Updated: May 27
It's crazy how quickly time has flown by. This is the final post of my 8-part series about my efforts to learn how to better manage performance anxiety. You have missed any of the other posts, you can click on these links to catch up: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.
Why Again Did I Start This Project?
As with most people, I suffer from performance anxiety. It's something that's been with me my entire life, ingrained into my even earliest musical experiences. I've always had high (often unreasonably high) expectations for myself, and fear that I wouldn't or couldn't live up to those expectations made performing a nightmare for many years. My high expectations turned otherwise mild nerves into severe anxiety, and unfortunately in high school, I developed a severe panic disorder that affected all areas of my life.
Thankfully, I am several years free from the clutches of chronic, daily panic attacks, and performing is something I now look forward to. The only issue is I still struggle with situations where my skills are showcased on their own. I don't suffer panic-attack levels of anxiety, but I have found that the performances I give in auditions, recitals, and juries are held back trepidation and anxiety more so than those I give as part of a group.
Finding adequate help for this has been difficult. Many people, even the ones who do their best to offer advice, aren't trained to help musicians cope with the unique challenges of high-level performance, so I've had to do a lot of exploration on my own to learn solid anxiety-management skills.
I've also noticed that no one ever seems to talk about performance anxiety, despite it being such a ubiquitous issue in the lives of musicians. I hope these posts will encourage other people to do their own exploration and eventually share their own experiences, too.
What Did I Accomplish?
Before I started writing this post, I was doubting that I had actually achieved anything. I did some thinking and realized that not to be the case...
Here are the main takeaways;
I learned/refined some performance anxiety management strategies. I initially said I would try something new every week, drawing from the things written in the Don Greene books and a Juilliard performance success manual. I ended up not trying 8 discrete techniques, but instead, I spent most of my time developing centering skills, finding a persona, and improving practice time.
I reframed my incessant perfectionism into something more realistic/productive. I finally found it in me to accept that mistakes are inevitable, a good performance is never a perfect one, being wrong doesn't necessarily make you an idiot (although I'm never wrong), performance anxiety is normal, and that what I can do now is enough, etc. Freeing myself from these thoughts has made performing much less daunting, and my mind feels more at ease.
I improved the quality of my practice time. I started doing this last year when I was in a period of slow progress, but for this project, I really put more effort into making sure my time on the bass was used as effectively as possible. I read a bunch of articles and I learned the value of engaging multiple memory types in the practice room so you have plenty of safety nets during a performance.
I found a good pre-performance routine. This involves spending 20-30 minutes (if possible) alone just to "get in the zone." Before I play, I center myself, remember my persona, and focus on whatever will best guide my performance- usually a keyword or the tempo.
I filled out my performance anxiety checklists. For some reason, I only have 6 checklists filled out even though I definitely did more than 6 performances. Either way, there is an overall positive trend in how I ranked myself on each sheet.
I never mentioned it any of the other posts, but early in this project, I got to play in a masterclass for Diana Gannett. This was a fairly high-pressure situation and I think I handled it well. This was one of the first triumphs I experienced during these 8 weeks.
And here's a quick rundown of each week:
Week 1: Developed the project outline and decided to step way out of my comfort zone and do it.
Week 2: Gave my first performance, read some books, and decided to start working on centering again.
Week 3: Visualization was the focus of the week. I also performed again but with little improvement from last week.
Week 4: Coronavirus shutdown, learned that recording is a good substitute for live performance, in my case. Attacked the unproductive thought processes.
Week 5: Finally felt like I made a significant improvement in performance. More thought process work, kept on using centering whenever I played.
Week 6: This performance was not good at all. I tried to take the feeling of taking two steps back and frame it into a chance to learn from my mistakes.
Week 7: Learned from my mistakes and gave a good performance. Dove further into different practice methods and ways of simulating performance.
Week 8: Lots of reflection and some casual performances. Finally started a Youtube channel and made this video:
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For The Future
Halfway through this project, most of the US went on preventative shutdown due to the coronavirus. All of my gigs and classes were canceled, and suddenly completing this project became a lot more difficult. Since I couldn't perform for people, I had to substitute recordings for actual performances, and I played more for my friends and professor than I initially expected to. I decided that I am going to revisit this project in the future once life gets back to normal, but in the meantime, I am going to keep working on the techniques that I have learned over the past 8 weeks.
Today, my professor also told me that he has seen an improvement in areas that were previously an issue for me, most notably with retaining and quickly recalling information. Since I started everything 8 weeks ago, I have noticed something similar. Developing the tools to find the appropriate headspace and trust myself under pressure has worked wonders not just with playing bass, but with other areas of music and life, too.
And finally, I learned that I am probably never going to totally rid myself of performance anxiety. The best I can do is learn to embrace the nerves, and ultimately, channel them to my benefit.
I don't know where the last 8 weeks (6 months) have gone, but I'm happy with the progress that I experienced. I learned a lot, got very uncomfortable, and ultimately came out the other end a more confident musician.
If you enjoyed this post or found it helpful at all, please consider sharing or subscribing to my email list and my Youtube channel! Also, check out some of the other parts of this series or some of my other articles!
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