Performance anxiety is a surprisingly common issue for many musicians. While they may look confident, even experienced musicians often feel nervous when preparing to play an instrument in front of an audience. This type of nervousness is completely normal. Not all tension is bad. In fact, feeling tense while performing can help you stay focused and avoid potential mistakes.
However, too much tension can make you lose enjoyment in creating music. Anxiety can lead to tension that causes discomfort, stress, and even stage fright. Playing an instrument can also result in physical tension in various parts of your body. Sometimes, unresolved tension can even lead to injuries. To combat these negative issues, musicians use different techniques to reduce tension. If anxiety or pain is changing the way you feel, try some of these techniques to reduce tension.
1. Using Correct Posture
- Side view of a girl playing the piano with good posture.
Playing an instrument puts unique demands on your posture. Sitting or standing while holding an instrument in the proper place is hard work for the body. It’s common for musicians to curl forward over large instruments or tilt the neck at an awkward angle to make up for poor placement of seating or sheet music. Singing and playing woodwind or brass instruments also place unique demands on your posture. Tension often builds around your neck and shoulders and works downward into the arms and wrists. Painful tension in your hands or wrists can make it difficult to play your instrument at all.
Using correct posture can naturally help you avoid the stiff feeling that increases anxiety. Simply being aware of the places your body is stiff can help you relieve the tension. Make an effort to straighten your neck, relax your shoulders, and stretch your torso while playing your instrument.
2. Practicing Wrist and Hand Exercises
Playing an instrument requires nimble fingers and limber wrists. Learning music requires repeating the same movements over and over until the piece is perfected. This repetition can cause stiffness, tingling, and numbness in your fingers and arms. When you practice for long periods of time, remember to take time to rotate your wrists and exercise your fingers and hands. Practicing routine stretches before a performance can help you avoid tension and pain in your hands while playing.
Try these easy stretches to relieve tension and pain while playing:
- Stretch and relax your fingers several times.
- Curl hands into a loose fist and roll your wrists several times in one direction and then the other.
- Stretch your forearms by placing hands together in a praying position. Push hands together and elbows down until you feel a gentle stretch.
3. Practice Solo and Group Sessions
One of the most common reasons for performance mistakes is lack of practice. When you play your instrument regularly and practice a certain musical piece several times, you feel more confident when you’re ready to play. It’s important to practice a piece of music until you can perform it without mistakes every time. The repetitiveness of regular practice can also naturally reduce stress levels.
Many musicians take the time to practice alone regularly. However, it’s common for a group to only have a limited number of chances to practice a routine together. Adding additional group practice sessions can help musicians build confidence to avoid anxiety during a performance. Additionally, fellow musicians can often encourage each other and boost morale.
4. Using Proper Breathing Techniques
The way you breathe has an impact on the music you play. Proper breathing is vital for singers and musicians who play woodwind and brass instruments. However, many musicians under-value the impact of proper breathing while playing all instruments. Proper breathing carries oxygen to your brain, heart, and muscles. This increased oxygen relieves tension, stress, and muscle pain.
Tension can make you breathe differently. Often, beginners hold their breath during solos or difficult sections of a performance. To avoid uneven breathing or lapses of breath, first, pay attention to the way you normally breathe. Note the places when you hold your breath or change your breathing pace. Consciously steady your breathing throughout the entire piece to increase relaxation and improve your performance.
5. Make Sure Your Instrument Isn’t a Burden
Instruments can be heavy and awkward. Often, musicians sit or stand in the same position for hours while practicing or performing in front of an audience. Improper posture or difficulty holding your instrument correctly can result in injury. While back, shoulder and neck injuries are the most common, other injuries include wrist, jaw, and throat issues. To avoid these conditions, it’s important to relieve excess stress caused by the size and shape of your instrument.
Ensure the size and shape of your instrument is correct for your stature. Most instruments are created in multiple sizes. When you buy or rent an instrument, be sure to ask the salesperson to ensure you are choosing the right size instrument. A child would have a much more difficult time playing an instrument intended for an adult.
Additionally, there are accessories that can assist your comfort while holding almost any instrument. Wedge seat cushions, instrument straps, lighter strings are all ways to reduce physical tension caused by your instrument. If you’re unsure about the size of your instrument or the way you handle it, ask your music teacher to evaluate the way you play. This is also a good way to get a professional evaluation of your breathing techniques and posture.
For many musicians, playing an instrument is a favorite pastime. Playing an instrument can even help relieve anxiety derived from other areas in your life. Eliminating tension that causes pain and anxiety can help you keep playing the instrument you love. These techniques can even help improve your public performances.
For more great musician’s tips and interesting information about various instruments, visit our blog. To learn more about private music instruction at Grace Music School, contact us today. The love of music should never be silenced which is why we strive to share music education with students of all ages.