Performance Anxiety


Performing can be a scary business. Even the most prepared, confident musician can still feel nervous before an important concert! Sometimes the extra adrenaline gives us a nice boost to our performing. But often, it can end up hindering our performing abilities.

It’s called “Fight or Flight”. When our sympathetic nervous system realizes that we are nervous, it triggers a full-body response that historically helped us to either fight – or run away from – dangers such as lions, tigers, or other predators. Now, while performing does not actually place us in danger, it often makes us nervous enough for our bodies to think that there is another tiger out there to run away from. You may feel your heart rate or pulse quicken, get cold, sweaty, or clammy hands, and find yourself needing to use the bathroom more frequently right before a performance. This is all part of the “Fight or Flight” response, and is completely natural. The trick is to harness this extra boost of energy so we can “fight” our fears and turn them into a great performance. There are a number of books written on performance anxiety and how to approach it. They can help you face your “inner critic” and learn how to perform more fully. Here are a few highlights:

Gallwey, Timothy. The Inner Game of Tennis: The Mental Side of Peak Performance.

A great resource on performance anxiety and how to get rid of your inner critic. There is also a version called The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green that applies the techniques directly to musicians, but The Inner Game of Tennis is a classic in this subject, and easy to transfer to the world of music performance.



Ashley, Joyce. Overcoming Stage Fright in Everyday Life.

Includes step by step instructions on how to overcome your performance anxiety.





Maisel, Eric. Fearless Creating: A Step-by-Step Guide to Starting and Completing your Work of Art.

Written to appeal to artists, writers, and performers, this book is designed to help you embracing any fears that you have related to creating your art.




Stone, Hal & Sidra. Embracing your inner critic: Turning self-criticism into a Creative Asset.

A great companion to The Inner Game of Tennis, this book helps you examine your inner critic and help it work for you, instead of against you.




Werner, Kenny. Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within.

This text, written by a jazz pianist, includes Werner’s own journey as a musician, and shows others how to work past a plateau in their playing to achieve their full potential as a performer.





Best of luck with conquering your inner critique and performance fears! With these great authors, you’ll be well on your way to success.

Feel free to share some of your experiences with performance anxiety in the comments section below. How have you dealt with these challenges? What have you found helpful?

Coming up next: an interview with Jenna Baumgart, Director of Orchestras at West Jordan and Copper Hills High Schools in West Jordan, Utah. Baumgart will be sharing her journey as an injured musician, as well as her Master’s thesis research on how instructors can prevent injuries among their students.


2 Responses to Performance Anxiety

  1. Cellimom June 29, 2011 at 7:33 am #

    Thanks for good info!
    My kid eats banana before performance and it helps.

  2. Hooplah June 29, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    Hi, and thanks for the reading list – be worth taking note of those titles for future reference. This is kind of timely for me, in that I’ve just played my first solo recital and the memory of how I felt is still pretty fresh!

    I was pretty fortunate in that it was for a very friendly audience, so there wasn’t too much anxiety around being critiqued by a hardened crowd – and maybe that’s part of the problem in the first place; A dangerous assumption for the performer to make?

    Without too much knowledge on dealing with musical performance related nerves, as an adult learner I tried to draw parallels to things that I deal with in the work place. specifically, presentations. I certainly remember disliking that aspect of my job when I first had to do it. So I tried to go with the feeling that I knew I’d prepared well, and the people listening wanted to hear what I had to play – certainly easier than dealing with nit-picking science types, waiting to pounce on any inconsistency in my work!

    With only a slight slip, and maybe a bit too much adrenalin related tempo, I was pretty pleased with how it went, and admittedly, as with presenting at work, I’m hoping that it becomes easier with confidence gained through experience.

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