How Do You Handle Butterflies?

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How Do You Handle Butterflies?

Postby Bailey » Sat Feb 18, 2012 4:43 pm

Let me preface this by saying that I'm a beginner student; 6 months under my belt so far; and enjoying CG a lot.

But, one of the things that I'm starting to experience is a bad case of butterflies right at the start of my lesson. I'm not sure where it's coming from. My teacher has been very supportive and provides me with a lot of positive feedback in terms of how I''m progressing.

But, as the music moves from beginner exercises to intermediate exercises / pieces, I'm starting to develop this pre-lesson stage-fright which is, at this point, really more than butterflies; it's showing up as shaking in my right hand. It goes away with time in the lesson, but it's at the start of the lesson when I'm demonstrating what I've learned over the past week. So, it couldn't be coming at a worse time, as far as I'm concerned.

Anyone else get these jitters? If so, how do you handle them?

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Re: How Do You Handle Butterflies?

Postby TomPage » Sat Feb 18, 2012 4:54 pm

Yes, many if not most people. Search "performance anxiety" and "stage fright" on the forum and you will see it is one of the most common topics of discussion. I suspect you will pretty quickly become comfortable enough with your teacher that it will rarely be an issue in lessons. That's both good and bad. Good for obvious reasons, but bad in that you get to a performance situation where you are not so comfortable as with your teacher and the issues rear up again. So do the forum search and read away. You will find the bottom line is:

1) Perform music that is too easy for you, (e.g. if you are working on level 7 music in your lessons, perform level 5 pieces). If a piece is hard, then you should be nervous to perform it.

2) Truly believe that it is not about you; it is about the music (easy to say intellectually but ego is a tough monster). Your fight or flight response is stimulated because your brain perceives you to be under threat. Clearly it is not your physical well-being that is under assault, it is your ego. So lose that and the situation is not threatening, and your body will not gear up to fight it. Difficult aspect of the human condition; I know, because I struggle in this department.
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Re: How Do You Handle Butterflies?

Postby lagartija » Sat Feb 18, 2012 5:00 pm

I know exactly what you mean, Baily. This happened to me as well when I first started. I worked so hard over the week on what I was assigned. I could play it in the practice room. Then came the time to play in front of my teacher. My hands would shake, I would forget to breathe and I would choke up. My teacher would say something like, "First time doesn't count. Take a deep breath and play again....but this time... BREATHE!" There are still times I get nervous, but my comfort level has grown over the past 2 years and 10 months. I can play for my teacher as well as I can for the chipmunks that listen to me playing on the deck in the summer. :lol:
The problem is... you are an adult and used to being good at what you do. Now you are a "beginner" and you want your teacher to think well of you and your efforts to play.
That puts a lot of pressure on you. So much, that you get the rush of adrenaline that makes your hands shake. Your teacher has seen this before. It has undoubtedly happened to him/her. So try to take a deep breath before playing the first note.
Also... practice "performing". I used to sit in the practice room and imagine my teacher sitting there listening to me. Just the thought of that made my hands shake in the beginning and mess things up. But after a while, I got better at it.
Hang in there. Don't be too hard on yourself.

BTW, I have no problem speaking in front of a crowd of people. Put a guitar in my hands and it is a totally different thing. But I have been speaking from birth and feel confident that I can express myself. That is not true of playing music. So the only cure is to play as much as possible until you "recognize" the feeling of nervousness and can deal with it. You will find a way to cope. Being "prepared" gives one confidence. Having faith in your preparation and remembering that you are there to "share" the music will help.
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Re: How Do You Handle Butterflies?

Postby rogerleec » Sat Feb 18, 2012 9:03 pm

I am also a beginner Bailey and know exactly what your going through. Fortunately I have a very patient instructor so that really helps.
Practicing my lesson a lot during the week is the one thing that helps me the most. If there was something I really struggled with during
the week I will let my instructor know about when the lesson starts. That way I forwarned him when I goof something up. lol

Then their's always valium and Xanax.............Just kidding LOL.
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Re: How Do You Handle Butterflies?

Postby Joseph Albert » Sun Feb 19, 2012 6:46 pm

I'm a beginner older adult also. I've been in enough situations in life, that I don't generally get handshaking kind of nervous under any conditions. But, when I decided to learn guitar at a ripe old age, I experienced exactly what you describe. Part of the problem, was that I had no idea what my own level of improvement should be and at the same time, had not idea what the expectation of my teacher was. Knowing that I wasn't going to be able to play perfectly while at the same time not know whether or not my teacher was expecting me to play perfectly created the nervousness. Once I kind of learned what I was capable of doing in the time frame between lessons and came to terms with that as well as learning more about my teacher's expectations, the hand shaking nervousness disappeared. There's still a bit of excited nervousness, because I want to do my best, but knowing internally where I am and my own capabilities keeps me under control.

One thing that did help, was that in the beginning, I was taking a lesson every week. With my work/family schedule and obligations, one week was not enough time for me to get comfortable with my own progress, so I was never as prepared as I wanted to be. I changed the lesson schedule to every other week, and now I'm much more comfortable with the amount of progress between lessons and as a result, much more confident in my ability to showcase that progress to my teacher.

The key really, is to study yourself, find out what you're capable of and set your expectations on that internal gauge and not some external expectations. Make peace with yourself in the situation and everything will flow much smoother.

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Re: How Do You Handle Butterflies?

Postby David_Norton » Sun Feb 19, 2012 7:03 pm

I've been playing/performing at a hobbyist level for nearly 40 years. And each time I find myself in front of an audience, I ask myself why I am not doing something less stressful, like catching javelins, or clearing a minefield. But when it's all over with, I am ready to do it again. I'm also usually ready for a big glass of Scotch, but that's a separate thread! :mrgreen:

The BIGGEST thing to keep in mind is that you have to only perform pieces which are a notch or two below your top level. The audience is there for a pleasant listening experience, not to suffer through a fight-to-the-death between the erstwhile performer and the composition. All too often, the latter scenario is what plays out.
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Re: How Do You Handle Butterflies?

Postby lagartija » Sun Feb 19, 2012 7:20 pm

David_Norton wrote:The audience is there for a pleasant listening experience, not to suffer through a fight-to-the-death between the erstwhile performer and the composition. All too often, the latter scenario is what plays out.


:shock: :lol: Oh god I hope not! I don't want my recital to meet that description! :lol:
Actually, that is my fear. That I can play well in the practice room and for my teacher, but will crash and burn when I play a full recital. :roll:
I keep practicing the performance and play in front of others every chance I get. But I am haunted by the spectre of having friends and family and others in the audience and then making a hash of it because I can't handle the pressure of the situation. :chaud:
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Re: How Do You Handle Butterflies?

Postby Joseph Albert » Sun Feb 19, 2012 7:33 pm

David_Norton wrote:...The BIGGEST thing to keep in mind is that you have to only perform pieces which are a notch or two below your top level....

Performing for an audience is one thing, but performing for your teacher, like the original poster is talking about, is something else all together. For your teacher, you are almost always performing pieces that are at your top level or usually even a bit above your top level!

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Re: How Do You Handle Butterflies?

Postby Bailey » Sun Feb 19, 2012 9:21 pm

TomPage wrote:2) Truly believe that it is not about you; it is about the music ...


Yes, this is exactly where I want to be.

But being a beginning student I'm sure that I need a much higher level of technical competence in order to focus solely on the music and not just on the notes.

The frustrating part is that these butterflies are coming on after almost 6 months of working with my teacher. It seems to me that as I move into more complex pieces (for me; in reality still beginner-intermediate pieces), my performance doesn't measure up to my expectations. I think this is what's at the root of the shakes. It's not my teacher - it's me.

I know; simple solution - re-set your expectations to a more reasonable level. Easy to say, but due to a whole series of factors, most of which have been mentioned by the responders, it's not easy to accomplish because, in essence, it means that I have to change my own movie of myself. I'll work on it, but I'm doubtful that I'll get there - I like my movie.

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Re: How Do You Handle Butterflies?

Postby lagartija » Sun Feb 19, 2012 9:33 pm

I forgot to ask one thing, Baily. Do you play before going to your lesson? I started to do that after my first couple of months because I realized that when I didn't have my "music brain" engaged, I made many more mistakes and that made me nervous to play in front of my teacher. I didn't want to make mistakes in a piece I knew I could play.
When I started to play for at least 40 minutes before going to my lesson, then when I sat down.... totally warmed up and music brain engaged...and played the piece for my teacher right off, the results were a lot better and that gave me more confidence which reduced the fear response in me. Maybe that would work for you?
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Re: How Do You Handle Butterflies?

Postby TomPage » Mon Feb 20, 2012 12:00 am

Bailey wrote:
TomPage wrote:2) Truly believe that it is not about you; it is about the music ...


Yes, this is exactly where I want to be.

But being a beginning student I'm sure that I need a much higher level of technical competence in order to focus solely on the music and not just on the notes.


You clearly understand that the key is "focus solely on the music". I agree that when you are just learning something it is hard to "see the forest for the trees", or rather in this case "the music for the notes". In order to really make music you do have to learn the notes well enough that you can focus on the music. But the shakes are something different. The shakes are you focusing on the evaluation of your self. You perceive yourself to be being evaluated; and you perceive that to be a threatening situation. (I know because I do too). It is threatening because your self-image of yourself as a competent adult is at stake. The key word is RE-FRAME. You have to reframe the situation to get to where:

a) you are not self-evaluating while playing (that is what practice is for); and
b) you believe that your teacher is not evaluating you, s/he's evaluating your technique, music making, etc. for purposes of helping you. Your worth is not on the line and the only possible outcome is good advice.

I still expect that (even if you do nothing) you will soon get to where playing for your teacher is not threatening.
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Re: How Do You Handle Butterflies?

Postby lagartija » Mon Feb 20, 2012 12:05 am

^ +1

Good advice, Tom.
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Re: How Do You Handle Butterflies?

Postby Bailey » Mon Feb 20, 2012 12:20 am

lagartija wrote:I forgot to ask one thing, Baily. Do you play before going to your lesson? I started to do that after my first couple of months because I realized that when I didn't have my "music brain" engaged, I made many more mistakes and that made me nervous to play in front of my teacher. I didn't want to make mistakes in a piece I knew I could play.
When I started to play for at least 40 minutes before going to my lesson, then when I sat down.... totally warmed up and music brain engaged...and played the piece for my teacher right off, the results were a lot better and that gave me more confidence which reduced the fear response in me. Maybe that would work for you?


That's a good question.

The past 2 lessons (past 2 weeks) have been the tough ones. For the first, I was occupied with an appointment about 30 miles away; arrived late for my lesson and was anxious about that. For the second one, I was also occupied with another appointment even further away, got hung up in traffic and arrived at my lesson just in time.

In each case I had no time to prepare myself mentally; just enough time to apologize for being late, take out my guitar, tune and start playing.

Watching myself write this, I have to think that I could not have done a better job stacking the cards against myself if I had done it by design.............

I won't be late next week.

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Re: How Do You Handle Butterflies?

Postby lagartija » Mon Feb 20, 2012 12:35 am

You know.... life happens sometimes and your teacher knows this. Most teachers are thrilled if you have practiced the material. My teacher used to tell me when I was upset that I hadn't "mastered" the assignment, "You have given me something to work with. If you did it perfectly, what could I say?" Of course, he said that to make me feel better and try to put me at ease, and over time things improved. The thing that made it improve the most was coming in all warmed up. Then at least I played as well as I could play; it was an accurate representation of where I was with the material. I was ok with that.
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How Do You Handle Butterflies?

Postby ShaneSingleton » Mon Feb 20, 2012 2:32 am

Performance anxiety is a difficult beast. I can publicly speak, play rock music on stage, and play guitar for random people and barely get a butterfly flutter. Put me in front of other musicians though and it's a whole different story. At least with public performances I can convince myself the vast majority of the people I'm playing for are going to think its amazing because I'm demonstrating a skill they don't have themselves. I could play horribly and still impress half of them. Instructors and fellow students of guitar stress me out so bad that I used to get anxiety attacks. The only thing that fixed it was having more than a few catastrophically bad performances only to realize it wasn't actually the end of the world.
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