This is a post from double bassist from Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music student Nicholas Hart. Nick will be contributing weekly posts to the bass blog about life as a music student in one of the nation’s most exclusive programs. I think readers will find this different perspective on the double bass world and the music world in general to be quite interesting, and I am looking forward to reading these posts. You will be able to read all of Nick’s contributions under the articles link in the menubar or in the sidebar under contributors. Enjoy!
Sorry for the long absence since the last post but I spent my summer at the Eastern Music Festival (EMF), and my schedule has been quite chaotic. EMF was a great festival, and one of the unique things about it was the faculty to student ratio of 2:1. I was privileged enough to study with Lenny Finkelshteyn, the principal of the North Carolina Symphony and a fantastic player and teacher. He attacked and helped me solve many technical issues that I will talk about in future posts. It was good to interact with a full section of working bass players, as well as bassists of all ages and success levels – some right out of college and some having jobs for 20 years. Another one of the great things at EMF was the many free seminars given by the faculty, one of which was performance anxiety.
Performance anxiety is something that everybody sometime will experience. It is not a question of how it will happen but when, and knowing how to deal with it. Performance anxiety can occur at different times for many people. Some performers only get nervous after performances, some during, and some before. Some even get nervous the next day. To start there are three types of performance anxiety –
- The first is commonly experienced by most people as intense fluttery sensations before a performance, but disappear shortly after the performance begins. This is a normally a positive thing, showing a readiness to perform and the adrenaline is usually beneficial while performing. This can be compared to an athlete getting “pumped up” before playing.
- The second type of performance anxiety is a “reactive anxiety”, which occurs because of a lack of preparation or generally in younger performers who feel the repertoire is beyond their skill level. Increased practice time and performing more frequently can help cure this type of anxiety.
- Finally, the hallmark of performance anxiety is usually associated with signs of physical and emotional discomfort such as sweating, shaking, voice quivering, rapid heart beating and feelings of fear, dread and panic. These sensations can occur frequently throughout a performance and can appear to be debilitating to the performer. This usually occurs because the performer feels that they are being judged negatively by the audience.
Performance anxiety can be debilitating and can put a dent in your career but with some hard work and knowledge, the negative effects of performance anxiety can be turned positive. Some great tips and exercises are to –
- Accept the fear: Allow yourself to work with your anxiety, not against it. Learn to accept your anxiety and harness that anxiety so that it can be related to other emotions needed in the performance.
- Remember to breathe: When we are nervous our muscles contract and our bodies tense up therefore debilitating our abilities and only making ourselves more nervous. It is very important to breathe, and learn how to take deep abdominal breaths, as just one breath can work wonders. A great breathing exercise is to set the metronome at 60bpm and take a deep breath in for three counts while lifting your arms in a circle towards the ceiling, and then exhale for three clicks while bringing them back down – always in a circular motion. Do that about 3 times and then slow down the metronome a couple of clicks and do it again. Eventually your body will calm down, and although the mental nerves might still be there, the physical tension should start to subside.
- Focus and relate to the audience: It is important to stay focused on what you are doing and not “split” your focus to include what the audience is thinking. Common ways to this is by talking to your audience before performing or by involving the audience into your performance.
- Identify and challenge your fearful thoughts: Do not think thoughts such as “I’m going to mess up” or “I am going to blank out and mess up my performance.” Instead ask yourself “what is the worst that can happen” and “how will I handle any mistakes in my performance?”
- Be clear that your performance matters to you: Your performance should be about something you are passionate about. It is important to realize that you are not the know all and end all of a specific piece but that you have a passion that can make a memorable experience for all audience members.
- And remember to be passionate about your topic/performance and share it with others
Nerves are essential to playing. The adrenaline we feel before and while performing is what makes live concerts so interesting. One of my favorite techniques for helping performance anxiety is visualization. Find a comfortable place, whether it be in your home, outside or in a park, and close your eyes and relax. Start by imagining yourself before the performance or audition. Imagine yourself wearing the clothes that you will be wearing, feel the nerves you will feel before performing, then imagine yourself walking onto the stage, taking your seat, adjusting your instrument and warming up or taking your bow. Imagine opening your music or breathing and getting ready to perform. Then imagine playing through the entire piece. Imagine yourself playing all the fingerings and bowings and when done envision yourself standing, taking your bow and walking off the stage. Visualization will not rid you of all nerves, but it will make you familiar with them, and familiarity with nerves is the best way to eventually overcome them.
Remember, nerves are not debilitating to our playing if we accept them and learn to deal with them. Many performers are sidelined because of nerves, but with proper preparation for performing and an understanding of how to relax the body, nerves can be harnessed into adrenaline which makes our performances all the more exciting for the audiences.
Performance anxiety will always be there, but the more experienced of a performer you become, the better you will be able to handle it. Eventually, performing will become fun and you will start to enjoy connecting with your audience.
About the Author
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Related Posts from Nick:
- Contemporary Conservatory Life
- Mock Auditions
- Academic Loads
- Sound and Motion in Bass Playing
- Mental Aspects of Double Bass Playing
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