The fear of playing in public
Many of us feel some sort of fear when we perform in public. It is a common phenomenon we need to live with. However, that does not mean we have to be nervous and scared in a performance. We need to figure out what is making us nervous, and learn how to deal with it.
Lack of confidence
While we all have different reasons for getting nervous, one thing for sure is that confidence plays a major role when it comes to fear in performance. The lack of confidence will get you in a performance. On the contrary, you would not get that nervous if you are confident.
Let's say that you are an intermediate level violinist. You would not get that nervous playing "Mary had a little lamb" in public. Why is that? That is because you know you will play it well. It is not difficult to play and you will not mess up. You know you can do a good job on it. That leads to confidence, thus you won't get nervous.
If we can feel the same when you perform other pieces, we can always play with confidence. How can we achieve that?
We need to practice enough in order to gain confidence. There is no other way around it. We have to know that we are capable of playing the piece well. Nothing will help when you know you didn't practice enough and you are underprepared.
Practicing enough does not mean you are going to spend x amount of hours on the piece. Practicing enough means you know you have spent time, effort, and thoughts on the piece enough that you feel you have done the best job you can on it. If you can truly feel that way, it will lead to confidence.
Cover every detail when practicing
How are you starting the first note? How are you changing the direction of the bow in that phrase? How about that easy passage you never really practiced? How about that shifting that you never paid attention to. Small things will get you when you are performing, and you never know what they would be. They will sneak up on you and surprise you. When you haven't figured out every detail, that surprise will catch you off-guard. However, you are prepared to deal with a surprise if you have practiced and figured out every detail. Let's look at an example below.
This is the beginning of Eine Kline Nachtmusik by Mozart. Let's think about all kinds of details.
Here are some of the things we should think about and figure out. We assume that we already know the notes, rhythms, fingerings, and bowings.
- How much bow should we use for the first note?
- Be sure to catch the strings for the first note.
- Are we breaking the chord?
- Is the first chord in tune?
- How much are we tilting the bow?
- What kind of bow stroke are we going to employ for the first chord?
- What kind of vibrato are we going to employ for the first chord?
- Are we bringing the bow back during the 8th note rest after the first chord?
- Be sure to catch the string before the 2nd note.
- Are we playing the 8th notes in the 2nd measure near the frog or more in the middle?
- This is an easy shift, but still, do we really know how we are shifting?
- Are we feeling the 8th note and quarter note rests accurately? Are we coming in after the rest slightly too early or too late?
- How are we phrasing?
- Are the 1st and 2nd two measures in tune as a G major chord and D major 7th chord respectively?
Think about every detail you can come up with, and figure out as much detail as you can. The more detail you go into, the more confidence you will gain.
Play for friends and colleagues
Once you feel good about how you play, ask someone to listen to you play. It could be your friends whom you feel easy playing for, or someone whose opinions matter to you. Do several of these mock performances. You will be more self conscious than when you practice on your own, and you might make mistakes where you wouldn't normally. However, you will gain more confidence about playing in public as you do these mock performances multiple times.
Be confident for what you have done to prepare for the performance
Confidence goes a long way, especially when it comes from deep inside you. When it comes to performances, one of the best ways to build confidence is to prepare yourself the ways explained above, and know that you have done everything you could do. It may not be perfect but knowing that you have done what you could will lead to confidence.
Your confidence will get shaken when you realize that you could have practiced this passage better, or you didn't give enough thoughts on this phrase. So practice enough and prepare well in order to feel good about what you have done. When you know you have done well, it will become confidence in you, and that will not get shaken so easily even when you do something that could shake your confidence during a performance.
Focus on the positives
Even when you spend lots of time and effort, it is still difficult to do everything right when you are preparing for a performance. We all have things we do well, and not so well. You may still feel that some spots are not that great. Yet, the performance date will not wait for you to master everything, so how shall we deal with it?
One of the ways I find helpful is to focus on what you do well during the performance. You should know your strength. What do you do well? Are you good at playing in tune? Maybe your tone is beautiful, or you are able to make beautiful phrasings. Whatever they are, it is important to know your strength.
When you are performing you should focus on your strength, and keep pushing it out there. Be confident and proud in what you do well. If you can do that, your weakness will be overshadowed by your strength. Do not dwell on your weaknesses during the performance. The more you think about what you don't do well, the more you will suffer performing. Don't worry about a few imperfections, just keep your focus on what you are doing well.
Don't freak out when you realize you are more keen to your playing at a performance
When you are performing, most likely you will pick up more flaws in your playing that you don't usually hear. Our senses are heightened because we are more focused at a performance. In result, we start to notice and think about small things that you never thought about daily. Now you realize you didn't prepare yourself enough for the performance, and that damages your confidence.
It is perfectly normal to feel this way, but it's too late. There is not much you can do when you realize certain things about your playing at a performance. Don't dwell on them. Think about those things after the performance so you will play even better the next time. During the performance is not the time to think about them.
Don't worry about what people will think of your performance
You can only control yourself. You cannot control what the audience will think of your performance. You will never come out with a positive result when you start to worry about what people would think of your performance. That is out of your control, and no matter how much you think of it they will have their own opinions in the end.
The odds are that most people will like your performance if you have prepared properly for it. There may be a few people in the audience who won't like what you do. Well, there is nothing you can do about it. We cannot make everyone happy. I think it is good if the majority is happy with what you do.
Just do your best, give everything you've got, and hopefully YOU are going to be happy with the outcome regardless of what people think of your work. Let the audience think however they want.
Don't worry, if you prepared well, and pour your heart out performing, audience' heart will resonate with your heart.
Enjoy your performance
When you are enjoying playing, audience will enjoy listening. When you are nervous, audience can feel it and get nervous, too. So what should you do? Enjoy it! Immerse yourself entirely in music, and have a good time performing!
Don't rely on "fake" confidence
You will regret it when you go on stage with the "I can do it!" attitude if you didn't prepare yourself well enough. That fake confidence would not cover up the real fear on stage because you know deep down that you are unprepared. Eventually that fear wins out. "I can do it!" only works when you have prepared properly for the performance, and you need extra assurance and boost in your confidence.
"I can do it!" only works when you can say "Just think about what I have done for this performance. I have done everything I could. I have overcome many obstacles. It may not be a perfect performance but I am satisfied with the level of preparation." If you can genuinely say that, then "I can do it!" will help you.