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Conquering performance nerves: how do I banish sweaty hands and nausea?

Brian Hodges and Diana Allan answer student questions on coping with stage fright

April 18, 2016

The dilemma What can I do to beat anxiety before a performance? How can I get rid of sweaty hands, nausea and excessive preoccupation about making mistakes or having a failure in memory?

Well, there’s good news and bad news. First, the bad news: chances are, although the physical symptoms can lessen they may never go away completely. The good news, however, is that with practice, they can be lessened considerably, to where you don’t really notice them.

This is where shifting your focus can really make a difference. If you’re like most people, the physical manifestation of your nerves occupies a good amount of your mental energy. You’re probably thinking thoughts such as: ‘Why are my hands so sweaty? Everyone is going to see how nervous I am. I hope I don’t throw up on stage…’ If where our minds go, our energy follows, do you want your energy sucked up by focusing on these thoughts?  Why not focus on the music instead: What is the composer trying to say? What is the mood of the piece? What do you hope the audience will walk away with? Taking yourself out of your main focus can really quell some of the more seemingly inescapable symptoms that crop up when you perform. It sounds easier said than done, but with practice you’ll see that it really works.

Tip: If you’re using music on stage, write notes to yourself on your score, such as: ‘Relax’, ‘Just breathe’, ‘What is the mood/character here?’, ‘Where is the melody going?’, ‘Express!’ Just these little ideas jotted down in your score can trigger your focus back onto the music and not yourself. Focus on what you want in your performing rather than on what you don’t.

Do you have a burning question about stage fright? Email us at thestrad@thestrad.com and we’ll put your question to experts Brian Hodges and Diana Allan.

Read: Release the Fear Monster: how to conquer anxiety and perform at your best

Read: Conquering performance nerves: how do I control my fear of failure?

Brian Hodges is an active soloist, chamber musician and teacher. He is associate professor of cello and coordinator of chamber music at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho. He is the principal cellist of the Boise Baroque Orchestra and performs regularly with Classical Revolution: Boise, which has been featured at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival and live on the radio at Radio Boise. He can be reached at www.brianhodgescello.com.

Dr Diana Allan is associate professor of voice at The University of Texas at San Antonio as well as a certified peak performance coach.   She works one-on-one with musicians to help them assess both their strengths and challenges and teaches them how to cultivate the mental skills that will enable them to break through the barriers that prevent them from achieving optimal performance. Her website, Peak Performance for Musicians has a readership from 170 countries. 

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