Gareth Montanarello

Managing Performance Anxiety: Part 6

Updated: May 13, 2020

Finding ways to get comfortable performing while simultaneously being quarantined is very strange, especially as the playing opportunities that were so readily available 3 weeks ago are gone for the foreseeable future.

If this is your first time reading one of my posts, I have been writing an 8-part series on my journey to become a more comfortable performer under pressure. This is part 6, but you can read parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 here.

My Performance This Week

Two-steps backwards...

The performance I gave this week wasn't great. I played two non-standard excerpts for my professor- the first page of John Harbison's Symphony No. 3 and a chunk of the third scene of Richard Strauss' Salome. I picked these excerpts because of their inherent difficulties in rhythm and bow control. I'm also on another opera/20th century music kick, so this an excuse to study some rep I rarely (never) get to play. I'll write about those in a future blog post but for now, back to the performance...

I attribute my poor playing to 2 things:

  1. I didn't do much to center before I played.

  2. More importantly, I didn't do enough to internalize these challenging excerpts during my practice sessions last week.

Effective Practice

Before I played, I obviously should have done something, but in hindsight, I'm glad I did nothing. I was feeling overly confident because I had played the excerpts well a handful of times, but I had done little to learn the music at a profound level. Once the (relatively mild) nerves kicked in, pretty much all semblance of solid tempo and good rhythm flew out the window, and my bowings and intonation weren't far behind.

I recently started reading some articles from UA viola professor Molly Gebrian. She has a background in neuroscience, and her articles on memorization and effective practice have given me things to consider on my journey to becoming a more effective performer. Her writing on the importance of engaging multiple forms of memory was especially eye-opening.

When I played the excerpts, I was relying too heavily on my memory of how the music should sound, so when anxiety inevitably obscured that memory, I had no other reference to draw from. I have learned this lesson in the past, and I try to integrate techniques such as chunking and random recall into all of my practice sessions. I didn't do that this week...

Here are a few of the things I want to do before my next performance:

Time Guru it all its glory.

1. Internalize everything time-related. These are consistently the first things to go when I audition. Having the metronome click on every beat isn't enough for internalization, so I'm going to enlist the help of this new app I found called "Time Guru." It randomly drops beats (i.e. you have to keep the time) and lets you program complex time-signature changes, which will be perfect for the 20th-century rep I want to play.

2. Memorize the bowings on only open strings. Bowings are usually the next thing to go after time. It's surprisingly difficult to play the correct bowings without any left-hand input, so this will be a good challenge that will get things internalized. I'm also going to do this with dynamics since dynamics change variables such as bow weight, speed, etc.

3. Learn the music at significantly different tempos (or tempi if you are somehow more pretentious than me). I have lost count of the number of times I have walked into an audition and started an excerpt at a tempo wildly different than the one I intended. Doing this will add an extra layer of security and confidence that I can fall back on in those times.

4. Think of and remember my cue words. I've talked about this in past articles. Having a character/cue word in mind before I start accurately guides a lot of my technical movements.

Admittedly, most of what I just wrote doesn't seem to be explicitly related to anxiety management- it's all practice tips. However, having a solid set of recovery points and memory paths to rely upon during the unpredictabilities of performance will surely help reduce my anxiety, especially when paired with all the other techniques I have been working on.

I keep posting these Don Greene interviews, but they have been helpful to me and I want to support the bass community:


Spending time to diagnose some weaknesses in practice routines was very helpful. Next week will be the final part of this series before I do a big accumulative post to sum up everything I have learned and the progress I have made. If you enjoyed this post or found it helpful at all, please consider sharing or subscribing to my email list to stay updated on future posts!

Try out my 31 Day Scale Challenge!

Other Parts of the Series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

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