How does an ordinary person, flaws and all, bravely step into the light onstage and perform for others?
That seems to be the million dollar question. And the answer is that you need to feel comfortable in your own skin as a performing musician.
What does this mean?
It means you need to feel at home in your own body, at home in your own mind, at home with the music, and at home with your audience.
How do you do all that?
At home means comfortable. Not necessarily like you’re sunk deep into a cushy arm chair or into a couch with fabulous down-filled pillows.
But comfortable with things as they are.
To be comfortable in your body onstage, you need to use your body comfortably in practicing. That means not pushing your body to do things it isn’t ready for yet, learning what it can do, and acquiring new movement habits naturally by taking your time and continually monitoring for comfort and ease as you go through each practice session. Then your body can remain at ease as you naturally gain familiarity and speed with a stream of complex movements.
To be comfortable in your mind onstage, you need to build the habit of relaxing your mind over and over during practicing—of letting go of mental tension and preoccupation, and opening your mind to exactly what’s happening in the present moment. That way you can notice subtle tensions in your body and nip them in the bud. And you can also notice details in the music that you might otherwise have missed.
To be comfortable with the music you’re playing, you need to take time to fully absorb and enjoy every sound and every rhythm while you’re practicing, so that those sounds and rhythms actually live in your body. Then you can rely on them to flow out naturally in performance.
And to be comfortable in front of an audience, you then need to add, on top of all that, the beautiful habit of connecting to something much larger than yourself. This means you need to practice reflecting on three powerful and meaningful things: your musical lineage and heritage, your own good heart, and the goodness in the people who come to hear you. That way you can let go of self-consciousness onstage and connect with your natural appreciation of the opportunity to make music for others and your natural desire to perform.
The culture of celebrity that we live in places individual performers in a spotlight and fails to grasp the reality that a performer is a vulnerable human being who bravely acts as a conduit of something much larger than herself. Though she may be a “star“, the musician who walks humbly, generously, and regally onto a stage is not above her listeners. She is instead setting an example of the kind of confidence that is possible for every human being in how they connect to others. Her radiance and power come not from her ego, but from her willingness to be a wide open connector—from the music she loves to the audience she serves.
Whether your audience is one person or thousands, you can learn how to use your body, mind, ears, and heart the way they’re meant to be used. You can get past habits of pushing yourself too hard, of feeling inadequate, and of being afraid to present yourself as you are to your fellow human beings.
If you’re interested in learning how to do this, you’re welcome to schedule a complimentary consultation with me.
And if you’d like to share your own experience of getting past performance anxiety and making music from your heart for an audience, please share in the comments below.
Years ago you interviewed me and I’m still playing.
Nerves will be there but sitting up and breathing help!!
Good to hear from you, Len! Thank you. I’m glad to know you’re still playing – you were very special. I have the notes and audio from your wonderful interview, which may become part of the book I am finally getting back to. I hope you’re doing well. We left the city a year ago for a peaceful suburb of Philadelphia – a very healing environment. Very best wishes to you.
I remember when I had to play the Minuet in G Major for my recital, and I did excellent until my book fell off the piano. When I tried to pick it up and play again, I lost my place and got flustered. I practiced the song several hundred times and could not recover from the embarrassment. It has not stopped me from wanting to do another recital, but I have to be honest that I have my anxieties about it.
Thank you for your story. It’s more common than you may think! Everyone who cares about performing gets nervous, and a lot of strange things happen sometimes. I met a violinist who was so nervous that her bow flew out of her hand and into the audience. Honesty is what we all need!