Stage Fright: 5 Things Every Musician Should Know + 5 Tips to Help

Picture this: The show starts in 10 minutes, and as you peek through the curtains, you can seen the crowd. Your whole family has shown up, along with friends, and their spouses. That cute classmate you’ve got a crush on is in the front row.

Your heart is racing in your chest. It’s beating so fast and so hard you think it might leap straight out of your body. You’ve got a whole parade of butterflies dancing around in your stomach, and your sweaty hands are somehow warm and cold at the same time. You brain leaps into overdrive, desperately trying to remember what you had practiced the night before. As the minutes count down, your body starts to shake, and negative emotions and thoughts start to take control.

Sound familiar?

Stage fright can be a horrible experience, but you might find some comfort in knowing that everyone feels it to some degree. And if musicians like Slash, Billy Joel, and Paul McCartney can overcome it, so can you.

But before you can move forward, there are 5 things you must understand about stage right first!

1. You’re Not Alone

Stage fright makes you feel timid, weak, and alone. But the fact is, you’re not! Stage fright is one of the most common traits among all musicians! Pavoratti, Adele, Eddie Van Halen, Miles Davis, and many, many more have all freely admitted to getting at least a little nervous before every performance.

Knowing this might not help you address the actual problem, but it may give you some comfort to know that even the people who perform everyday get stage fright.

2. It’s Probably Permanent (But That’s Okay)

As you can probably tell from the list of famous performers up there, stage fright doesn’t really fully go away, but that’s not really a bad thing! It might seem like it could keep you from getting “in the zone,” but it’s actually the opposite. By channeling and focusing your nerves properly, it can actually be easier to get into “the zone.” Use it as a tool!

3. It’s Both Psychological & Biological

When you get stressed out, like before a performance, hormones similar to adrenaline are released into your body. This kicks in that familiar “fight-or-flight” response to help us deal with the situation. Back in the day this would have been helpful if you needed to get away from a lion or something. But it’s not so helpful for a musician.

Your brain goes into this “fight-or-flight” mode before a performance because it’s trying to figure out the odds of your success or failure. When your brain thinks it will succeed, there’s very  little anxiety. On the other hand, if you think you’ll fail, your body prepares to flee, even when you can’t go anywhere.

4. There’s No “Fix”

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to get over your stage fright (otherwise all those multi-million dollar recording artists up there would have licked it by now!). Some people turn to things like yoga or meditation as a way to reduce stress before a performance Others prefer a “comfort food” diet before a stressful show.

No matter what you do, it will likely only really work for you, and not anyone else. You’ve got to trick your own mind into it.

5. It’s Not a Bad Thing

Getting anxious before a performance can seem like a bad thing, but it’s actually good for you! Crazy, I know, but stage fright might actually be helpful. Musicians spend years trying to overcome it, and even when they don’t, it pushes them to become better musicians, and better performers.

Okay! Now that you’ve got the basics behind the reality of stage fright for musicians, let’s take a look at 5 ways that you can work through it, and deliver your very best performance!

1. Think Positively

It’s a simple suggestion, but probably the most important one on this short list. When those butterflies start dancing around in your stomach, remind yourself that you have talent, skill, and have been preparing for this event. Look back on past positive performances, and all the fun you’ve had getting to this point. Taking comfort in positive thought can help you regain control of your confidence on stage.

2. Don’t Dwell

Focusing on all the things that are going well is fantastic, but unfortunately, we have a tendency to wallow in our failures and negative thoughts more easily. If you make a mistake during your performance, try not to think about it, just move on. Your frustration can cause more errors, and chances are, your audience didn’t notice anyway. Just focus on the next note!

3. Prepare Yourself

Help yourself get comfortable before a performance by establishing a ritual that helps put you at ease before stepping out on the stage. This might include a slow-breathing exercise, maybe mingling with your audience, or something as simple as taking a short walk.

Proper preparation also includes plenty of practice, a good night’s sleep before the performance, and staying healthy!

4. Check out the Tape

Another great way to help yourself prepare for a performance is to tape yourself practicing. This is, of course, a fantastic practice tool all the time, not just before a performance, because it allows you to judge your progress. The act of taping yourself play might be enough to make you just a little nervous; enough to realize some of the area where you might make a mistake during a performance: Do you lose grip on your drumsticks? Do you have trouble hitting the high notes? Maybe your timing is a little off? Once you identify the problem on the recording, you can devote extra time to finding a solution before your performance.

5. Start Small

Let’s say you’ve been granted the incredible opportunity to perform in front of a sizable audience. In this situation, nerves will be inevitable, especially if you’re still fairly new to performing for a crowd. One of the best ways to get your feet wet, so to speak, is to arrange small, friendly performances first. Dip your toes in the water of performing with a small show for friends and family, or if you’re feeling adventurous, try an open mic night at a coffee shop.

Stage fright is universal, and although you may never be able to get rid of it entirely, it can be a powerful tool to keep you progressing!

Happy performing!