David Motto’s Practice Tip of the Week:
Know How to Control Your Nerves
Some musicians are lucky. They never get nervous.
They can perform at the drop of a hat. They don’t even give it a second’s thought. If this is you, feel free to skip this week’s Practice Tip.
For the rest of us, we need to understand our nervous cycles. We must learn to use our nervousness to our benefit and even channel this energy into our performances.
Nervousness Equals Caring
First off, know that you are nervous because performing music is important to you. You are actually lucky to have something in your life to feel nervous about!
You don’t get nervous about things that don’t matter to you.
You care so much about your music that it can make you feel nervous. Many people have nothing they are passionate about. You do! This is good news, not bad news.
By just openly admitting to yourself that your performance matters to you, and by committing fully to making it something meaningful for you, you can start the process of suppressing your nervous response. Own the fact that it’s important to you, and you’ll already be more confident.
Recognizing the Physical Effects
Second, learn how your nervousness manifests itself physically. Each of us reacts differently when we feel nervous. Do you get sweaty palms? Dry mouth? The shakes? Increased heart rate? Shallow breathing? Need to go to the bathroom?
By understanding the effect being nervous has on your body, you can decide on the best remedy to counteract your symptoms. It’s very important that you can clearly define and recognize these physical effects as they start to happen.
You may need to carry a towel or a glass of water on stage with you. Perhaps deep breathing exercises will help. Maybe you’ll need to visit the bathroom just before you walk on stage. Musicians even use prescription beta blockers to feel steady.
Do whatever it takes to feel in control physically.
Also, remember that when I say “stage,” I don’t necessarily mean an actual stage in front of a real, live, human audience. Lots of situations feel like being on stage and can trigger nervous reactions: playing for a teacher at a lesson, performing for a friend who will critique you, doing a runthrough in your practice studio while shooting video of yourself, going over something difficult at a rehearsal. As far as your nervous system is concerned, these are all the same as being on stage.
Your Nervousness Clock
Third, make sure you are aware of the timeline of your nervous cycle.
Some musicians feel overcome with nerves right before a performance. Others are nervous an hour before going on stage, or even the day before.
You must learn what you can and cannot get accomplished when you feel nervous. Perhaps practicing or warming up during that time period is not realistic for you. You will need to fill that time with something that will calm you down: a visualization, calling/texting a supportive friend, playing your favorite video game – something, anything that makes you feel normal.
Release the Energy into Your Music
Finally, you can decide to push your nervous feelings – which are a by-product of your desire for success – into the intensity of your music.
Don’t let your nerves affect your private thoughts or arouse your inner critic. Instead, take all that bundled-up energy and let it escape through your performance.
Controlling nerves is part of successful practicing and performing. Increasing your awareness and understanding of your own nervous cycle can have a surprisingly positive effect on your music, and your overall well-being.
Here’s my favorite anonymous quote on this topic:
“Nervous” and “excited” are the same thing, so you might as well call it “excited”!
To Your Musical Success!