21 Professional Musicians Reveal Their Top Tips For Overcoming Performing Anxiety
Do you dread the thought of performing in front of other people? Years of hard work devoted to what you enjoy and then you would rather run for the hills than go out and perform for an audience? Performance anxiety is common so you are not alone.
Millions of people suffer with "stage fright", and some have it to such crippling levels that they sadly give up performing altogether.
However, there are many performers who have beaten performance anxiety using different approaches and we have contacted some extremely talented, prestigious professional musicians, singers and vocal coaches who have shared their best tips for calming nerves before a performance. Let me tell you, the insights we have received are amazing and well worth a read for overcoming performance anxiety! I have listed all of their top tips below.
As a highly prestigious UK vocal coach, Kim has coached many hit artists including Courtney Love, Paloma Faith & Sarah Brightman. In addition to coaching, her session singer credits include performances with P Diddy, Brian May & Barry Manilow.
"Be as well-prepared for the performance as you possibly can. A well-prepared performer deserves to enjoy the “fruits of their labour”. Do some deep breathing before the performance – a tried & tested “old school” way of calming nerves that is completely free! Because it’s possible to go a little dizzy when breathing deeply though, please do this in a sensible, safe, quiet place. Positive visualization of the performance going well. This can be done at the same time as the deep breathing and engage as many senses as you can to make it as real as possible."
To find out more about Kim, visit her site at kimchandler.com or follow her on Twitter.
"My advice on stage fright or performance related anxiety would be quite straight forward. Practice, practice, practice. Any performance prior to the point where I'm completely comfortable with a new piece can cause a degree of anxiety on my part. Muscle memory is crucial and most often, once a newly learned piece of music has crossed over from memory to sub-conscious/muscle memory then any performance seems like a walk in the park. Fluidity of performance and subtlety of delivery and feel can really only come from playing a piece many hundreds, if not thousands, of times. It's all down to the repetitive process of practice that allows for a confident and competent performance. Stage fright can certainly be contained if not eliminated in most cases!"
To find out more about Richard, visit his site at richardsully.com, or follow him on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter.
Colin has over 25 years of live musical performing experience, in theaters, music venues and festivals across the UK as well as writing and recording music for various projects, and some of his supporting work has been with iconic Motown acts The Contours, and The Chairman of the Board.
"I would say, if forced to have one top tip, for me it is getting to the performance space with plenty of time to get used to the physical environment. Feel how it feels to stand where you will perform from, get a sense of the feel and acoustic of the stage or performance area. This allows you to better mentally rehearse things going well."
Based in London and Hertford, Gemma has trained clients to sing in West End productions and pop stars such as Anthony Costa from Blue. She has also conducted postgraduate research into the mindset issues that occur in Vocal Training and was asked to present her findings at The 2018 Singing Strategy Symposium, and the first ever Midlands Voice Conference.
"If you wait until the day of a performance or audition to address your performance anxiety, it is too late. Instead, you need to expose yourself to performance nerves on a regular basis. Start with situations where the stakes are extremely low, perhaps by inviting someone you trust to sit in on your lesson or practice session. Then as you get more comfortable, try venturing out to an open mic in a nearby town where you don't know anybody. This way you will learn how nerves affect you, and you will get lots of 'safe' practice at managing them. Even posting videos of yourself singing on social media can help you to get accustomed to the idea of singing for an audience, so that when an important performance comes around, it isn’t so daunting.
To find out more about Gemma, visit her site at gemmamilburn.co.uk or follow her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
Ed is the highest level Speech Level Singing (SLS) instructor in the UK. Personally trained by the developer of SLS, Seth Riggs (who coached Michael Jackson), Ed specializes in vocal technique, and his clients have included lead and supporting level roles in international shows such as Thriller, The Lion King and Chicago.
"Stage fright is very common amongst singers. However, standing on a stage in front of people is a very odd thing to do evolutionarily speaking. No other species does it. It triggers our 'fight or flight' reaction in the brain, which is why you might want to run off stage (even before you've got on it), or maybe why there's that even weirder feeling of almost wanting the audience to go away, which might be you wanting to fight your audience?! My advice is to acknowledge the weirdness of what you're about to do, but know you are lucky to have been given such an amazing skill, and one that people love listening to. Practise doing it and build up in small steps: karaoke, parties, open mics, small gigs, bigger gigs."
To find out more about Ed, visit his site Soho Vocal Tuition.
Ian has been performing for over 25 years at all types of live events, from weddings to parties and corporate events across the south of England. He is also the leader of the Ian Towers Swing Band, performing some of the most famous swing of the last century along with modern classic pop from the likes of Adele, Green Day & ABBA.
"My top tip is to get in touch with your body, by becoming very clearly aware of your breathing, in a mildly meditative state. One must allow sufficient time for this process, as feeling rushed to begin a performance is likely to have precisely the opposite effect to that desired. Notice your contact with the floor/ground, and mentally go through each part of the body asking for release of the various joints and muscles. Make sure you REALLY know the material to be sung, and do some suitable voice warming exercises. If in a group, notice the energy connecting you to the rest of the group, and enjoy the sound you create together. And remember to smile, especially under the eyes. It can sometimes help to take note of the lyric and think about the need to communicate the message to your audience. Sing to them rather than at them."
To find out more about Ian, visit his site dreamweddingpianist.co.uk, or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Soundcloud.
"What seems to work for me is remembering something funny from a previous performance and focussing in on how that made me feel in the moment, versus how it makes me feel now. The memory that always comes back to me is performing with an orchestra in a beautiful Italian outdoor theatre in the summer. We were midway through a Haydn symphony when a small dog ran straight across the stage, past the conductor and off to the other side. The dog was closely followed by a small naked Italian boy who was screaming the dog’s name!
If you're still worried, then use the 5/5/5/5 method: will this matter in 5 hours? In 5 days? In 5 months? In 5 years? The answer is almost definitely “no” to at least one of these! Audiences do not come to see you perform in the hope that you will fail. They come to experience the joy of music performed live by a living, breathing person with flaws. In short, you will make some mistakes. Don’t dwell on them. If you do, you’ll be the only person doing so. Enjoy performing and sharing music."
To find out more about Matt, visit his site at mattjamesbarlow.co.uk or listen to him on Soundcloud.
Originally a folk and orchestral flautist, Pauline took up the clarsach in 2007 and started writing her own songs. In 2009 she won the Glasgow Songwright Festival competition, and from there began performing around Scotland, and other places within the UK. She has released two of her own CD's as well as releasing a CD with her Celtic Trio band, Caim.
"My top takeaway tips would be to remind yourself why you're doing the gig and what you might be doing if you weren't performing. Most of all remember that very few people will notice mistakes - they are not important, especially if you play with confidence."
To find out more about Pauline, visit her site at paulinevallance.co.uk.
"I think stage fright largely stems from a fear of making mistakes. So what helps me is to worry less about playing things wrong, and instead focus on connecting with the music itself. I remind myself that I most probably will make silly errors in the performance, but that’s part of being human. The important thing is to perform with passion and bring the music to life. So if anything, a bit of stage fright is a good thing because it shows that you care about what you’re doing. When you put things in perspective like that, the nerves don’t always go away but they certainly seem less important!"
To find out more about Michael, visit his site at michaelgrantmusician.com, or check out his YouTube channel.
Madeleine Ridd - Session & Soloist Cellist
"I have struggled with performance anxiety for many years. It never used to affect me as a child, but it got worse as I got older. I try to visualise the performance in the days leading up to it, and imagine everything going really well. I run the pieces through to as many people as I can before the concert or audition. On the day itself I try to do a bit of gentle exercise, drink plenty of fluids, and have a banana, to help keep me energised. Sometimes during a performance I find I become disconnected to what’s going on, and I really struggle to engage with what I’m playing. Afterwards I get angry with myself for not being able to do justice to all the hard work I’ve put in! But if everything goes according to plan, I get such a buzz from performing, especially when playing with friends - it’s worth it for the adrenaline high afterwards!"
Based in San Diego, California, Erin is an active vocal performer, educator and entrepreneur with a wide span of participation in the music and theatre communities, including solo and ensemble performances with La Jolla Playhouse, Sacra/Profana Chorus, the San Diego Symphony, Fringe Festival and Onstage Playhouse.
"I think the biggest thing you can do to calm your nerves before a performance is to NOT wait until right before the performance! Performance anxiety usually shows up as a culmination of factors, many of which take place in the days leading up to the event. Getting proper sleep, exercise, nutrition, abstaining from alcohol and caffeine, and avoiding unnecessary stress for the 3 days leading up to your event will put your body in the best physical advantage to reduce day-of nerves. From there, any mental exercises and preparation you do will be that much more effective because your body is primed to respond."
To find out more about Erin, visit her at her site at erinrebeccaroberts.com, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.
Based in London, Martin is member of several different ensemble groups spanning genres from Jazz to Baroque to Prog-Folk-Rock, providing music to functions and events across the UK. His freelance orchestral engagements include playing with the Brandenburg Sinfonia, the Lincolnshire Chamber Orchestra and playing viola in Mendelssohn's Elijah with principals from the Philharmonia Orchestra.
"I'm lucky in that I don't get performance nerves that often. But the most likely causes are either doing an audition / exam (I love playing to audiences but hate playing to assessor panels!), or knowing I'm underprepared. So my tip is: be prepared and KNOW you're prepared. Go over the practical details with someone (maybe someone you're performing with): where you need to be when, how you're getting there, what you're wearing and taking … When you arrive or in advance, check what time you'll be going onstage, what your cue will be, and anything else you need to know. Finally, if you can't be comfortable with the performance, at least be comfortable with everything else: get used to playing the pieces in order, uninterrupted, in concert clothes and concert shoes, standing/sitting as you will for real. Minimise the new things on the day to minimise what can bother you!"
To find out more about Martin, you can visit his site at martinashmusic.com.
Emily has had a career spanning over 30 years in music, working as a session cellist with artists such as Hans Zimmer, Stereophonics & Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra. She currently tours in three productions - one solo, and as one half of two duo productions - and has produced 6 of her own CD's.
"It is mental preparation. Quite simply when rehearsing you imagine yourself in the concert environment. Not just the day before but a couple of weeks before and visit the performance scenario with your eyes closed. You mentally prepare the space you walk into.
By being mentally prepared it lessens the self-consciousness that the shock of an audience / examiner can cause.
Also for classical performers it is good to read through the music without the instrument the night before just before going to sleep.
Another top tip is a couple of drops of Bach flower rescue remedy. Remarkable at alleviating nerves and for string players shaking bow…"
To find out more about Emily, visit her site at emilyburridge.com, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube.
Based near Stroud, Gloucestershire, Matt is a piano tutor and professional baritone vocalist & pianist, regularly performing at functions and events. Matt is is also an experienced Musical Director and has been appointed by numerous operatic societies and Amateur Dramtic Societies to work on productions such as Fame, Evita and Sweet Charity.
"I am a firm believer that the brain is a dangerous organ, and one that, if left to its own devices, can reduce a singer to anything from mild to very serious and severe symptoms of performance anxiety. My method of combatting this goes back to the learning of a programme or character. While teaching myself the music I like to fill my mind with technique I will employ to aid a successful performance. This is not something that goes into autopilot over time, but the thought of said technique stays very much in the conscious throughout rehearsals and during the end performance. I add to this, research into, or invention of, back story into the character, details that led the character to sing this song, and the direction of the story and emotional twists during the song. On occasions I will even go as far as creating the scene the character will be standing in, placing very specific details which I can react to within the song or scene. By the time I get to stage, my mind has much to do in the implementation of performance, and it is rehearsed to think certain thoughts in a particular order. This mental preparation, on top of the physical rehearsal, is vital to keeping focus on the positive constructive thoughts required to convey the message of my performance. I begin to recreate the worlds or scenery for the character in my mind long before I get near the stage stopping the opportunity for it to ‘wander’, and perhaps settle on thoughts which will degrade the performance."
To find out more about Matt, visit his website at mattrichardsonmusic.co.uk
"In order to prepare for a performance, I ensure I eat no later than 2 hours before a performance, I drink plenty of water and use a Dr Nelson inhaler on the morning of the performance and afterwards. In order to keep my nerves at bay, I do a good solid warm up routine, and focus on breathing techniques which not only help with the singing but to calm my nerves before I hit the stage. Other than that I may listen to music to prepare, talk to colleagues and ensure I am stage ready in plenty of time."
To find out more about Lorna, visit her website at lorna-adams.co.uk.
A student of the award-winning, internationally renowned cellist Richard Jenkinson, Jay is currently the principle cellist for Solihull Symphony Orchestra, and plays regularly with Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra, Worcestershire Symphony Orchestra, and as a guest cellist with various smaller ensembles around the UK Midlands.
"To calm your nerves before a performance, try to shift your focus. Rather than worrying about any performance mistakes, or what people might dislike, think about your favourite and most enjoyable parts and what people will truly love. They're there to hear you perform because they want to support you, and enjoy your art with you! You're there to share your love, talent and passion for what you do, and it's a wonderful thing that people want to be a part of it with. So it is being in a position to truly enjoy what you do - accept that there will be fear, but concentrate more on what you enjoy doing, which is performing!"
To find out more about Jay, visit her website at jayemme.com or follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest.
Based in Stirchley in the West Midlands, Charlotte is a graduate of the University of Sheffield with a First Class Honours in Music and Chinese, and has been teaching singing and piano for several years. Charlotte is also an accomplished mezzo-soprano singer who performs across the UK with the Choros Amici choir.
"My top tip would be to do something physical like going for a brisk walk or doing a little dance on your own to shake out the nerves and distract your mind."
To find out more about Charlotte, visit her site at charlottevivmusic.com or follow her on Facebook.
Sophie graduated from The Royal Northern College in 2016 and since then has had a diverse freelance career. As well as performing across the country, she has featured as a soloist on BBC Radio 3's 'In Tune', and was delighted to be asked to perform for Alex Salmond and his cabinet on an official visit to the Shetland Islands.
"One thing that I’ve discovered that works well for me in calming nerves before a performance is remembering that as a musician, when I have a big concert coming up, I am in training. With this in mind, I find taking an athlete’s approach really helps me (I’m a keen runner and I’m a big fan of the training plan). I like to play the long game - a long term practice plan which includes different types of practice (slow practice, performances in front of other people, memory work etc.) and the week before, I really focus on tapering the amount of practice I’m doing, incorporating exercise to rid myself of any excess energy I get from my nerves, eating healthily and resting properly. I find that if I manage all these things successfully, I feel energised, in control and ready to go on the day! "
To find out more about Sophie, visit her website at harprocks.com, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.
"My tip would be to use your life experience to help you evidence your strength.
From time to time I have heard performers describe themselves in terms that seem to be at odds with their life experiences simply because they have failed to value themselves and their journey properly;
"I’m no good under pressure, I always back away from the tough moments every single time."
This is a direct quote from someone I was teaching who completed the London Marathon just 7 months after major surgery. Their evaluation simply wasn’t true and there was significant evidence to disprove this. We must remind ourselves of our previous achievements, both in and out of performance, if we want to create more of them in the future. Doubt doesn’t sound good at all in vocal terms!"
To find out more about Paul, visit his site at paulmcfadden.co.uk, or follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn
As well as being the founder of Singing Escapes, Nova is also currently head of Musical Theatre at Colchester Institute, where she lectures in voice, singing and music theatre, and leades her own community choir in Essex called Raise Your Voice. She has also sung in various West End productions, including Oliver! At the London Palladium, and Showboat at the Prince Edward Theatre.
"Focus on communicating the song and the lyric to the audience. If you put your effort into that and not on yourself and how you feel, you may help to change
the energy from your own anxiety and move it into a completely different zone. When we focus on our own nerves we are making ourselves the most
important factor and the song and audience are more important. Try and
remove the ego a little. We don’t always want to admit it bit ultimately the
driving force behind performance anxiety can often be our own ego. When did you last see a Gospel singer in church riddled with performance nerves? They
are so consumed with singing to their God and communicating this, that the
focus is not on themselves.
Also know how your instrument works. It amazes me how many singers don’t
understand why and how nerves affect the voice. The larynx naturally
constricts in flight or fight mode and a singer needs to know how to override
this response and primary function of the larynx. Book on an Estill Voice
course or train with an Estill Master Trainer."
A vocal teacher for over 35 years, Jeanne's work has spanned the USA, Germany and now the UK in the West Midlands. She is a performer of wide range, singing in concerts, oratorio and song recitals in many European countries, and has worked professionally as director of music for theaters and various church choirs. She is also the conductor of the Moseley Chamber Singers, a small ensemble of highly skilled singers which performs a large and varied repertoire in concert.
"The best advice I can give, is to learn a technique you can trust, and then practice, practice, practice!"
To find out more about Jeanne, visit her website at jeanneconard-voicestudio.com.
So that wraps it up!
We’ve had some amazing, actionable tips from our top contributors that you can start using right now to help you with stage fright, and seen that it is totally possible to overcome this common performing problem.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, or know someone who might enjoy it, then spread the word via Twitter or Facebook using the links below, or get involved in the conversation on our social channels!
Follow Us & Join The Conversation!