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How Do You Reduce Your Music Performance Anxiety?

This article provides simple steps to learn to read sheet music.

Music Performance Is Not About You!

First and foremost, you should remember that performance is not about you. It's about being the connection between the music and the audience. Once you begin to treat yourself as a conduit that helps the audience members deeply understand and feel the music, performance takes on a new meaning. Serving as a connection is not a new concept, but it is a rarely communicated one. To achieve this level of performance and significantly reduce or nearly irradicate performance anxiety, there are several steps that you can take. Practice, learning about the music, knowing your audience, and visualization can help elevate your performance to the highest level and build meaningful and lasting connections with the audience.

The Connection Between Performer and Audience is Important

Isabella Gibbons and Stephen Gibbons performing at Open Mic

Isabella Gibbons and Stephen Gibbons performing at Open Mic

Practice the Music and Performance

Too many times, performers focus only on their instruments whether those be an instrument or voice and neglect giving attention to the art of performance. Performance is not just playing an instrument or singing. Performance is also the way you stand, the way you move, the way you feel inside, and the way you connect to your audience. .Therefore, the focus of a practice session should be on both. Follow the simple tips below to ensure that both your instrument and performance skills building get equal attention.

  1. Warming up is necessary no matter the instrument. Play or sing scales to get ready for a beneficial practice session. Warm-ups will help you play/sing better and will also help prevent injury.
  2. Go ahead with your regularly scheduled practice session. Practice for 3/4 of your usual practice time.
  3. Devote 1/4 of your time to performance-related activities.

Visualize the Audience Connection

"Whether you form a connection with your audience through direct eye contact or use the scan-the-audience (looking around them rather than at them) method, practice channeling your love of the music while doing so. That emotional bridge will make all the difference."

— Stephen Gibbons

Know Your Music, Know Your Audience

Take great care to learn about the musical pieces that you perform. Know the history, the message, and any other detail that you can learn about it. The learning process may help you in forming those emotional connections to the music, ones that you can pass on to the audience.

While you can't always guess, do your best to know who your audience is and choose musical pieces that evoke emotion in you and fit the audience. For example, you probably would want to select rap for an audience that is older. There will always be an outlier audience member who will not like some of the music you choose even after you have selected carefully. Acknowledge that there will always be that someone who doesn't like something you sing or do. Accepting that from now until the end of time will help reduce anxiety.

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Visualization Is Essential to Performance

“As you think, so shall you become.” – Bruce Lee

Visualization can change a performer's thinking and lead to increased confidence in playing and performance. Try the following techniques to help with visualizing your intended outcome.

  1. Use part of practice time to set your instrument aside (or your singing voice). See yourself playing or singing. Typically, closing eyes and imagining the instrument in your hands or imagining that you are singing without doing it out loud is the best way to begin. Gently play on your imaginary instrument or see yourself singing in the location where you will be during the performance.
  2. If you don't know the location where you'll be playing or singing very well, try your best to get there before the performance so you can visualize the site during your visualization portion of practice time. To accomplish effective visualization, keep your eyes closed, and take deep relaxing breaths. Continue by doing the following: (1) silently play your instrument or sing (see #1), (2) after playing for a few moments in your mind, place yourself at the location where you'll be playing/singing, and (3) with eyes still closed, populate the room with your audience imagining approving faces. At the end of your visualization time, you should have played or sung a couple of musical pieces/songs feeling yourself in the room.
  3. Repeat the process for every practice session.

Another helpful strategy is to ask friends and family to pose as your audience. To make it even more authentic, ask them to invite a friend or two to mimic a live audience.

Sample Practice Schedule to Increase Performance Confidence

Adjust the schedule to meet your needs, but include all components.

Practice SectionsTime Devoted to ActivityBenefit

Warm Up

5 -7 minutes

Increases Practice Effectiveness

Practice Instrument/Voice

45 minutes

Helps Connect to the Audience and Builds Confidence


15 minutes

Increases Performance Confidence

Practice Makes Perfect

Ideally, you could go practice at the location where you will be performing, but even if you can't, you can practice regularly and add in visualization. After you arrive at the place that you are going to be performing at, you will have learned about your songs/music, you will have learned about your audience, and you will have already successfully performed in your mind's eye using visualization. You will be delighted to find yourself feeling connected with the audience and will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are delivering something valuable and memorable to the audience members. After all, performance isn't about you. You are merely the connection between the music and the audience.

Go forth and perform!

© 2018 Stephen and Jacqueline Gibbons

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