~By Elise Leung
“Are you ready?” The professor asked this as I waited outside The University of Texas at Austin recital hall. I had been preparing for this moment for months, and finally the final round of competition had arrived. All around me singers were vocalizing and pacing while they waited for their turn. As I looked at all the hopeful contenders, I took a deep breath, responded with a nervous shake of the head, and entered into the recital hall.
We all experience this feeling at some point in our lives. Whether it is butterflies in the stomach, shallow breathing, shaking, dry mouth, pacing or moving excessively, our bodies handle stage fright in many different ways. One of the challenges I face as a teacher is preparing young students for performances. How do you put a student’s mind at ease when they start feeling those pesky butterflies?
The way I’ve learned to help students has been based on my own performing experiences. For instance, I used to struggle with
breathing during a performance. When I tried to take a deep breath it would come out shallow, making it difficult to sustain the longer phrases. I finally voiced my concerns to my teacher and she introduced deep breathing exercises to my routine. The exercises grounded me and were also easy to apply in a performance situation. When a student tells me they suffer from stage fright now, I incorporate the same breathing exercises I use into their lessons.
A musician must also ask themselves if they are ready for a performance. Almost every nervous performance I’ve had has been due to under preparation. “If only I had put more time into this piece. . .” In order for musicians to have successful performances, students must be well prepared and have a strategy for their performance. I frequently discuss strategy plans with students before major performances. The more prepared a musician is for a performance, the more chance they have for success.
Another important cause for stage fright is the musician’s way of thinking before a performance. If a musician thinks negatively before a performance; they are more likely to give a below average performance. The first step to change this way of thinking is to recognize it. For example, is the world really going to end if you mess up your big solo? Probably not, instead try thinking of friends and family who will be attending. They will love you no matter how you perform, and most of the audience hopes you give a great performance as well. This way of thinking can be more calming and help you focus on the task at hand; the first way is liable to cause more anxiety and distract you from your performance.
When a performance is approaching, one of the most important points to consider is your health. Think about how to prepare a child for a big test at school. They first must take time to study and feel confident about the material. When the night before the test arrives, teachers recommend students go to bed early and have a big breakfast beforehand. This is exactly how musicians should treat upcoming performances. Make sure you get plenty of rest and have a nice meal before performing.
Dealing with stage fright can be an awful experience for musicians to face. It is something that can follow us around all our lives if we let it. Always try to think positive, be prepared, and make sure you are in good health to perform. Remember, with every experience there comes an opportunity to learn from it.