?” “What if I crack on that high Bb again?” The key is not to get ahead of yourself or dwell on what has just happened or what might happen and instead, focus on what is most relevant to a successful performance.

The bottom line: thinking about results doesn’t work—it doesn’t help you perform better. If you want to change, the first step is to notice when you are focusing on results. Once you are aware of your result-centered focus, you will want to shift your focus to what’s important—the elements that are relevant to your performance. You will also want to trust your preparation, remember your strengths and past successes (see article on Improving Self-Confidence for Musicians!) and perform each measure as if nothing happened before, as if it is the start of the selection. This shift in focus will keep you in the present and will result in performances that are stronger and more enjoyable.

Helping you get your mind off of strict expectations and onto what really matters for your music performances is just one of the many important strategies you will learn through your work with Peak Performance for Musicians!

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