Nervous tension is a normal part of performance. The most experienced performers are familiar with performance nerves – they expect it. Confident performers have learnt to recognise, manage and use their nerves in the way that best suits them. They capture the tension to give a lively and heart-felt performance. Performers in training can also get to know and eventually become friends with these feelings.
Performance nerves are experienced on two different levels – physical-emotional (bodies and feelings) and cognitive (thinking). The two influence each other and both need to be understood. The physical-emotional side is based on excitement – due to anticipation, the heart pumps a little faster, we feel restless, and our thoughts run faster, everything feels more intense. The thinking side is based on what we expect of the performance situation and of ourselves. Sometimes we don’t know what to expect, but with experience we learn that we can manage whatever we face.
A third aspect can be used to manage these two areas so we have a positive performance experience – choice. We can make choices about how we express and interpret our emotions and our thoughts. With practice, these choices lead to confidence.
Performance is an opportunity – it is exciting. Yet it is a situation that most of us are not very familiar with. Sometimes we even feel a little worried because we invest so much into a single point in time - the performance moments. Automatically, this causes our brain to release adrenaline. We feel many things in our bodies because we are more alert than usual. Some people, whose brains work faster or who are more emotionally responsive, have very strong reactions and sensations. These people can learn to be very good performers because they have so much to express. Adrenaline is designed to help us perform even better.
Unfortunately, these feelings can be confusing or very strong. If we think they mean we are going to play badly, they can make us feel shy. It is very important to remember that the feelings are meant to help you; they never mean you “can’t do it”. The more we get used to these feelings and realise we have managed them before, the less strong they become. So, the first important choice to make in performing is to accept how you feel and try anyway.
Since adrenaline gives us extra energy, we sometimes need to manage how we release this energy – so there is just the right amount when it is time to perform. Finding the right mix of resting and being energetic can help. Try working with these ideas:
|Close your eyes and imagine your favourite lovely, quiet place. What does it smell like? What do you hear? Breathe slowly and deeply.|
|If you are very restless still, you need to get rid of your extra energy and then go back to resting. Scream into a pillow. Throw or hit a ball hard against a solid wall. Stamp and jump up and down for a few minutes. Go for a quick run.|
Preparing mentally is about how we understand what our body is feeling and what we choose to think and believe before and during performance. Start with knowing that your body is reacting to help you - nervousness is a good sign, and so is feeling calm. Also, know and think about three very important things:
Before performing, use your thinking to help you play confidently. If you start to worry, remind yourself how helpful your feelings are. Remember, you have already done the hard work in practice and the things you have been careful to learn will come out in your playing – just as automatically as pushing pedals once you know how to ride a bike. You have taught your body what to play and how to play and it is ready to do it by itself.
|Don’t talk to yourself about what might or might not happen. Instead, be quiet minded. Listen for the music you will play or that you are playing. Feel it. Hear it.|
|Give to your audience your love for the music. Let them hear why you liked it enough to play for them. You soak your heart in the music and your audience will too.|
|Before playing, choose one thing you need to remember in your performance piece. Rehearse this in your mind and with your fingers for one minute. Next, choose the best thing about your playing. Spend a minute thinking about that. Finally, just listen in your mind to the music without using any thinking words.|