You are standing there, well-prepared, looking sharp in your suite, ready to do your job as a trumpeter. You got the piccolo trumpet valves all oiled up, the “Trumpet Voluntary” sheet music is on your music stand and everything is set up for perfection…
…the organist gives the nod that it is time to start…
…Your hands are shaky and wet but your mouth is dry….you feel dizzy. It’s your best friends wedding, the most important day of her life, everyone is recording the event with their smartphones and YOU…you don’t want to f*ck it up and so…
…you take a deep breath and, NO actually, you take a shallow breath and…
…completely miss the first note and the second and third note does not sound at all. The rest of the trumpet solo sounds shaky and you struggle with the intonation.
After the trumpet solo is over and you put the trumpet sheet music in your gig bag the shame sets in and you are, mercilessly, attacked and belittled by your A.N.T (automatic negative thoughts)
— I call myself a trumpeter? I’m a joke!…Why do I keep pretending to even be a musician? I should give it all up and let the REAL musicians do the trumpet playing…Damn it, I need a beer! —
On and on it goes and each negative emotion feeds the next one and it all happens very fast.
- First you get nervous.
- Then you get angry and disappointed about the fact that you always have to be nervous.
- THEN you recognize that being angry with your self is bad for the self-esteem and…
- You then get upset for having being angry at your self because you were nervous.
Oh boy! Being a trumpeter is not always easy but It’s all kind of humorous when looking at it from the side isn’t it? …How to overcome performance anxiety???
You are not alone with this problem!
Most of us have been in that exact same situation. Well perhaps not exactly, with the piccolo trumpet and the wedding gig, but at least in a very similar situation…
…whether it has to do with performing a musical instrument, performance anxiety in bed, having anxiety before and during public speaking or even a social situation one finds uncomfortable, performance anxiety sucks and most often puts a serious dent in our ability to do a good job.
So how to overcome stage fright???
I’m going to give my advice in two parts:
- Physical and practical tips
- Psychological/mental tips
How to overcome stage fright -Practical Tips-
- Do not drink coffee or any other caffeinated beverages prior to the gig
- Do not drink any alcohol at all two days before the trumpet solo
- Do not let your blood sugar levels be on it’s way down prior to or during the performance.
- Drink a glass of water 1-2 minutes before you start playing your trumpet solo.
What’s the deal with the blood sugar then?
Depending on what you eat the blood sugar is going to rise and then, after some time, come back down again. As it should.
Here’s the deal:
When the blood sugar is on it’s way up. Everything is fine and dandy but, depending on how high and how fast it spiked, it is going to come crashing down. This is where we are more prone to nervousness, irritability, anxiety, brain fog etc.
This is because our reptialian brain is still living in the “cave man” era and when the blood sugar drops the brain interprets that as a potential danger, (starvation), putting the “alarm system” in the brain on higher allert, and again, making us much more prone to anxiety, panic and nervousness.
Water is the opposite…
…When the reptilian brain senses water, a vital substance for survival, it naturally calms down a bit because it thinks it has it’s shit together for the time beeing at least.
What to do about the blood sugar issue?
There are a few options:
- Personally I like to fast the whole day until after my trumpet solo is over however if you are not use to fasting or intermittent fasting I do not recommend this. That is because the first time you try fasting you are likely to feel a bit weak. You could “practice” it a few days when not having a gig to get use to it. You can read about intermittent fasting here.
- Eat a LCHF diet. Again this is NOT something I recommend if you are not use to it. If you get use to it though it has some serious calming effects since it both eliminates the blood sugar crashes AND increase the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain. (That neurotransmitter is responsible for relaxation and slows everything down. In a good way)
- Eat LOW GI foods on the same day the gig day. This is something I can recommend for everyone. No need to get use to it and it helps eliminate the aggressive blood sugar spikes and that makes the “come down” more gentle. When in doubt, go for this tip!
If you don’t want to try any of these above examples then simply make sure you eat something 20 minutes prior to the gig so that your blood sugar levels are on their way UP when you are performing instead of trying to play when they are crashing down. But be careful: If you happen to have to perform later than you thought…this will backfire big time!
How to overcome performance anxiety -Mental Tips-
Our brain often responds to our visualizations like it would to the real life. So, imagining your performance can be a good technique to get ready. Picture yourself successfully playing your trumpet solo or your part. Try to invoke the feelings of confidence associated with it and integrate your senses into the visualization. Repeat this visualization many times and try to make it as detailed as possible.
Practice makes perfect… and practice also makes more relaxed performers. The more you play in public, the better you’ll learn to deal with your stage fright. However, there are a few caveats here. If you consistently engage in performances that make you anxious or have high stakes, you might inadvertently reinforce the anxiety. Practice a lot, but start with low-stakes environments. Try playing in situations where there is an audience, but that would not have a serious impact on your reputation or your career. This will help you ease into public performance and reduce anxiety as you get more comfortable performing in public and even as you see that mistakes don’t lead to catastrophic consequences.
- Make a point of making mistakes
Speaking of mistakes, it’s important to allow yourself to make mistakes. This can reduce the pressure you feel and make your stage fright significantly less. When you allow yourself to make mistakes, you create a state of mind that is more relaxed and open to learning. If you have a true phobia against mistakes, set mistakes quotas for yourself! Don’t stop practicing until you’ve made at least 30-50 mistakes. This attitude changes the way we view our errors.
Meditation is not a short-term strategy but a long-term one. Practicing meditation can help you gain more control over your inner states and practice a deep state of relaxation that can reduce stage fright. The more you practice this, the more benefits you reap and the more you can control your emotional and mental states and this makes it a powerful tool how to overcome performance anxiety.
- Address your ideas
Often, our stage fright comes from ideas that we have about our performance. For example, if you think “Everyone will hate me”, it will make you feel far more anxious before you go on stage. Consider the beliefs that contribute to your stage fright. Write them down on a sheet of paper and consider them critically. Are these ideas true, realistic, factual? Are they exaggerated? Why do they matter to you? Which alternative ideas about your performance and remember to challenge the ideas you see as irrational or harmful.
- Focus on the process
When stage fright takes over, you become focused on the results of your performance. Are you following your trumpet sheet music exactly? Are you getting it absolutely right? Are you being the best trumpeter you can be? This type of pressure can be hugely distracting. Try to focus on the process. When you play, enjoy the playing. Focus on the process step by step rather than on the results. This can significantly help reduce stage fright.
Overall, stage fright is very common and some people totally overcome their fear of performing, with the help of the many effective strategies I just wrote about, or just because they get use to performing. For others, however, the question “How to overcome stage fright?” might perhaps not be the best question to ask. For myself, and many others, it is a matter of learning how to deal with it to the best of our abilities and you know what?…
…that’s perfectly OK!