Img: Roger Reuver
Your student could be playing a 99-cent store kazoo, a classical guitar or a Stradivarius. Getting up to play an instrument in front of an audience is nothing like jamming out in at home or even in class. So, as a teacher, how do ease the anxiety that often keeps good and great musicians from doing their best on performance day?
1. Define it
It might surprise you to learn that “performance anxiety” (a.k.a. “stage fright”) is defined medically, complete with a list of symptoms.
• Racing pulse and rapid breathing
• Dry mouth and tight throat
• Trembling hands, knees, lips, and voice
• Sweaty and cold hands
• Nausea and an uneasy feeling in your stomach
• Vision changes
Yep, and the power in knowing this is that it happens to many, many people. It can even affect a performer’s vision up on stage, making it hard to follow the music on the page.
2. Let them know how common it is
From Barbara Streisand to Ella Fitzgerald, there is a long list of famous folks (musicians included) who suffer from performance anxiety. In fact, if you have ever personally had a bout of stage fright, why not let your students know? You may seem infallible to your students – and that’s fine – but this is one time it’s perfectly acceptable to shatter that image for the greater good.3. Make class time solo and to play full songs
The more your students play solos and full songs for their peers, the easier it will be to play in front of a larger audience. With so many fundamentals to cover, it can be hard to find the time, but it will pay off in the end.

4. Recruit a pre-performance audience
Invite friends, fellow teachers, family and students to sit in on a class as you near your performance date. It’s important to have this dry run – or dress rehearsal – to get students used to seeing new faces in the crowd.

5. Teach some calming techniques
Everybody says “just breathe!” but without getting specific, it’s hard to know how to breathe properly to induce relaxation. Some instruction can be a bit New Age-y for students. Here’s an example of some good, neutral instruction:

6. Listen to the pros
Professional musicians don’t just perform once or twice a year – it’s their livelihood. So we do well to hear about and learn from their experiences. Julliard professor, Dr David Wallace talks with world-renowned electric violinist Tracy Silverman:

7. Practice, practice, practice
It’s not just a cliché. Practice might not make perfect, but it will certainly give your students greater confidence when it comes time to perform. It’s the same with athletics, presentations for school and work. Getting up to play something you’ve practiced over and over will feel like second nature. It may help to dedicate a specific daily window of time, such as a half hour after waking up and a half hour before bedtime to practice.