Do you frequently experience music performance anxiety in front of an audience? Are you unsure on how to overcome music performance anxiety? To help understand where music performance anxiety in front of an audience comes from and for tips on overcoming music performance anxiety, I have interviewed psychologist Katheleen Avila, M.A.
Tell me a little about yourself.
“I am a licensed psychologist in Mpls./St. Paul, MN and have a private practice I call Integrative Mindfulness. I have a masters degree in counseling psychology and marriage, family, child therapy from Santa Clara University in California. Over my career I have worked with all age groups and various clinical settings. One of my specialty areas is performance psychology and I find performers are my favorite clients due to two primary things. First, I experience performers as very motivated and two; I know that the performance anxiety that 99.9% are presenting with can be successfully managed.”
Where does music performance anxiety in front of an audience come from?
“Music performers that are being negatively impacted by performance anxiety typically have to perform in solo on a stage and have a specific goal in mind, even when it is their first recital. That goal might be to make parents and relatives proud to auditioning for first chair in an orchestra to knowing the judges are in the audience. This presents the first potential anxiety hurdle and that is having an outcome or end result expectation. The conflict is that music is expressed most successfully when the musician is fully in the present, in complete connection with their music. When going into the performance with an audience, if the musician cannot suspend the end result goal or expectation, they are going to experience anxiety. As human beings we are all wired to live and thrive in relation to other human beings. And so the audience and performer present an immediate and unique kind of relationship. The music is the performers communication link and
there is both a natural and expected goal to connect with the audience through the music. Yet, unlike our usual forms of communicating, the musician is not experiencing a give and take type of feedback.
So, from the very start to the end of the performance, the musician can assume and think many varied thoughts about whether their communication is good enough for the effort they are putting in. If the performer recognizes a miss within their delivery of their music and they judge them self, they may assume they have lost the audience and are seen in a bad light. It is our natural human nature to be liked and approved by others. If expectations of oneself are not realistic, if the performer comes in with thoughts and fears of failure, or if the performer slips into dissatisfaction or self criticism, anxiety will take it’s course.”
What are some tips for overcoming music performance anxiety?
“Each person is different and it is always a good thing to assess when or how the anxiety kicks into gear in order to address the most helpful tips. Yet one thing all anxiety prone performers can start doing is a habit of ‘ideal performance state mental recall’. What ideal means essentially is reflecting, feeling, and recalling the best parts of one’s practice or lesson today. This is a new habit formation, literally imaging, in mind and body, the best elements that one has just performed while preparing for an up coming audience performance. Too often (if not always) the mind tracks down what is unsatisfactory and literally rehearses that first. This helps with self-confidence and self-esteem and serves to set the nervous system to trust the present connection with the music. A short set of words also can accompany this new habit, locking a feeling of success in place, such as, ‘I am calm and confident.’ Also, with every audience performance, this optimal mental recall pattern should be practiced sometime after. Learning to calm the body by diaphragmatic breathing is the most solid tool in regulating the nervous system. This should be done pre-practice, pre-performance, during practice, and when practice or a lesson is completed. When the nervous system feels calm, the brain is more spacious, which is the opposite of what we call ‘choking’ or performance anxiety! With these new systematic habits in place, one is now able to practice ‘mental rehearsal’ of an up coming performance. First, set the nervous system with breathing from the belly, then mentally, emotionally, and physically go through one’s entire piece of music in the imagery of one’s ideal performance state. That never, NEVER, is anything to do with the unrealistic word PERFECT. An ideal performance imagery comes from the connection with oneself when performing with satisfaction over the preparation phases and aspects of past performances. Thus, it is realistic, enjoyable, relaxed, and accepting. Once the mental rehearsal is practiced off and on with calm and enjoyment then the mental rehearsal can be put in place for more details; arriving at the place of performing, warming up, awareness of an audience forming, coming on stage and beginning to end performance imagery with success. When one works with this, as a discipline, along with the physical aspects of preparation, it will seem to the performer that when it comes to the day of performance, they have done it before.”
What type of professional help is available for music performance anxiety?
“Well, my recommendation would be a professional who has some expertise in understanding and having worked with anxiety. This might be a Licensed Psychologist, Licensed Clinical Social Worker or a Professional Personal Coach who has specific training in body/mind psychology. Then you would want that person to have experience with working with performers that have a similar relationship with an audience.
Sometimes this could be a sports psychologist who has been working with gymnasts or figure skaters for example. If a person advertises as a sports or performance counselor you would want to know what their credentials and experience are first. When a licensed professional says they have a specialty in performance anxiety you are protected due to the conditions of their licensing boards.”
Thank you Katheleen for doing the interview on tips for overcoming music performance anxiety in front of a audience. For more information about Katheleen Avila or her work you can check out her website on www.integrativemindfulness.com.
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