by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
HOW TO HANDLE STAGE-FRIGHT
Throughout my music teaching career, my music students have either asked me how to overcome stage fright, or have been nervous enough to warrant a discussion on the topic. Getting performance jitters is a common experience among performers. I have personally experienced it, so I understand the concern!
When I first starting performing as a solo pianist/vocalist in my twenties, I used to get so nervous I’d throw up before a performance. Onstage, my legs and hands felt like they were shaking so hard I feared people saw me gyrating! Playing piano for performances, my right leg and foot shook like a hyper-active sewing machine pedal. Performing as a vocalist was similar. My heart beat so loudly, I thought it would fly out my throat the moment I started to sing. Fortunately, I learned to tame the stage-anxiety beast.
I have four suggestions that worked so well for me, I wound up as a professional solo pianist/vocalist for 25 years! I also taught and spoke for many years in front of global audiences from 50 to thousands. Of course, I’d still sometimes feel nervous before a performance or presentation, but I employed the four suggestions I’ll share here to help you completely win over stage-fright.
RINSE, REPEAT, OFTEN!
My first suggestion is to get as many performing opportunities as possible and frequently! Desensitizing to the scenario, performing frequently, takes the sting out of it. Find a way to play for family, friends, church, spiritual groups, libraries, schools, meet ups, anybody, and anywhere!
If you can’t find someone to perform for, video or audio-record yourself and pretend it’s a performance! Ignore any mistakes and continue on without stopping. Later, watch or listen to your performance for tips on sections where you may have tripped up. Analyze why. This is also a great way to evaluate your practice routine! Making mistakes is usually due to lack of thorough preparation.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
This leads to my second suggestion; prepare well. In hindsight, most of my nerves were due to lack of confidence in my performance because I simply had not prepared well enough. I tackled that aspect with a vengeance in my practice routine, determined to master every note of a performance.
I especially practiced any particular section where I did not feel fully confident, because when nervous, I’d lose it on those sections! I practiced enough to memorize every detail of a piece. Any section that I was even slightly unsure of was what I went after with a gusto—until I knew the music inside and out!
I NEVER relied solely on finger memory for a performance. I made sure to memorize everything, including key, scale, harmonic analysis, form, melodic phrasing, fingering, dynamics, patterns, etc. If I did not know the piece fully inside my mind away from the instrument, I knew I was not prepared well enough to perform it.
I visualized myself in the specific performance scenario. Even better if I could actually practice in the performance venue. This eliminated the element of surprise and created a familiarity (back to ‘desensitizing’).
I practiced performing while envisioning it as the real performance, including as much detail as possible. I imagined the people there, the color of the walls, the lighting, the aromas, my piano, the stage, and that the audience was loving the performance. I especially imagined feeling confident, enjoying the music, and performing successfully.
I practiced this kind of visualization while playing the music repeatedly, until I felt a sense of assured mastery over the music. Once I had prepared well, practiced consistently, memorized entirely, and used imagery, I knew I had tackled the music enough to perform.
FIND THE TRUE PURPOSE
Lastly, I shifted my focus away from myself and directly fixated on the music for the audience’s benefit. To me, nerves simply indicated my ego. If I was focused on judging my musical ability, that was my vanity or ego, which is completely irrelevant in musical performance.
Why? Because for me, the musician is only the middleman, the vessel, or messenger, of a much greater purpose; the MUSIC reaching the audience’s hearts. Once I learned to shift my attention away from myself, I could center all my being on bringing the power and spirit of music to life. The purpose of the music became connecting with or giving something positive to the heart of another human being.
I reminded myself that performing music has less to do with the performer than it does with human connection. It doesn’t matter whether there may be several, or a hundred, or a thousand human beings in the audience--it all comes down to heart to heart communication brought alive through the universal medium of great music.
FIND THE BIGGER PICTURE
Whenever I concentrated this way, I humbled myself sincerely to achieving the task of sharing the great power of music with another heart. Focusing on this true purpose of musical performance took every ounce of my sincerity and effort, leaving no room for vanity or ego to get in the way.
I’m a Soka Gakkai International - USA Buddhist, so I still chant before every performance (or when I compose or write) to use my best life-state in harmony with the music as a tool for uplifting the audience, and to spiritually communicate human potential. This has never failed me.
Prayer of any kind shifts one’s heart toward a greater purpose, and to view things from a perspective different from ego. Any performance I have witnessed that truly moved my heart or life was one in which the communication through music was the focal point--not the performer.
NERVES ARE GOOD ENERGY
One last comment; I’ve taught music/choral/piano students never to be afraid of or attempt to escape nerves—because that incredible energy can be transformed into an exciting, moving performance. Nerves are GOOD because they make you alert and aware of doing your very best!
SLOW YOUR ROLL WITH BREATH
Even a seemingly negative thing like nervousness can become positive when you choose to direct it. Use your nerves as a wonderful sign that you care about doing a good job! Turn that sincerity into exciting energy for a performance that inspires with vigor.
Breathe deeply and slowly while keeping the above points in mind to help control the physicality of excitement. Be intentional as you practice these four suggestions to transform stage-fright into supportive energy for your successful performance!
Share your victories or tips on how you handle stage-fright in the comments below!
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More Tips On Handling Stage-Fright Featured In Dawn Iver's Piano Teaching Blog Here.
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By Jenny Leigh Hodgins
Are you an adult who’s looking forward to finally learn piano? Do you have a teenager eager to explore music? Are you a parent looking to start your child’s first piano lesson? Having a quality instrument is critical for successful piano learning.
There are many ways to learn piano. From note-reading to aural training, from digital exploration and beyond. Regardless, the quality of a keyboard instrument is essential to successful music progress.
Some of the most important points to consider are:
WHAT’S YOUR COMMITMENT?
If you have always wanted to learn piano, and now have the time and energy to devote to it, a piano may be a great investment. For adults, buying a quality piano is a beautiful addition to decor, adding value to your home. Practicing on a quality-crafted piano inspires hours of dedicated musical progress. Making a strong commitment to your love of piano music is a great reason to buy a good piano.
If you have a young child, or a teenager with sudden interest in piano, your child's attention span may not be clear. How long will your child stay motivated for the long haul of musical study? For these cases, consider an electronic keyboard.
A digital piano may be an inexpensive investment to explore your child's interest. An electronic keyboard is usually less expensive than a piano. A 61-key, light-action digital keyboard would be acceptable as a smaller investment for initial music exploration.
After a year of piano study, I recommend investing in either a piano or an 88-key, weighted-action keyboard. Over time, a student’s repertoire grows. This will encourage accurate, physical technique, and the full piano range.
CHECK YOUR SPACE & SURROUNDINGS
A beautiful grand piano brings artistic flair to a large room. Piano playing brings lively fun to the entertainment of guests. Playing piano in the home adds festivity with holiday music. It also fills the home with beloved musical expression year-round.
If you’ve got the space and the budget, no investment brings as much enjoyment to a home. If you don’t have a large space, consider a smaller baby grand, or an upright piano. Playing a real piano offers authenticity. The action of a real piano (how the wooden keys respond to the touch of your fingers) lets the player achieve healthy piano technique. An acoustic piano sends an organic, gorgeous, sound reverberating throughout your home.
For even tighter spaces and budgets, consider an electronic keyboard. An extra advantage of having a digital piano is the use of headphones. This feature allows music practice at any hour without disrupting others.
WHAT’S YOUR STYLE
Consider your personal preferences when choosing the right keyboard. If the touch of a real piano is inspirational for you, buying a piano may be infinitely more satisfying. Traditional classical and jazz repertoire is often preferred played on a real piano.
The popularity of modern music is another point in favor of buying an electronic keyboard. Teens and adults may be more inclined toward digital music production. Digital keyboards open the door to computer-made music.
Using a digital piano and a computer allows you to create music with virtual instruments. In our technology-driven world, much of the future's music-making will be digital-based. This offers opportunities for electronic music-production. Music technology offers opportunities in composing for video games, commercials, film and TV.
HOW BIG IS YOUR BUDGET
When selecting a keyboard, consider your budget now. Weigh that budget against the longevity of the instrument’s life and use. One of the best investments you can make is buying a piano. This is because craftsmanship and longevity add to the value of a piano. The piano's beauty as an aspect of your home decor adds artistic value, too.
If you’re tight on funds or space, start with a smaller digital piano or upright acoustic piano. Consider upgrading a necessity when your music skills progress. Get an instrument that suits your current needs, to last as long as possible, based on what you can afford.
WRAP IT UP
Are you looking to explore contemporary music with a digital piano? Delve into the vast musical repertoire from the traditional masters? Or tread lightly into the first moments of piano learning? Whatever your interest, there is a perfect instrument for you. You will make the best piano keyboard choice for you when you consider your commitment, style, available space, and budget.
How to Find A Good Piano Teacher
Piano Method Books I recommend:
For the Adult
For the Older Beginner
For Young Children
For Very Young Children
CLICK HERE for a list of piano and music-making resources I use and recommend.
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In my PIANO blogs, you'll find ways to overcome boredom, get past musical and mental blocks, explore the creative process with piano, and improve musical progress through piano teacher recommended best practices and effective piano practice tips.