Performance anxiety strikes again!

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James Lister
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Performance anxiety strikes again!

Post by James Lister » Sat Nov 20, 2010 7:20 pm

Hi Folks,

Last night a group of past and present pupils of my teacher (Nick Fletcher) performed a concert in front of a small audience of mostly friends and family, in a church with a very nice acoustic here in Sheffield. A few of us played some duets with Nick, and we performed 2 or 3 solo pieces each. For most of us, this was only the second time we had performed in front of a seated, attentive audience (we did a similar concert last year, and I've played background music at a few events). I put a lot of work into the pieces I was playing, probably more than doubling my normal practice hours for a month or so leading up to the concert. I was very happy with how they were sounding, and felt fairly confident, but slightly nervous, when the night arrived.

I played 2 Carulli duets with Nick - fairly basic stuff which went pretty smoothly, but in the next two solo pieces (Allemande and Bouree from BWV 996) the nerves suddenly struck, and things went rapidly downhill. I did manage to get through them without falling apart completely, but there were quite a few very obvious mistakes, and a couple of points where I had to pause and restart a bar or two back. Of course, everyone told me it wasn't as bad as I thought, but I was still pretty disappointed after all the work I'd put in.

Fortunately, I had some time to recover my nerves before my final piece to close the concert (Tarrega's Mazurka in G), and this went without any significant hitches (possibly helped by half glass of wine at the interval).

It still amazes me how in my mind I can convince myself that it's no big deal, that everyone in the audience wants you to do well, and that no-one will mind of you make a few mistakes, and that even if it all falls apart, it won't be the end of the world, and yet still some mysterious self-destructive force totally (it seems) beyond your control sends instructions to your heart to start beating faster, muscles to tense, blood vessels to constrict, and your hands to start to shake.

Oh well, maybe next time will be better...

James
James Lister, luthier, Sheffield UK

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Tony Hyman
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Re: Performance anxiety strikes again!

Post by Tony Hyman » Sat Nov 20, 2010 8:07 pm

Yes thats the way it is for me as well James.I think you can never get enough match practice on the CG no matter how much one practices individually.Thats why I jump at any chance to play at almost any cake sale or bazaar or old age homes for free .I never imagined myself playing for free when I did dance band gigs on bass or electric ,and yet here I am getting the jitters just before a concert or background gig for the love of music .I think those butterflies that one gets ,are necessary in order to keep the piece exiting, to late to worry about fluffs,like doing a speech it must sound like you doing it for the first time for the audience otherwise its complacent and boring no matter what you play, I think.I am convinced it will get better with each live performance one dose even recording a piece at home is not quite the same I think.
Last edited by Tony Hyman on Sun Nov 21, 2010 3:26 am, edited 1 time in total.

Nick Payne
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Re: Performance anxiety strikes again!

Post by Nick Payne » Sat Nov 20, 2010 10:20 pm

I have an interesting book titled "The science and psychology of music performance". It has an entire chapter dealing with anxiety. It's a while since I read it, but it contains a statistic that somewhere around 15-20% of musicians have actually cancelled performances due to anxiety. The whole book is well worth reading. Published by Oxford University Press.

Euan Hannah
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Re: Performance anxiety strikes again!

Post by Euan Hannah » Sat Nov 20, 2010 10:22 pm

James, I sympathise with you. On the odd occasion when I play in any kind of formalised setting I feel exactly the same way and end up thinking that I have not done justice to the music. I think I'm too old to change now though and I try not to beat myself up too much over it. :oops:

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George Crocket
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Re: Performance anxiety strikes again!

Post by George Crocket » Sat Nov 20, 2010 10:44 pm

James Lister wrote: .....Oh well, maybe next time will be better...

James
Of course it will, as you know. Just try to make next time as soon as possible. "Practice makes perfect" - for performing as well as for practising.

Anyway - well done for playing your part. :bravo:
George
2010 Stephen Eden spruce/cocobolo classical guitar
2012 Stephen Eden cedar/IRW classical guitar

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lagartija
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Re: Performance anxiety strikes again!

Post by lagartija » Sat Nov 20, 2010 11:00 pm

I feel your pain, James. Similarly, I recently joined a guitar society and they had Guitar Day. Nice work shops, a concert..... and of course, an open mic session. So I steeled myself and signed up to do two pieces. I have only performed one other time in front of a seated, attentive audience (my first recital where I played --and mangled-- two pieces.) So when my turn came, I got up on the stage without tripping.... good start! :D I sit down to play my first piece, Sanz' Españoleta. This is a piece I can play with my eyes closed...in the dark... first thing in the morning with my hands cold. I start and about 8 bars in.... I draw a complete and total blank. For the life of me, I can't remember what comes next. So after a longish note... I started at the beginning. I made it to about bar 12 and again drew a blank. So... I started at the beginning and FINALLY made it through the piece. :chaud: Then I played my second piece, Brouwer study VI and got through it with a few missed notes here and there in the arpeggios, but nothing major went wrong. However, I only played it with about half the dynamic range and color that I had been playing it with in my practice.

Later at dinner, when someone commented that I did really well, I said, "What do you mean??!! :shock: I started that first piece three times!!".
They said it wasn't at all apparent from how I played. Moral of the story.... just keep playing as if nothing happened. Even if you can't remember the piece. I guess they thought Sanz wrote a bunch of repeats of that first part, or it was part of my "interpretation". :lol:

Since it was right before the dinner break, there was nothing to mitigate the adrenalin. Next time, I will carry some sort of snack to help with that.
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oski79
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Re: Performance anxiety strikes again!

Post by oski79 » Sun Nov 21, 2010 2:32 am

Last night at our local society open mike, I was chatting with the guy who runs it between performers. He said there would be two more players before I went up, meaning my turn would be in about twenty minutes. I said fine, then sat back to listen a bit more. All of a sudden I could feel the vein in my neck pulsing, and I measured over 100 beats per minute! I calmed that down with some deep breathing exercises, then I couldn't get the thought out of my mind that I was going to forget my piece completely. Suddenly I couldn't even see the first chord position in my head!

Luckily, we decided to have intermission before I went up, so I had a bit more time to warm up. This helped to set my mind at ease that, yes, I could play what I planned on, and it ended up going quite well. I made one or two small errors, but both were OK within the harmony of the piece. But through all that time, I was tied up in knots! And like your audience, James, this is a very supportive group!

Here's the weird thing: I try to play at these events as often as possible. Sometimes twice a month. There are times when I feel totally at ease and in control, and times like the one I just described. I wish I knew why!
“People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.” --Florence Foster Jenkins

paulcola

Re: Performance anxiety strikes again!

Post by paulcola » Sun Nov 21, 2010 6:10 am

I think this type of anxiety is caused by the feeling of being judged. Probably a remembered event as a child making a fool of yourself then getting chastised for "doing it wrong". There are several things that you can do to help with this. One is to role play. Just before performing, imagine you are someone that has no fear. I like to imagine that I am The Terminator whenever I get nervous about something. Suddenly my physiology changes and I feel more confident. Perhaps you could step into the role of someone you want to emulate? Actually become that person, in a sense.

Another thing you could do is prepare the audience for your "awful" performance. Saying something like, "all the months I've been practicing this piece will be lost in tonight's translation" or some other joke. Basically, you're telling the audience you're nervous. When you know that they know you are nervous, it actually eases the tension a whole lot.

My last suggestion is to go to Karaoke night somewhere and make a fool of yourself for real. The more you get used to doing this, the more the anxiety will go away when you are performing. Don't worry if anyone likes you or not. Just remember that everyone is in their own thoughts, not really caring if you make a mistake or not.

I hope these help! I would love to hear other player's rituals before a performance.

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Les Backshall
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Re: Performance anxiety strikes again!

Post by Les Backshall » Sun Nov 21, 2010 11:38 am

James Lister wrote:...I played 2 Carulli duets with Nick - fairly basic stuff which went pretty smoothly, but in the next two solo pieces (Allemande and Bouree from BWV 996) the nerves suddenly struck, and things went rapidly downhill...
I can empathise with that completely, James. Earlier this year I was at a guitar weekend course and played a couple of quartets and a solo in the final 'concert'.
Like you, I'd practiced a lot, but actually didn't feel particularly nervous - in fact I was really looking forward to it. The quartets went really well, and my solo followed straight on. Again, not nervous, I introduced the piece (Neil Gow's Lament) but when I went to start playing my right hand started shaking and I couldn't stop it. I kept saying to myself - 'this is ridiculous, I'm not nervous, my hand shouldn't be shaking' - but it didn't stop. I got through the piece, but a lot of notes went awol because of the right hand. I got similar repsonses to you - people said how they enjoyed it, but it's not a satisfying experience.

Les
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abremner

Re: Performance anxiety strikes again!

Post by abremner » Sun Nov 21, 2010 12:12 pm

I play in small semi formal (people are actually listening most of the time) on a regular basis and a church charity concert twice a year (audience of 30 to 40). I have done this for about 3 years and I still get really nervous before a performance. My "techniques" for attempting to calm pre performance nerves are to ALWAYS have a drink; pint of beer or glass of wine. The next bit is, I suspect, going to sound a little strange: I never decide what I am going to play until I am sitting at the mic, guitar in hand and ready to go. I have about 20 pieces, ranging in difficulty from Romanza to Capricho Arabe, in my head. The thing I never give myself time to do is to panic over not being able to visuallise my fingering or interpretation. This does not completly solve the problem but at least I am not going on in a state of total panic. I also agree with the many folk here who say that the odd mistake always seems louder and more obvious to the performer than to the audience. Keep going James. It does get (slightly) easier. Alan

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James Lister
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Re: Performance anxiety strikes again!

Post by James Lister » Sun Nov 21, 2010 1:20 pm

Thanks everyone for the replies and support.
Non Tabius wrote:...even recording a piece at home is not quite the same I think.
I did think this would help a bit, as when I started recording myself, I found I would get really nervous, but over time this improved to the point where it doesn't bother me at all - but being in front of an audience is very different of course.
Nick Payne wrote:I have an interesting book titled "The science and psychology of music performance". It has an entire chapter dealing with anxiety. It's a while since I read it, but it contains a statistic that somewhere around 15-20% of musicians have actually cancelled performances due to anxiety. The whole book is well worth reading. Published by Oxford University Press.
Thanks Nick - I've read some stuff on the web, and practiced some of the advice given there (and also here on Delcamp), and in my mind I can convince myself that it will help, but this time it didn't. I'll see if my local library can get hold of the book.
paulcola wrote:I think this type of anxiety is caused by the feeling of being judged.
Perhaps... but my mind knows that I'm not, why doesn't my body get the message?
paulcola wrote:I like to imagine that I am The Terminator whenever I get nervous about something.
Sounds like a fun idea...
abremner wrote:The next bit is, I suspect, going to sound a little strange: I never decide what I am going to play until I am sitting at the mic, guitar in hand and ready to go.
Actually, this makes a lot of sense to me. In a previous career, I occasionally had to give talks at conferences - sometimes in front of an audience of over 100, many of these experts in the field. The first few times I prepared to the point that I more or less memorised everything I was going to say, but still got very nervous on the day, and generally things didn't go smoothly. A few years later, I'd become confident enough about my subject that I would just prepare my slides, and make up what I wanted to say as I went along, and the talks went much more smoothly (and were probably a lot more interesting to listen to).

James
James Lister, luthier, Sheffield UK

jstroud

Re: Performance anxiety strikes again!

Post by jstroud » Sun Nov 21, 2010 3:42 pm

james, being a musician when i was younger and then coming back to it 3 years ago i can say even the top notch musicians have this issue. here are a couple of ways to not overcome it entirely but to "limit the damage"

first the piece you start off with is vital. you must be able to play it cold and it must not be something that could tax your memory. it should also be a piece that is not as complicated in the right hand. i never start with a baroque or renassiance piece or even a classic period piece as they are often tricky on the right hand. so try and find a piece that you can settle down with in your mind and in your hand. I have 3 or four and try and always have it in my fingers. for me while it can be fast it has to be guitaristic for your right hand.

i love playing bach dowland sanz etc but these do not meet the requirement out lined above. i always do these pieces after i have settled in. of course to settle in often takes 5-10 minutes so these get up and play on or two pieces venues do not give you the chance to "settle in". i would love to sit down and play bach's fugue in a minor 1001 but i always wait till i "settle in" for me to start. i like something like villa lobos prelude #1 that sounds flashy and difficult but for me is not at all. another is villa lobos valse choro that again is not twisty on the right hand. for you it might be lagrima or a sor study but try and find that "first piece" settle in then graduate to a more difficult one for the second piece.

one other thought. it also depends on who you are playing for. i played a concert to a group i did not know at all and played beautifully settled in fast and did well. i played the same program in our local library that was attended by lots of friends and people around my small town. i was very nervous but i anticipated being very nervous so i set up my program in a way that the pieces were ones that would "settle me" in and did quite well. lastly be very critical in your practice but not critical at all in your performances so you do not shoot yourself in the foot. As i always told my son in his pitching career. DONT LET YOUR LAST PITCH EFFECT YOUR NEXT PITCH!

GOOD LUCK...Jim

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David Norton
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Re: Performance anxiety strikes again!

Post by David Norton » Sun Nov 21, 2010 4:03 pm

Since it's time for True Confessions.... :)

Yesterday, a few of the members of the local CG society went to a retirement home to play for the residents. Most are in their 80s or older, many in wheelchairs. Now, my #1 biggest performance issue is a subliminal concept people REALLY don't want to hear music, that the music is an interruption to their lives. I also general accept that I am being overly concerned on this.

That being said, I was #4 of the 4 players, the closing act. The first three men did their sets, to good applause. I went to the front of the room, introduced the piece (HVL Prelude #1), sat down, adjusted the tuning, and was within microseconds of striking the first note when an old man in the 2nd row YELLS "When are we playing bingo?" That startled me, and everyone else I imagine. The charge-nurse said "We're listening to music now, we'll play bingo at 3 o'clock" (some 10 minutes out). The old feller shouts "I don't want to hear music, I want to play bingo!". Top-of-his-lungs, very agitated. They shortly wheeled him out of the room, but he was still shouting and audible from up the hall.

So needless to say, with my #1 Stage Fear made manifest in my face, the set didn't go too well. As others have said, the comments afterward were kind and appreciative, but I knew in my own mind I'd crocked it badly. And yes, on an intellectual level I realize the old man wasn't all-there, and I bear him no grudge. Even so, this one has really rocked me.
David Norton
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lagartija
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Re: Performance anxiety strikes again!

Post by lagartija » Sun Nov 21, 2010 4:54 pm

Since it's time for True Confessions.... :)
David, that would have completely undone me! You were a real trooper not to run away screaming! :lol:
Nothing like having the thing you fear the most pop up right in front of you, fangs bared and all hairy! Hard to imagine how you would NOT be rattled by that sort of thing.
When the sun shines, bask.
__/^^^^^o>
Classical Guitar forever!

Moderato

Re: Performance anxiety strikes again!

Post by Moderato » Sun Nov 21, 2010 4:58 pm

James Lister wrote:Hi Folks,

Last night a group of past and present pupils of my teacher (Nick Fletcher) performed a concert in front of a small audience of mostly friends and family, in a church with a very nice acoustic here in Sheffield. A few of us played some duets with Nick, and we performed 2 or 3 solo pieces each. For most of us, this was only the second time we had performed in front of a seated, attentive audience (we did a similar concert last year, and I've played background music at a few events). I put a lot of work into the pieces I was playing, probably more than doubling my normal practice hours for a month or so leading up to the concert. I was very happy with how they were sounding, and felt fairly confident, but slightly nervous, when the night arrived.

I played 2 Carulli duets with Nick - fairly basic stuff which went pretty smoothly, but in the next two solo pieces (Allemande and Bouree from BWV 996) the nerves suddenly struck, and things went rapidly downhill. I did manage to get through them without falling apart completely, but there were quite a few very obvious mistakes, and a couple of points where I had to pause and restart a bar or two back. Of course, everyone told me it wasn't as bad as I thought, but I was still pretty disappointed after all the work I'd put in.

Fortunately, I had some time to recover my nerves before my final piece to close the concert (Tarrega's Mazurka in G), and this went without any significant hitches (possibly helped by half glass of wine at the interval).

It still amazes me how in my mind I can convince myself that it's no big deal, that everyone in the audience wants you to do well, and that no-one will mind of you make a few mistakes, and that even if it all falls apart, it won't be the end of the world, and yet still some mysterious self-destructive force totally (it seems) beyond your control sends instructions to your heart to start beating faster, muscles to tense, blood vessels to constrict, and your hands to start to shake.

Oh well, maybe next time will be better...

James
After reading this I immediately thought two things:

1) If it were easy then everyone would be doing it. :wink:

2) The power of the mind can work for you or against you in just about any situation one can imagine. You're obviously somewhat of a perfectionist (I mean that in a good way, I'm like that myself) so even if you consciously tell yourself "not to worry about it," you're still going to. :wink: This is one of those things only time and experience can remedy. I suppose this is the way we learn, you have to fall on your face so you learn how to walk, etc. I applaud you for having the courage to do what you did.

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