ArticlesAugust 2023EducationFeatured

Managing Performance Anxiety

Dr. Julie Stone, Professor of Flute, Eastern Michigan University


Julie Stone is Professor of Flute at Eastern Michigan University. She was a winner of the National Flute Association Professional Performers Competition, a featured performer in the International College Music Society Conference in Berlin, Germany, and has recorded for the Albany, Crystal, and ACA Digital labels. She is the author of the award-winning book Notes on the Flute and is the composer of several flute ensemble pieces.


We all know that performance anxiety is a natural part of being a performer. We have all had that dream where we get in front of a room full of people with music in front of us that we have not practiced! If we did not have any heightened sense of awareness in a performance, our magical moments might not occur. Strive for excellence and not perfection. That said, the adrenaline created by this performance anxiety can, at times, be crippling so we need methods to cope. The following are some ideas to help combat the anxiety when performing.

Before the Performance

  • Preparation is key. If you are prepared, your memory of what to do can take over such as finger memory. If you feel prepared then it might lessen the intensity of nerves.
  • Perform before you perform! In other words, play for friends and family before a big performance to get used to being in front of people. Perform more so that you get used to the feeling and how to manage it. Performance anxiety can affect you physically, emotionally, and mentally so accept the feeling and learn to perform with it as it can enhance a performance.
  • For technical sections in your music, use practice techniques requiring repetition, memory, and slow practice.
  • Limit caffeine and sugar the day of the performance, but if you are used to having caffeine go ahead and maintain standard usage.
  • Try exercising to some exhaustion then try playing a piece and learn how to make it happen with fatigue.
  • If recording, try and record early, so you do not have the added stress of trying to submit at the last minute.
  • Get to your audition/performance early so that you are not stressed with time constraints for warm-up and being settled in the space.
  • If possible, find out what kind of hall/room and acoustics are in the performance space.
  • Learn to distinguish between general life anxiety and situational anxiety of a performance and how to manage.

Mental Strategies during the Performance

  • Remember you are unique so try to show that as much as possible. There is room for all of us in this industry.
  • Convey what the composer intended rather than thinking about what makes you nervous. Concentrate on the message, “get into the music” - be the character of the music; become an actor. The most important aspect of a performance is its message, not its perfection. Music is not intended to be perfect and cannot be perfect.
  • Maintain your concentration and control of what you’re doing with your instrument and try to not be distracted. A fun exercise for this is to ask friends to try to distract you while you are playing!
  • Your performance is important to you but try to avoid thinking of impressing people. Your performance is important to others because they want to hear good music rather than you being impressive. The audition panel/audience WANTS you to do well!
  • The performance is not world peace. If something goes wrong just roll with it.
  • There will be mistakes in a performance so learn to exist with them. If it is an audition, it is important for the panel to see how you recover from mistakes.
  • Think of every sound you make as your only sound! In other words, if you had only one sound to make, make it your best!
  • Use imagery for the adrenaline rush such as containing the liquid in a jar until the performance is over, etc. although some find that adrenaline helps a performance.
  • “The audience is cheering you on! Breathe in their energy and good wishes, and exhale the beautiful gift.” From flutist/colleague Barbara Ogar.
  • Remember the old saying “look forward and not sideways” meaning to look to your own path and not to others to compare yourself.

Physical Coping Strategies during the Performance

  • If you are starting to feel the nerves, push in slightly on the bottom lip with the flute and away with the bottom lip at the same time for a secure connection.
  • If you experience lip plate slippage, place a postage stamp, cloth bandage, etc. on the lip plate.
  • Some people like to put a pebble in their shoe to distract from the nerves!
  • Breathe deeply because this is the first thing to be affected with nerves. A good exercise is to breathe through the nose and out the mouth which helps demonstrate deep breathing in the correct way. For breathing while playing, a good exercise is to practice breathing in whispering “whaaaaaaaat” to get the proper feeling. For support, a good exercise is to breathe in deeply then exhale with a loud “hiss” to get the correct feeling.
  • Think of slowing down the heartbeat.
  • Stay in the moment while looking ahead only slightly.
  • If you experience dry mouth, try gently biting the sides of the tongue to salivate.

Just remember that you are the only you and you have something to offer. If you are prepared, there is no need to worry because it will solve nothing and your preparation will guide you through. Focus on beautiful music and the rest will take care of itself!

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