I was playing the piano in front of a few people tonight.   As I played, I thought a little about stage fright and how debilitating it can be for the performer.  Fortunately, I felt more confident than I have in the past, but here are some of the ways stage fright affects musicians:

  • A feeling of unreality.  Pretty awful, especially when the keys of the piano seem to lose their distinctiveness
  • Sudden shaking.  This happened a couple of times to me over the years, once in the middle of a Chopin polonaise, the other time towards the conclusion of a famous Scriabin work
  • Memory lapses while performing.  Fortunately, this has never presented any huge problems
  • A strong urge to get up in the middle of a piece and abandon the performance.  Pretty frightening and common, although I’ve never walked off stage
  • light-headedness and nausea

I’ve heard other musicians say they feel particularly exposed in front of a smaller audience.  I would agree with that. 

Personally, I feel that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help with performance nerves.  I also think that not rushing the pieces makes a huge difference.  Tonight, I forced myself to perform the fourth impromptu by Schubert from the first set (opus 90), taking the middle section slowly and paying careful attention to the dynamics.  Not exactly a technically demanding work, but for some reason I dislike playing the impromptu in public, although I have done countless times.   Perhaps it has something to do with the piece’s structure – ternary form – and the sense of feeling trapped in a work that consists largely of repetition.

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8 thoughts on “Musicians and Stage Fright

  1. I can just imagine how you felt in front of a small audience who no doubt would pick up any nuances they could suss out, so to speak. They would be over critical because of the nearness as opposed to being on a platform where there is distance between you.

    However, well done, nerves and all, it takes tremendous confidence to be detached from the rest and be totally in concentration. Good luck.

  2. Good post. While I’m not a musician, I used to be terrible afraid of public speaking. Awful feeling. Thanks, Lawrence

  3. Hi Dustus, yes I can appreciate your apprehension about speaking in public. I got really frightened reading a part out loud in the library once. I felt like I was going to fall over. Really scary.

  4. When I was in high school I used to act, and I can really appreciate this piece. All of it sounds perfectly frightening. I’m so glad you continue to play and don’t walk out! I’m sure your audience is too. 😉

  5. Very nice post Lawrenceez. U have described ur feelings very beautifully through ur words. I liked it.

    Thanks for sharing.

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