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Creating a Calm Mental State While Playing

I’ve suffered from stage fright, ever since I was 8 years old. Even at that young age, I would begin to shake and turn cold the morning of a performance. Thoughts of failure, criticism, and disappointment would pervade my mind until after I had performed. Then afterwards, all that awaited me was regret and disappointment. Of course, everyone around me wanted to help. So, each time a recital would come around there would be another opportunity to try out one of the stage fright strategies that had been prescribed to me. Unfortunately, each time I tried pretending that no one was in the room, that I was playing with a great violinist, or thinking positive thoughts, the same nervous thought patterns and behaviors would take complete control over the situation.

What I realize now, is that those strategies (or any of the countless others) did not work because I was incapable of properly implementing them. Like most people, when I was exposed to high stress situations my body would go in to a panic mode in which I would rely heavily on habits that were more for self-preservation and less for violin playing. These patterns included excessive tightening through my whole system but especially in my neck, back, and arms. This tightening caused me to shake, interfered with my circulation, and created uneven clumsy technique.

Change came when I decided to take Alexander Technique lessons in college. These lessons helped me understand, that in order to create a calm mental state while performing, one needs to build an awareness and conscious control of their habitual behaviors while practicing.

I learned quickly that stage fright like any other behavior was built in to my playing while practicing. Even though I wouldn’t shake while practicing, I noticed that manifestations of nervous behavior like, not breathing properly, being excessively tight, or fidgeting were common place in my playing. Under the stress of performance these behaviors would become seemingly insurmountable nuisances.

Once I realized this I began tackling the small nervous habits I had in my playing by first analyzing them, inhibiting the habitual response that caused the habits, and then worked through those habits by making subtle indirect adjustments to my thought processes or body posture. The extensive nature of this process is too much to discuss here but if you would like to know more about what I did to remove nervous habits from my playing please check out any one of my blogs.

What is critical about understanding this process is that even though my stage fright has gotten better it is a constant work in progress. Each time I approach a piece I want to be aware of the mental state I am engaging the piece in and what small technical habits like, exaggerated tension, could cause nervous mistakes while performing.

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