By Ryan Sapp
Drum Instructor at Rock & Pop Music Academy
Many musicians and students have anxiety before and/or during a performance. This is common, even amongst big time professional musicians that have been performing in front of large audiences for years. In my opinion, the reason you are anxious means that you care. You want to sound good in front of your peers, teachers, and/or audience. That’s a very good thing. However, when anxiety starts to create fear before or during a performance, that can be detrimental.
Anxiety blocks concentration, which only makes the situation worse. There are many easy-to-learn relaxation techniques available in print or online. Just do a little research to find one that works for you. Your instructor will also be able to give you tips on how to overcome anxiety. Having been through the college music experience as well as being a veteran of many performances, your instructor understands the stress of performances and thus can give you practical pointers on how to deal with anxiety and get through a performance.
A common symptom of anxiety is the fear that you will forget how the songs go. If you can relax and bring yourself down a few points on your anxiety scale, the likelihood of forgetting the parts in a song will be reduced. Another way to ward off the anxiety is to make sure the songs are well rehearsed. I have a saying: “Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.” Know your parts inside and out. Know them like the back of your hand. Be able to do them in your sleep. Then, when you get to the performance, remind yourself of that fact. You have worked on them, you know them, and nothing you or anyone else can do can shake you from your solid foundation. Tell yourself that you are merely a conduit for the music, that music is an entity that flows through you. You already know the music. Just let it out.
If something happens during a performance, just pick up where you left off and keep going. Most of the audience isn’t even going to notice a small slip-up. Laugh it off if you have to. Most performances are not going to be at Carnegie Hall with an audience listening to every note. Most performances are going to be in front your friends, family, peers, or an audience that just wants to dance and have fun. Music is supposed to be fun both for the performer and the audience.
A few weeks ago, the singer in my band blanked on the words of the first song of our opening set. Over the microphone, I asked the audience, “How about we give him a do-over?” The crowd laughed and applauded, and the singer launched into the first song again. That time, he nailed it. Everybody laughed it off and the entire evening was a lot of fun. While music takes a serious effort to perform well, performances are not life and death. Always try your best but trust in all of the work that you’ve done. Relax and have fun.
Do you know how to predict the future? Look to the past. With all of the lessons you have taken, the amount of time you have practiced, and the work you have done, you have no evidence to believe that you will stumble. Think of fear as an acronym: False Evidence Appearing Real.
In closing, remember to check your breathing. When we get scared, we frequently hold our breath. Our body goes into a state of alarm and our anxiety spikes. Take several slow, deep breaths to calm things down. Keep breathing, keep playing, and you will be fine.