Hi! Everyone has some level of performance anxiety. It’s almost like a voice in your head telling you that you can’t do it, or that you’re going to mess up. Especially in the parts of a piece that are important to you, that nagging voice gets louder and make you incapable of concentrating on the music. My best advice is that you have to devise a proactive strategy to conquer what is basically lack of confidence.
1. Practice. Of course the first, best strategy to overcome that feeling of anxiousness before a performance is to practice well. It would be a good idea to bring your concerns to your teacher and see if your practice routine is really effective. Most students, no matter what age, have said, “I played it better at home”. And this could be for lots of different reasons. We tend to forgive mistakes we make during home practice. We tend to skip over uncomfortable parts, sometimes not truly sure how to deal with them. So make sure your practice methods are fixing problems and making you feel more confident about the piece you’re playing. Most beginning students have no idea that practice requires strategy. They play their pieces and drills from the beginning to the end, perhaps over and over, not knowing this really isn’t going to fix anything.
2. Expose Yourself. The best way to learn how to deal with nervousness when you play for others is… to play for others. You will likely not get rid of butterflies before a performance, but you will learn what to do with those nerves so they don’t interfere with your skills. Who could you play for today that would be a little scary but you’d come out of it ok, even if you did your worst? My daughter told me when she was around 8 years old, that she wanted to be a singer. She is extremely shy socially, even to the point that she has self assessed herself with social anxiety disorder. OK. That’s a whole other story. But I told her then, if you want to BE a singer then you must be willing to SING. So when we visited my mother, I asked her to sing, no matter who else was there. When we went to church, I asked her to sing. Many tears and self beating up on her part, even when she did very well. When she graduated 6th grade, she sang in front of her classmates at the ceremony. We always said YES when asked to sing. And when ever there was an opportunity, however uncomfortable, I exposed her to the discomfort of standing up, starting over if necessary, continuing if she stopped due to errors. She sang for the hairdresser, for the dentist, at the festivals, and of course, auditions, concerts, lessons, etc. The result is, she’s pursuing a master’s degree music performance now with an emphasis in opera singing. So start small, and play as if no one was listening.
3. Get Psyched. Although sometimes it’s difficult to squash that insecurity and fill that inner space with positive affirmations, I’m here to tell you, this does work. So it’s really important to believe you can do something. One thing I have stressed with my students is training is being able to concentrate on performing in a very distracting environment. In a formal performance, all kinds of unexpected things happen. A baby starts crying. People get up and walk around. The lighting is sometimes not good. Your dress itches. Your mouth dries out and you feel a cough. You find yourself on the wrong page of music. So mentally walk through all the disasters and prepare yourself as best you can. Keep pulling your mind back to the music and not what others think of you. Not the giggling, whispering, talking, wrong notes of your accompanist, or the mistakes you JUST made. Keep your mind moving forward, narrowly attentive to the music. Plan where, in the music, to check your bow grip, your violin position, the moisture in your mouth, and that you are still breathing deeply. Keep the positive attitudes rolling when the negative thoughts emerge. Cover them with ‘Yes, I can’ and do your best. Never accept “I can’t” and never say that out loud, because your brain is listening.
I hope these ideas help. We can talk more if you want. Especially about HOW you practice because that is very important. Good Luck!