Performance anxiety is a job hazard for every musician, and can become crippling if left to fester. Here are a couple of tricks to use when you’re going to be under the gun:
1. Practice breathing techniques.
Holding in and then slowly letting out a long, deep breath will not only relax you, but bring oxygen to your brain during a session or gig. If you have an Apple Watch, use the Breath app and watch your heart rate lower. I practice deep breathing for about 5 minutes a day, and draw on the same techniques when I’m in a high pressure scenario. It’s amazing how a little practice before hand can allow you to control your anxiety in a performance.
2. Practice consciously relaxing your body.
Most musicians will physically tense their bodies when they’re under stress, creating a stiff sound on the instrument they’re playing. By consciously relaxing your muscles, it will not only relieve tension but help your performance sound less forced.
The best antidote for performance anxiety is preparation. Take a good chunk of time before the gig to work on the music, and try to simulate the environment you’re going to be in at the gig as closely as possible. When I’m practicing I always wear the same in ears that I do live, and I try to set my instrument up the same way that I do onstage, too.
4. Practice listening.
When musicians make mistakes, our tendency is to focus on our parts and ignore everything else. I’ve found it to be much more helpful to listen instead. If you find yourself choking, lay back a little and listen to the other players around you. Once you’ve locked into their musicality, jump back in.
5. Pre-tweak your mental state.
Getting in the best possible mental state before a gig is vital to any musician. Eat your favorite food, hang out with your favorite people, and relax. I like to hang out with band members and drink my favorite coffee before a gig- it never fails to put me in a great mood. Whatever gets you in a fantastic mood, do it. Your performance will reflect your good mood.