‘Stage fright’ is something that many, particularly new piano players suffer from and it can be a real frustration to know that whilst you are able to play something perfectly well to yourself, as soon as you go to play it in front of other people, you may feel like you freeze, forget things or would rather just stop playing.
Of course, whilst public performing isn’t something you have to do in your piano journey and solo practice can be just as rewarding, it should be something that you are able to do if you do want to perform for others, share your sound or if you are required to for things such as piano exams etc.
That’s why today we thought we would break down just a handful of small tips and tricks that we have learned over the years to overcome those pre-show butterflies and help you deliver a fantastic performance that will amaze your friends, family and onlookers alike!
Why Do We Get Stage Fright?
The first stage in overcoming any fear is understanding it and stage fright is no different. People get stage fright for no end of reasons and across a number of sectors, from public speaking to acting to musicians, the idea of doing something in front of an audience can be incredibly nerve wracking.
This instinct is actually psychological and stems back millions of years. According to some studies, the sensation of having people looking at you actually initiates the body's “fight or flight” mechanic and thus all of the sensations that many people experience when suffering from stage fright, such as sweat, adrenaline, butterflies, knot in the stomach etc are actually similar to that as if you were about to go into a fight with a bear or other predator.
Thankfully however, they don’t allow too many bears into concert halls these days and whilst hitting an incorrect note may feel like the end of the world, we all know that it really isn’t.
So now we understand a little more about why we experience stage fright, how can we adapt to it?
Steps To Beating Stage Fright
If you speak to 100 people who are comfortable performing, it’s likely that all 100 will have a different method of overcoming stage fright. Everyone has their own mantras and sometimes it can be a simple practice that works for you. Some common examples are: Keeping a lucky charm in your pocket, jumping up and down before entering the performance room, listening to a particular song before you play etc. Whatever it is, there’s no one answer to overcoming stage fright and what works for some may not work for you, and vice versa.
What is a common theme however is the idea of calmness, no matter what your mantra or method is, the ultimate goal is always to achieve a stage of calm in both your body and mind.
The first step in achieving this calmness is to set yourself some perspective. As mentioned, at the end of the day, preparing for an exam or performance isn’t a life or death scenario and no matter how well you perform, or even if you don’t perform at all, the world will keep on turning.
One analogy we like to use is speaking to new people at a wedding or party. Many people are rather comfortable going to a party or being sat around a dinner table speaking to a number of new people. In our opinion, a performance is no different! You’re still speaking to those same new people, just with a few others listening in.
Setting yourself in a well perspective mindset makes you realise that most performances can still be low pressure environments where even if something does go wrong, it won’t matter!
Practice Makes Perfect
It may sound obvious, but the number one way to overcome stage fright is to make sure you know your material inside and out! The main reason many people struggle with stage fright is if they aren’t 100% confident they will be able to perform what they are supposed to as intended.
The easiest way to overcome this? Practice, practice, practice! Whenever we have to prepare for a performance at Millers, we often practice our material until we hardly have to think where our fingers are going next. If it’s a performance that you’re doing, try the same!
Or for an exam sight reading piece that you’ve not seen before, try practicing sight reading across a number of different titles you’ve not tried before, it will give you the confidence knowing that you can do it without even having to think!
Tricking Your Brain
Whilst we can’t get rid of the fight or flight part of the brain (just in case we do ever run into that bear again!), what we can do is help trick it. The sensation of stage fright is purely a chemical reaction within the body and there are a number of subtle ways that we can help minimise it. The main one, it’s believed if you stretch your arms, take a deep slow breath and relax your body that the brain puts itself in a calmer state of mind.
This in turn helps instil an added sense of confidence and assurance in your performance.
The Show Must Go On!
It’s an old classic, but a good one to think about even if you are experiencing stage fright just before a performance, remember that even if you do make a mistake 1) These people are here to support you, not heckle you. 2) You can always carry on and it’s highly unlikely that anyone even noticed and 3) Have fun! All performances should be about fun first and foremost, so if that isn’t the driving force of your performance, it’s time to take a moment, reset and come back another time!
We hope you enjoyed this quick guide to assisting with stage fright! For more tips and tricks to improving your piano performance, check out our other blog articles here. Looking for some more material to play? Explore our guide to these iconic classical composers here!