by Viviana Guzman
When I first started performing, I used to be a nervous wreck. The day I was supposed to play in a Masterclass for Jean-Pierre Rampal, at the age of 15, I broke out in canker sores in my mouth and hives on my arms. While I was playing, I felt my whole body shake as I was playing and my fingers were tiny balls over nerves.
Since I knew from the beginning that I wanted to perform around the world, I made it a point to figure out why the nerves, and more importantly, how to overcome the jitters.
Meditation for Performers
Later that year after my experience performing for Rampal, I was attending the Aspen Music Festival and I saw a sign that read, “Meditation for Performers”. I immediately enrolled. This class changed me forever. I am a huge promoter in using focused Meditation to get over stage fright as well as to get focused on inner goals. I was taught the importance to see yourself playing through the concert or audition, imagining the whole day from the moment you wake up in the morning. I was encouraged every night, before going to sleep, to “play through” in my mind’s eye the concert or audition.
Keeping a meditation practice, also aids in increasing focus, which is the goal of every musician. To this day, I practice meditation every day as way of fine tuning my goals and focus.
It was in this Meditation for Performers Class that I was also introduced to using Affirmations, or Mantras. I was encouraged to write down a statement that I wanted to “embody”; a statement that I hadn’t totally owned yet, but was “working on” adopting. I remember I used to walk to school at Juilliard from where I lived on 75th Street, to Lincoln Center, and with every step I would say to myself, “I am powerful.” I used to record myself saying different empowering statements for me to engrain into my heart and mind. Later, when I started teaching, my students used to ask for these statements. So I compiled an album entitled, “Meditations for Performers, How To Overcome Performance Anxiety”.
Parallel to when we play incorrect notes in a musical phrase, and the correct patterns have to be exercised with massive repetition, we must use this same system to retrain our brains to think positive thoughts. This is the way of ensuring that the words we use are in alinement with our higher selves.
One thing I love doing, is listening to my affirmations when I am getting dressed backstage. I couple this with deep breathing, and instantly, I feel transported into a calm state.
Another important factor is the importance of Breath on the day of the performance. Try this right now, 1) Breathe in for 4 counts, 2) Breathe out for 4 counts. It is impossible to feel anxiety after long "belly" breaths like these. On the day of a performance, this practice becomes the center of my my day.
Another helpful tool is to gently go through your body and ask your body to relax. Starting from the feet, ask your feet to relax. Then, ask your legs to relax, etc. all the way up to the head. It is an important practice to go through every part of the body on the day of your performance to ensure full relaxation and focus.
Another tool that I use backstage is getting into my “Power Pose”. Our body language is very important as it directs messages to others about how and what we are feeling. In order to feel confident, one must embody the posture of a confident person. Play around with different “power poses” and find one that suits you best. For example, after making a goal in sports, the winner puts his/her hands up in the "V for Victory" pose. Try this right now. And then, whenever you need a little "boost" during the day, get into your power pose. You will see how quickly and wonderfully powerful you will feel.
Of course, nothing is going to help those feelings of anxiety if you haven’t practiced enough. So it goes without saying that the work needs to have been consistently managed prior to your performance or audition. You must have done the work in the practice room before going on the stage.
We might hear this often, but perhaps we don’t employ this enough, I am talking about the importance of performing often. Perform for your family. Perform for your friends. Perform at the Mall. Perform at McDonald’s. Perform outside of Target. Perform often. Perform daily!
When I first joined my quartet, we had 6 weeks of concerts lined up almost every other day. At the end of this concert tour, I found that I didn’t get nervous at all at the time of the performance…. in fact, I had transformed my fear..... into POWER!! I think this is really the most important thing to aspire to do. Instead of feeling “nervous”, try to think of it more as “excitement”. There is only a slight difference between the two words, but from the stage, they can make a world of difference.
Practice worst case scenarios, circumstances that could happen during your performance or audition. For example, what if there is little to no heating? Practice with cold hands. Hold ice, or go out into the snow to get cold, and then run through your repertoire. Another exercise might be to play through your repertoire first thing in the morning. Or how about running up stairs, and then playing Afternoon of a Faun. These would be all be different ways to purposely induce difficult situations. Feel free to add your special techniques below as I'd love to hear about them.
In summary, be sure to maintain a focused and efficient practice every day. Combine your music practice with a Meditation Practice, the latter of which need not be more than 15 to 30 minutes a day. Find your Power Pose and claim it often, especially after an important win or accomplishment to really anchor the feeling inside your body. Use daily affirmations to incorporate different states of power into your brain. Listening to them, also engrains them further. The day of your performance, practice belly breathing throughout the day. And backstage, before warming up, go through and tell every part of your body to relax. Turn on your favorite affirmations, and listen to them backstage before going on stage. Most importantly, BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. Turn that fear into POWER right NOW by owning your strength, power, and magnificence. You can do it! I know you can!
Viviana Guzman is an internationally touring multi-genre artist who has performed in 131 countries. Her album “Traveling Sonata” received a GRAMMY Nomination. She has presented a TEDxBerkeleyTalk speaking before Steve Wozniak, Co-Founder of Apple, Inc, and her album "Song of the Whale" received a Global Music Award, Gold Medal. A graduate of The Juilliard School, she currently teaches flute at the University of California Santa Cruz and is the Director of the San Francisco Flute Society and Flutes by the Sea Masterclass. As a Business of Music Educator and Life Coach, Viviana loves empowering others. Follow her on FB, IG and Twitter.