Stage Fright: When the Stage Becomes a Frightening Place

Stage fright or performance anxiety is one of those things that occurs but is not often talked about. You may have it and feel alone or even ashamed to discuss it with anyone. First, you are not alone. Many well-known singers such as Rihanna, Adele, Barbara Streisand and Beyonce all suffer from it, yet have managed to take control over it and become very successful.

We all sound good in the shower

There are many who are great musicians when they perform in private yet struggle when trying to transfer that knowledge and skill to the public stage in front of an audience. They are not prepared for what they think are the high demands that the audience.

Feelings of fear, hesitation, shame and insecurity can overwhelm us and instead of enjoying the concert, it turns into a nightmare. We compare ourselves with those who seem like natural talents to us. We don’t know that they spend their days, if not years, preparing for the physical and mental performance itself.  

what is the art of performing?

In addition to the music, the art of performing is a skill in itself; to tell a story in which the audience should be involved and emotionally engaged. When the public says that it was a great concert it involves not only the way that a band makes music and has direct contact with the audience by speaking to them and eye contact but also the audience’s own engagement including clapping, sing-alongs, dancing, and general fun.

preparing for your performance

Being well prepared can help reduce stage fright for many. Having a plan for the stage, knowing what and who should be where as well as how to get on and off the stage and when. Checking and proper set-up of instruments, amplifiers, microphones, sound system, lighting, size of hall and stage, and being sure that what you have is adequate for the hall and the expected audience. acoustics, lighting, etc.

The preparation for the performance also includes mental readiness that can reduce the fear of the stage. Fear that can cause, cold sweat, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath or hyperventilating, rapid heartbeat, palpitations, dizziness, panic, the urge to get away and other symptoms. 

Getting ready includes deciding what to play, your repertoire and its order, the sound system and or amplification, its volume, tone, diction, tempo, rhythm. Moments of singing, solo performance of instruments, etc. You should think about what to say and what you want to be the result of your concert in the end and what you want the audience to remember. And to remember that your own expression, emotion and conviction are what make a good performance.  

The Importance of Eye Contact

Making eye contact with your audience can be an important part of making them feel welcome and a more intimate part of your performance. If you have trouble with this, you might try a little trick that B.B. King told me way back when. Find the last person in the room, the person who is standing farthest away from you. Look just above their head. They will think that you are making eye contact with them, but you will not be.

Gradually move your eyes closer and closer to the person closest to you. This might take some time, maybe even some weeks. But eventually, you will be able to look people in the eye. And if you cannot, no one will know.

Some people suggest practicing in front of a mirror in order to make yourself feel more at ease about public performance. You can also start with practicing in front of people that you know, your colleagues, friends or family. This can be a way to learn how to reduce and gain control over your stress and anxiety in a rational way.

Find your way to keep calm

There are also breathing, relaxation and mind exercises that can help. You can take public speaking classes that can include psychological preparation by consciously testing the things that you fear directly, in a non-public environment.

Once you are on stage, nervousness can come from negative thoughts. These can come from making mistakes for example. Allow yourself to make mistakes and continue with your performance without worrying. Eventually you will become more relaxed and realize that it is all part of live performance especially when you see that the audience did not notice your mistake.

Relax, be easy on yourself, seek the help of others

Change your negative thoughts into positive ones. Sometimes I will play the ‘wrong’ note on the harmonica and then later purposely try to use that note the second time in a more musical way. This can open new musical ideas. In this way you are turning a negative into a positive.

We have discussed a few things that you can do to relieve your performance anxiety or stage fright. No single method will work for everyone. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself or your performance.

You can strive for perfection but don’t get upset when don’t always reach it. No single method will work for everyone. Talk to musicians, live performers, people who have more experience than you do. Ask for their help and opinions. Sharing their suggestions and accepting their help will open the door to new experiences for you.

Prepare yourself as well as you can. Remember to relax and that performance is supposed to be enjoyed. Don’t forget to have fun!

Stage Fright: When the Stage Becomes a Frightening Place