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


The dilemma How do I overcome the fear of not being good enough?


Take heart: this is an extremely common issue that many musicians and performers struggle with. It usually takes shape from the act of constantly comparing yourself with others (typically other performers who you perceive to be more accomplished) and inevitably feeling as though you always come up short. The weight of perfectionism can be crushing for many.

The first thing to do is to ask yourself, what is good enough? What would it be mean to be perfect? Will you ever know if you have achieved it, and if so, then what? It’s also important to enquire as to why you are involved in performing music. What motivates you? If your main goal is to be perfect, then you’re most likely going to have an unhappy career. Salvador Dali said: 'Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.'

Think about why you go to a concert. Is it to hear perfection? My guess is no. Most likely, you want to hear beautiful music, be transported, challenged, inspired, etc. If it’s true for you, then it would be true for the audiences you play for. Focus more on what you want to say with the music. What do you wish to communicate through the composer’s work? 'Perfection is not very communicative' - Yo-Yo Ma.

This not to say that you shouldn’t strive to make art at the highest level you can, but understand that perfection is a wholly unrealistic goal. It’s in our mistakes that we can learn and keep pushing to be even better.

In practical terms, spend more time performing for people who know you and support you. Let go of expectations of having to please them or of playing perfectly, and trust their opinion. Write down what inspires you about making music, or what excites you about the specific pieces you’re working on. Document what you want to convey to the audience. Having that be your primary goal as an artist and performer will go a long way to giving you a healthier perspective when you’re on stage.

Do you have a burning question about stage fright? Email us at 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?

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

Read: Conquering performance nerves: I’m great in practice but don’t perform so well on the day

Read: Conquering performance nerves: how can I warm up my stiff, cold hands?

Read: Conquering performance nerves: how can I become more comfortable during lessons?

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

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. 

Brian and Diana presented a session on performance nerves at the 2016 American String Teachers Association conference. The 2017 conferences taks place from 1-4 March 2017 in Pittsburgh.