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 started 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! When I played piano on stage, my right leg and foot shook like a hyper-active sewing machine pedal.
Performing as a vocalist was similar. My heart would 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.
The following suggestions worked well for me. I wound up as a professional solo pianist/vocalist for 25 years! I taught and spoke in various capacities 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 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 by frequent performance 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 without stopping. Later, watch or listen to your performance for tips on sections where you may have tripped up.
Analyze why. Revisiting your performance as a spectator is also a great way to evaluate your practice routine! Making mistakes is usually due to a lack of thorough preparation.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
This leads to my second suggestion. Prepare well.
In hindsight, most of my nerves were due to a lack of confidence in my performance because I had simply not prepared well enough. I tackled that aspect with a vengeance in my practice routine, determined to master every note of my performance.
I intently focused on practicing any particular section where I did not feel fully confident. When nervous, I’d lose it on those sections! I practiced enough to memorize every detail of a piece. I went after any section with gusto where I was even slightly unsure. I practiced this way until I knew the music inside and out!
I NEVER relied solely on finger memory for my performance. I made sure to memorize everything. That included the key, scale, harmonic analysis, form, melodic phrasing, fingering, dynamics, patterns, etc. If I did not know the piece thoroughly inside my mind away from the instrument, I knew I was unprepared to perform it.
I visualized myself in the specific performance scenario. Even better if I could practice in the performance venue. Being in the performance venue eliminated the element of surprise and created a familiarity (back to ‘desensitizing’).
I practiced performing while envisioning it as the real performance, with as much detail as possible. I imagined the people there, the color of the walls, the lighting, the aromas, my piano, the stage. I believed the audience loved my performance. I especially envisioned feeling confident, enjoying the music, and performing successfully.
I practiced this kind of visualization while repeatedly playing the music 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, my nerves indicated my ego. If I focused on judging my musical ability, I knew I was distracted by vanity or ego. Ego or vanity is 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 with the 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 achieve the task of sharing the positive 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 strategy 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
Nerves naturally speed up your heart rate. Nerves can cause physical tension. Countering this natural state with focused breathing puts your body back under your control.
Breathing deeply and slowly before and during a performance helps lower your stress and calm nerves. Being aware of your breath also helps you control the tempo of your piano performance. Slowing your breath also puts you in touch with your physical connection to the piano and aids mindfulness.
Even a seemingly negative thing like nervousness can become positive when you direct it. View your nerves as a 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 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!
Thank you for showing your love of my content with a LIKE or by sharing this blog with others.
My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 1
My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 2
My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 3
What Do You Need To Know, Have, Or Do To Begin Piano?
Find A Good Piano Teacher
Your Top 5 Best Tips From A Piano Teacher
More Tips On Handling Stage-Fright Featured In Dawn Iver's Piano Teaching Blog Here.
What’s The Best Way For A Busy Adult To Learn Piano?
What Keyboard Do I Need For Successful Piano Lessons?
How Learning Piano Benefits Aging Adults
What To Do About Piano Practice When You Have An Injury
DEVELOPING PIANO TECHNIQUE
TIPS FOR LEFT & RIGHT HAND COORDINATION
COMPOSING FOR PIANO
What Should You Do If You Keep Messing Up At The Piano?
Belief In Your Own Creative Vision
Keep Looking For Moments Like These To Celebrate & Appreciate
How To Use Nature To Reinvigorate Your Spirit
by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
If you follow my piano practice blog series, you know my strategy for how you should spend time at the piano for the most effective progress.
If you missed those, check out: My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 1, My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 2 & My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 3, where I walk you through my effective piano practice strategy in detail.
Continuing in your piano practice routine, you should practice each goal in this manner (as described in previous blogs above) for as long as you can muster your fully focused effort. Repeat the same practice process with your next goal. Aim for successfully playing through several times in a row.
Stop if you make a mistake. Stop when you lose mental concentration. Remind yourself of your selected goal and reset back to the start.
If you become unable to keep your mind on things after a while or continue making the same mistakes, it may be time for a change. Now you must learn What To Do If You Keep Messing Up At The Piano!
Starting anew without success after multiple attempts means you are either; a) doing something to block your progress or b) you need a break to refresh yourself. If you simply did not achieve your goal, in addition to stopping and returning to the beginning, you must change your approach.
Take A Closer Look At The Problem
When I choose a specific practice goal but continue having problems getting through the music successfully, I take a step back. By that I mean to take a closer look at the problem section. Analyze the trouble spot, looking for clues about what is tripping you up. Analyzing sometimes reveals a less obvious practice goal you must focus on before moving on to your previously selected goal. In other words, you have taken on too much at once. Bite off only what you can chew, one morsel at a time.
How do you find the trouble to know what to practice? Ask yourself questions relevant to your music and piano playing level. If you are a beginner, you may ask;
If you are more advanced, you must ask questions relative to your level, too.
Troubleshooting As A Target
These are simply examples of questions. Look at your music specifically to break things down, one issue or item at a time, deducing where, within the music, you are one-hundred percent confident you mastered each aspect of your analysis.
When you find a point where you are struggling to focus or answer a question, you have found a trouble spot! An effective piano practice routine constantly involves this kind of reflection and then zeroing in to practice only that section or areas that cause any issues.
How you spend your mental energy during your piano practice session determines what you accomplish in piano progress. When you push yourself to be more conscientious of each moment and every phrase of your musical assignments, you will reap huge rewards with advancement as a musician.
But what if you have gone through this intense effort and you are still having issues? I know how frustrating that may be, but two solutions usually resolve any trouble areas.
Play It Slower, Sam
Most commonly, the solution to the problem is a slower tempo. Your next best step would be to stay focused on your initial goal but play through your musical section at a much-reduced speed. Playing music at a slower than usual tempo is often the most challenging kind of practice.
Most people think that fast is impressive. Quite the opposite is true. The ability to play fast can be spectacular. But, often piano players of fast musical passages easily find themselves falsely relying on physical muscle memory. As mentioned earlier, this is like a fragile house of cards!
Sometimes you make the mistake of relying solely on your muscle memory to play through musical passages. But that kind of false scaffolding is stripped away when you slow the tempo.
Practicing at a slow tempo forces us to use our cognitive skills and tune in to refine our kinesthetic senses. This intensely focused practice can feel like having the training wheels of a bicycle removed. We start off wobbly and lacking confidence or balance.
When you slow the tempo, you allow yourself enough space in your brain to be fully mindful of each practice goal, whether it is the notes, rhythm, fingering, dynamics, or all these combined. Play slowly enough you can completely master each aspect of the music. Be focused on whichever goals you have chosen to practice. You will gradually come away from piano practice with a deeper internal and physical grasp of the music.
But playing music that is familiar to us at a deliberately slower tempo can also cause us to trip up. Making mistakes is, even more, the basis for the argument to slow your playing tempo. Thoroughly choose and focus on one practice goal at a time until you master each one of your selected goals.
Underwater Slow Motion Effect
One of the biggest problems with slowing down is that you have developed bad habits of playing at a tempo too fast. This tempo sticks in your aural memory as well as your physical muscles. The aforementioned makes for another challenging barrier to get through. Avoid developing additional barriers by practicing slow enough that you can mentally focus.
Look at your music through a new lens. Go to the extreme with your imagination. Pretend you are playing through the musical phrase as if you are in an underwater film scene using a slow-motion effect.
Yes. That slow. Play intentionally and dramatically slower than the slowest tempo you can feel. Exaggerate your slowest tempo.
If you find it hard to keep the beat at that new tempo, set the metronome at the most ridiculously slowest tempo you can feel. Play the music along with the metronome. If necessary, count aloud before you play, first clapping out or tapping the rhythm on your legs. Then, using the metronome, play through the musical selection with this tempo.
Once you can sense the steady beat of this willfully chosen slow speed, go back through the passage following your effective piano practice routine. Stop if you make a mistake or lose mental concentration. Aim again to play at this slow tempo correctly three times in a row.
Discovering Your Musical Weaknesses
Playing slowly in this manner will reveal problem areas you had not discovered while playing at a faster tempo. Even better, playing slowly will allow you to more deeply and solidly master previously chosen practice goals. This kind of practice brings you much more quickly to the cognitive engagement necessary for lasting piano progress.
Why? Because you are finally going slow enough to allow yourself fully conscious and consistent thinking toward your chosen practice goals. You may have thought you already surpassed this level of practice at your faster tempo. But the majority of the time, practicing at a slow tempo will take you further and, ironically, faster in piano progress.
What To Do If You Keep Messing Up At The Piano
If you cannot keep your mind on things after a while, it may be time for a break. You cannot sustain prolonged and intensely concentrated effort for long. Especially if you just started using this piano practice technique.
When you hit a plateau, lose your ability to pay attention to your set goals, or repeatedly make mistakes, it is perfectly normal and advisable to take a break. Your brain needs a moment to refresh.
You could choose to play through something without concentrating, just for the enjoyment of it. Choose something at a much easier sight-reading level, a previously mastered piece, or improvise for the sheer fun of it.
Play It Again, Sam
After you take a short break, try again with renewed determination. You may find a burst of energy that helps you continue your intentional, slow-tempo practice. You may already notice a degree of improvement, fluency, muscle recall, or musicality emerging! Incremental progress is a fabulous experience, bringing a joyful sense of accomplishment and newfound confidence as a piano player.
Enjoy that! It will keep happening, again and again, each time you challenge yourself to give your all mentally to your piano practice sessions.
If you experience the opposite, cannot play without making errors, or can no longer focus on the practice goal at a slow tempo, you may need to leave the piano for a change of pace, scenery, a meal, drink, or even rest.
CELEBRATE YOUR VICTORY
Celebrate and acknowledge your efforts no matter what! Each day, each hour, each moment that you aim to forge your complete focus on piano practice in the way I described in this series is an incredible accomplishment! You make progress step by step, sometimes without realizing until you look back and see how far you have come in your musical skills!
I would love to hear from you. It means a lot to me that my content is helpful. Please take a moment to join the conversation below to let me know if this blog is helpful or if you have questions or suggestions!
If you are a piano teacher, please feel free to leave one of your favorite piano practice tips in the comment section!
Annnnnd...if you loved this blog, don't forget to show your awesome support by sharing/liking/retweeting the link! Subscribe for more updates!
by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
🎹 I have exciting news for piano learners or those interested in playing the piano! Check out my ebook, Start Piano: What You Need For Successful Learning.
I am excited my ebook is now available for purchase directly from my website! This is the perfect gift for anyone interested in piano playing!
I created this valuable resource for those who:
My ebook is a practical, down-to-earth, all-in-one resource and easy-to-read guide for anyone interested in getting started or returning to piano lessons.
Want to know if this is the right book for you, your family, or a musical friend?
Here is an excerpt from the introduction of my ebook,
“Throughout my 30-year music and piano teaching career, I have been asked the same questions repeatedly by those interested in playing the piano. Beginner to intermediate piano students asked me these same questions again and again.
Even advanced players, lacking a foundation of good practice habits, and frustrated with how to pierce through a plateau or further progress in piano, exhibited a need to learn piano practice basics. Many of these piano learners did not lack piano skills. They were stumped by repeated mistakes or by their inability to breakthrough musical barriers. They simply did not know how to practice piano effectively for consistent progress.
In my experience with private lessons, small groups, and in-classroom school music classes, all my students and their parents or guardians had the same need for answers to these questions about successful piano learning. I combined their biggest concerns and most recurring inquiries in Start Piano: What You Need For Successful Learning ebook.
As a pianist and composer of piano-based music, I know well the rich benefits and joy of piano playing. The issues piano learners face and their desire to get started, return to, or keep pressing on to reap the rewards of piano progress, motivates me to provide this content. I offer help for piano learners to keep breaking through to new levels of piano performance.
Though I wrote blogs on these topics, many have expressed continued interest in starting piano or more successful piano practice results. My ebook (as well as my upcoming ebook, My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Effectively) provides answers to these persistent questions in an organized, convenient way. I hope my books are helpful to those seeking successful, consistent momentum for piano progress.
You get all the basics you need about successfully starting piano lessons. You will learn how to find a quality instrument, piano method, whether you need and how to find a good piano teacher, whether online tools for piano learning are valuable, what you need for a successful start to piano-learning, and how to maintain continued piano progress.
I hope this ebook provides the answers you seek and helps you successfully begin or continue your musical journey with enjoyable, confident, forward-moving piano advancement.”
My new ebook is the perfect gift:
WHAT READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT MY EBOOK:
"What a great resource for potential piano parents to have."
~-Krista Schupbach, PIANO TEACHER
"A great book that will inspire many people to take up piano lessons. It inspires me to continue playing and composing. Many people [will want] to start piano studies after reading [this] ebook. Looking forward to [the author's] next ebook."
--Alex Dawson, RETIRED PIANO TEACHER
"Excellent e-book! EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE STARTING PIANO. There is just about everything you can think in [this ebook] like a bible of what you should know. I also enjoyed previous articles and links from [YourCreativeChord.com] blog -- which only strengthens [the author] as an authority on piano. Great job!"
--Joshua Sohn, FILM & GAME COMPOSER
"Genuinely, this is a good resource and a reassuring one to someone coming at the piano with some trepidation, intimidation, or wondering, Am I too old to start?"
--Tracie Callahan, COMPOSER, MUSIC EDUCATOR
Tips For Adults Who Want To Learn Piano
by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
In my quest to see if what I’ve learned in 30+ years as a pianist and piano teacher is in sync with other piano teachers and pianists, I’ve checked out Facebook piano groups. This is where I engaged in a thread on piano practice with hobbyist piano player, Tommy Doyle, of Manchester, United Kingdom.
Doyle’s website is where he shares his journey as someone who studied piano in his youth, left it behind for many years due to ‘adulting,’ then returned to the piano as a hobby. His blog offers his insights on how to approach learning piano while juggling the working adult’s non-music-related daily responsibilities.
Although not a piano teacher, hearing from Doyle’s personal journey with striving to fit in his love for piano minus the hyper-ambition of a classical piano career gets at the heart of what many aspiring pianists want to know.
I asked Doyle five questions that are useful for those wanting to progress at piano playing. The first sentence of his first answer hit the essence of my philosophy and teaching strategy for effective piano progress.
YCC: What are your top piano practice tips for beginners?
DOYLE: My top tip for anybody wanting to learn to play piano is to learn how to practice piano.
This might seem a self-evident thing to say, however, the reality seems to be that many of us never learn the art of practicing. In my experience, we often find intuitive ways of doing things and in these cases if we just repeat a few times, we soon acquire a new skill. However, when we don’t find that intuitive means, we have to find a way to learn a new skill. This is where practice techniques play a big part. If you’re unable to do something, then just repeating it incorrectly isn’t going to help. I found a couple of really useful resources in this respect that I’ve talked about numerous times on my blog.
YCC: Doyle specifically recommends the Practicing The Piano ebook series by pianist/educator, Graham Fitch. Fitch is highly qualified as a graduate of London’s Royal College Of Music who continued his piano studies in the USA on a Fulbright Scholarship, and travels as a performing pianist and lecturer on piano and music.
I haven’t personally used Fitch’s series, but on first glance at the preview on Amazon, some of his top tips for practicing include; choosing a specific fingering, attention to practice only correct notes or rhythms, isolating hands separately before playing hands together, choosing a slow tempo for new repertoire, and using soft dynamics for a loud section.
Each of these methods is something I’ve used myself and in teaching others, and resonates with my teaching and practicing approach to focus on mastering one goal at a time, and to eliminate practicing mistakes robotically.
Doyle especially likes the ebooks for their direct links to audio and video demonstrations as part of the piano learning process. This is in sync with both how my piano teachers taught me, and my approach as a piano teacher to model for students so they may grasp concepts aurally, physically and visually. Today’s online capabilities can be a useful source of help for piano students.
For more information on the series, Doyle himself reviewed it here.
YCC: What are the basics you recommend for someone who wants to begin learning piano?
DOYLE: I highly recommend that anybody start by getting a teacher. I’m not saying you can’t teach yourself with sufficient research and trial and error, with the myriad of resources now available online. It’s definitely possible.
However, I think there’s an absolutely massive learning curve at the beginning (depending on your starting point). Not only is there the issue of actually playing the instrument, there’s also the question of learning to read music. Finding a good teacher to get you over these two massive initial hurdles is to my mind a well worthwhile investment.
A teacher is there to help you master the very basics - how to sit at the piano, how to hold your hands, how to play the notes. You teacher can also explain what those odd dots on the page actually mean and give strategies for absorbing the ability to translate these into notes at the piano.
A good teacher will also help you get to grips with lots of the basics you need; Scales, Arpeggios, 5-finger exercises and the like. Learning how to do these well gives you the absolute essential building blocks for the rest. Your teacher will also help you with choices of pieces (music repertoire) to learn that are both within your grasp but also in terms of styles of music you enjoy.
YCC: What are your thoughts on online learning for piano?
DOYLE: I’m a firm believer that we should embrace the possibilities that the new online world offers us. Starting with YouTube, there is an enormous wealth of quality tutorials for people of all levels.
YCC: Doyle has his favorite channels, but mentions the importance of checking into the background experience of videos to confirm credentials of expertise. He recommends Josh Wright, who is both well known on YouTube, has a doctorate in piano, and is an experienced teacher.
Doyle doesn’t use apps himself, but “as a supplement to a proper teacher, I’d imagine they’re a great extra source of learning and certainly a very fun way to approach piano. Of course, claims that you can go from ‘beginner to pro in no time’ are total nonsense.”
Doyle quotes Vladimir Horowitz (considered the king of classical piano) the piano is “the easiest instrument to learn in the beginning and the hardest to master in the end.”
YCC: Do you have any technology you’d recommend for piano students?
DOYLE: Technology is one of my pet subjects. I even created a category on my blog for this. What I find amazing even now is the absolutely amazing ways technology can be used by pianists now.
I have an iPad Pro that I use as an integral part of my piano routine. This one piece of technology has replaced my need for sheet music (I download directly to my iPad), for a metronome (I use a free a metronome app).
I keep my practice diary on it. I use it to record my practice so I can self critique. It’s pretty much always on my piano music stand. You can use it for things such as streaming music services, watching YouTube videos, reading magazines, the list goes on. You can even record your own orchestra into your computer and play along.
I think that sometimes we more ‘mature’ learners fail to embrace what technology makes possible and stick with the ‘old way’. It’s a bit like my dad, who refuses to use a SatNav (GPS), just because he’s never used one and, on that basis, would never need one.
It’s not about whether we need something, but about whether it makes what we’re trying to do easier. If technology can make things easier, then why not embrace it?
When I used to play piano publicly, I needed to carry two massive plastic bags of music around with me with all sorts of photocopies and creased and wrinkled books. Now, on my iPad, I have all of my music organised, with the added advantage that I can search and find a piece in seconds rather than needing to sift through a lot of paper.
YCC: What are your thoughts on time and schedule routine for piano practice?
Doyle shares that reading Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible by Alan Rusbridger inspired him to create his weekday before-work practice routine. He says he gets up an hour earlier in the morning so he can practice.
DOYLE: I found that before I started doing this I had two major problems. The first was that it was always in the back of my mind that I still needed to fit in my practice at some point. Secondly, work would frequently take over, and by the time I actually got home from work I was too tired to sit down at the piano.
My practice routine before was pretty much sitting and randomly working through things, which quite often was not actually making me any better.
YCC: Doyle says his research into piano practice taught him the importance of having a proper plan. He says having defined goals and strategies for every practice session is a “real game changer.”
Doyle emphasizes that “piano is an amazing hobby open to anybody. It’s definitely a lot of hard work, but the rewards are more than worth it.”
Click here to read more about Doyle’s approach to piano practice.
I’d love to hear from you. It means a lot to me that my content is helpful and empowers you. Please take a moment to join the conversation below to let me know if this blog is helpful to you, or if you have questions or suggestions!
If you’re a piano teacher, feel free to leave one of your favorite piano practice tips in the comment section!
Annnnnd...if you loved this blog don't forget to show your awesome support by Liking the link, Subscribing for more updates and adding your comment below!
THANK YOU FOR SHARING this with a friend on social media or email!
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.