From Excitement of Learning Music to the Fear of Playing


in Methods, Performance

There is a phenomenon that occurs when learning music that takes place over time. The excitement of the new beginner is fantastic and then slowly as one learns more and more and hears others play the fear of performing for others starts to set in.

In the cases of many younger students they have no predisposition to the fear and often are super proud when they play for the first time. There is support from the parents and teachers and the audience for their effort. It's a great accomplishment.

In the case of the older student, who has witnessed and participated in the contests and been exposed to the horrors of embarrassment or shame fear takes over and begins it's grip on the performer and creates the self fulfilling prophecy of having a bad experience.

So how can the jaded student overcome ones fear of performing poorly?  I believe it is in the attitude and the accomplishment of a approach to becoming slightly better than the last experience. And in that statement is an implied “Don't expect to be perfect in only a few tries!”

Yoga as a Metaphor for Music?

I've practiced yoga for well over 4 years now. Yoga poses are a series of steps in strength and flexibility that can not be done with just a few days of practice. It can take 6 months to a year just to achieve half of an attempted pose. I've never achieved many of the full poses due to my age and years of limited use of muscle even after this time.

Every practice session I seem to achieve a little more than I did the last. I many cases I have a major break through with a specific pose. At times I regress when I have to travel and don't practice. At times I cruise through a pose just because I don't feel like trying it, at times I fear I may even hurt myself and resist the full effort.

I often see many new students join our practice and expect to be able to immediately accomplish the same as the experienced student. Some times there is surprise, other times stark shock. And in some cases fear of embarrassment. In time the students accepts the fact that they must practice and improve with time at their own pace. Additionally they find that there is no competition with others and that the practice is one of self and self awareness.

This same type of thing happens with leaning and performing music.  You will go through some variation of this excitement and fear and resolve to quit or continue based on your own will power. Some students are driven by the competition with others. I was always driven by my own ambition. In either case it's really just a personal thing.

Back to our original topic of fear. So what might you do to avoid or overcome the fear of performance?

Getting Past The Fear: A Few Ideas.

Decide To Engage In Performance For Others Early In Your Study.

As you begin to learn what will one day be the easy pieces it's the perfect time to begin playing for others. Most people understand the difficulty in learning and performing for others. They will be supportive. In my experience you grow into wanting and even needing to perform for others as you gain the experience. It may take months or even years to achieve that comfort. You may never get over the numerousness, butterflies in the stomach are common for even the professionals.

Take An Attitude Of I'm Going To Give It My Best And Embrace The Idea That Mistakes Will Likely Be Apart Of The Process.

I recall my first performances. I could look back and remember the first few times of playing and thought of how anxious and disappointed I was in result. Then as I reflected, I remember how it got easier and with each event there were fewer mistakes. The fumbles didn't bother me as much, I played through them, and I continued to play more difficult pieces with greater ease. Performances are a necessary experience in your development. It will help you overcome the fears of playing for others.

Revisit Some Of Your Past Accomplishments In A Later Performance.

Building confidence is about being successful. One of the ways I build to playing something new for someone is taking an opportunity to play more than one song. I'll purposely play something I've learned in the past as a warm up. I'll revisit this piece of music as my skills improve and continue to improve that piece. This will put me in a mood of success and I launch off of that to play the new piece as a continuation of a piece already well played.

Create A Safe Zone Of Performance.

One way I used to overcome fears was to create a condition where I had complete control of the situation. I'd arrange for a small group of 3 to 5 people to come over for a couple drinks or dinner and tell them I'm working on a new piece of music I'd like to try out on them. Telling them that it was a work in progress and I'd just like them to allow me to take a few moments to try it out.

Now be careful, these situations allow for thoughts and potential criticism to come out and you need to be prepared to embrace those comments with a slant towards things you might incorporate into your practice sessions. They also can have a dramatic effect on your confidence when you even surprise yourself with a good performance.

The bottom line is that you need to engage your fears with an aggressive attitude toward beating them one step at a time.  A successful performance is one that has improved on the last one. Here's to your next successful performance. If you have some thoughts on what's worked for you share them with our community.

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