Dealing with nerves & anxiety

With around 75 per cent of elite performers suffering from performance anxiety, Lee Fellows from the Academy of Contemporary Music shares advice on how teachers can spot the early warning signs and what techniques can address nerves

Performance anxiety is far more common than most people think and the first way we can begin to tackle it is to talk about it. Musicians often put a lot of pressure on themselves and as a result are susceptible to running into mental health problems. Peer to peer support is incredibly important in the music industry and it’s this peer support that is at the core of our workshops at ACM.
 
When looking to address performance anxiety in young people, you should start by asking them why they play music. The answer should of course be to please themselves, however, often students will cite reasons such as fame or fortune. Addressing this early on will instantly alleviate a huge amount of pressure that they may be putting on themselves.
 
Another important step is to remind them that nobody is perfect and it’s okay and natural to make mistakes. Mistakes should be seen as useful learning exercises for the future and certainly don’t mean failure.

HIGHLY CRITICAL

Musicians are well known for being extremely self-critical. Below are some pointers on how to stop your students falling down a hole of self-doubt:

Tell them that it’s okay to ask for help. Encourage them to be open about their worries as often just talking to a friend or tutor will lighten the load.

Encourage them not to compare themselves with other musicians.

Remind them it’s their opinion that counts and not to worry about what other people might think.
 
Aside from changing their mindset, it is a good idea to promote good wellbeing generally to gear towards a less anxious life.

Ensuring your students are aware of the importance of eating healthy, being well rested, and regular exercise is vital, as if they are physically healthy, it will have a knock-on effect to their general state of mind.

ADD WELLBEING TO YOUR LESSONS

Both yoga and mindfulness are great tools to add into your music lessons; if your students learn to add these techniques to their regular warm up routine, they will become well equipped to deal with any performance anxiety that might arise in the future.
 
Musicians should be aware of keeping their mental wellbeing in check throughout day to day life, so encourage your students to practice what they’ve learnt in your lessons outside of the classroom too.

Teaching them to keep on top of their mental wellbeing will help minimise any pre-show anxiety, however it’s also important to encourage them to learn their own way of dealing with stress so they can create and understand their own coping mechanisms.

It’s just as important to prepare to deal with performance anxiety as it is to practice the music itself. During our workshops at ACM, we often try to simulate a performance situation; this enables our students to learn how to effectively manage their nerves and come out better for it on the other side.

BEFORE GOING ON STAGE

Just before going on stage can be a frightening time for a performer, so here are some tips to share with your students to help combat their pre-performance nerves.

Tell them to focus on their breathing, take deep breaths in, hold them and slowly breathe out. Urge them to really take time to focus in on this before their performance.

Ask them to close their eyes and take five minutes to imagine their performance, ask them how do they feel, what do they play and then ask them to focus on how to achieve that as a reality.

Ahead of the performance date, remind them of the importance of practice. Being prepared is key and when it comes to the day, remind them that they are ready for this.

Tell them to remember the times that previous performances went well. Remind them that it is okay and good to accept compliments from others.

When tackling performance anxiety with a class, it’s great practice to remind them that nerves are normal and actually a good thing.

This is because it allows a person to connect with the music on an emotional level – which is often the key to a killer performance.

Advise them to allow themselves to feel the adrenaline, but remember that they are in control and have prepared for this.

The reality is performance anxiety will likely rear its head for all of us at some stage in our musical careers, and it’s vital that we address this through education early on in a young musician’s life.

By taking action before it becomes a problem, students can learn how to overcome this issue and actually use it as a force of good in their performances.

I hope these tips have been helpful and if you’d like to learn more about ACM please do come and visit us for an open day.

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