#12  Performance Anxiety


Who among us has not had the jitters before a performance or audition?

It’s a very common occurrence. Yet, if those jitters are powerful enough, they can derail a performance or audition, and in some cases if the jitters worsen, they may be powerful enough to change the direction of a singer’s career. 

In the May-June issue of the National Association of Teachers of Singing Journal there is a fine article on this subject written by Christopher Arneson entitled Performance Anxiety: A Twenty-First Century Perspective.  In the article Arneson presents a well focused and comprehensive examination of the present research into performance anxiety, as well as an extremely useful set of twelve steps one can engage in to help alleviate/reduce ones symptoms.

Who is susceptible to this form of anxiety and why? 

In scientific terms the vulnerability to develop performance anxiety is connected to personality factors of sensitivity, and statistically musicians rate high in those tendencies. If performing is combined with high expectations of perfection in performance, there is a probability of generating an excessively heightened arousal state. 

If we anticipate the possibility of anxiety occurring in the performance setting, we can choose to be proactive and help ourselves or our students prepare for these stresses.

Understanding which components of our personality may be most challenging and addressing them may make all the difference!

The following is a summary of the twelve steps that Arneson presents in is article.


Try this:


1.     Accept your fear.  In accepting your fear, the power it has over you may be diminished.  It’s possible that it is generating a necessary amount of energy or excitement to help you accomplish the task at hand.


2.     Understand your fear.  Understanding the source and belief system of your fear might be beneficial.  Does your fear serve a purpose?


3.     Silence your negative inner voices.  There are three typical voices; “the judge, the doubter and the timid soul” referred to in Dr. Irmtraud Tarr Kruger’s wonderful book “Performance Power”.  Learn to recognize these voices and discover how to talk back to them.


4.     Get rid of excuses. The “if only” excuse may be a stalling technique, and a form of procrastination. Move forward and get to the task at hand. 


5.     Eliminate self destructive behavior.  Experiment with writing down positive thoughts that are opposite to your negative thoughts. When you change the pattern of your thinking, you will likely change the results of your experience.


6.     Accept criticism.  It’s important to be able to accept it, dissect it, keep whatever part may feel relevant, and toss out the rest.   


7.     Be confident in your preparation.  Prepare, plan, study and practice!


8.     Recall and prepare.  In Nancy Shainberg’s “Getting Out Of Your Own Way” she teaches two exercises “Peak Performance” and “Reaction Rehearsal”. In “Peak Performance” create a memory sense of your best performance ever, and let yourself experience it fully.  In “Reaction Rehearsal” spend a few minutes every day imagining specific problems that may occur and envision how you’ll deal with them. 


9.     Release physical tension.  Train yourself in a relaxation technique.  Stand tall and go through your body. Imagine you are facing your audience and you are smiling and feeling confident.  Focus on any tense muscles and speak to yourself ‘release’.   Do this daily and you will gradually gain the habit of ease in front of an audience.


10.  Refuse to focus on nervousness.  Generally, we do best if we focus on one thing at a time; so let your one focus be on the music.


11.  Have realistic expectations.  Performers with unrealistically high expectations will have more trouble than those that have more realistic expectations.  Perfection ought not to be your goal in performance.  Create a reasonable performance goal.


12.  Be generous and loving.  The more generous and loving one is in listening to others performing, the more generous and loving one will be with oneself. 


For your continued reading:

A Soprano On Her Head, Eloise Ristad; Real People Press

Performance Power, Irmtraud Tarr Kruger; Zurich: Dieter Breitsohl AG

Power Performance for Singers, Shirlee Emmons/Alma Thomas; Oxford UniversityPress

Getting Out of Your Own Way, Nancy Shainberg; Luminous Press


Have a very fine week,






Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Oppenheim-Beggs