How To Deal With Stage Fright When Playing an Instrument
Most of us have been there. The sweaty hands, the dry mouth, that dark feeling that “I’m not going to make this”, the shallow breathing and…
…the messed up performance that follows!
I use to be so incredible nervous when performing with my trumpet that my performances, almost always, suffered as a result. Well, sometimes I’m still a bit nervous but it’s SO much better nowadays, and for the most part, I can really enjoy myself and have fun when performing…
…which is what it’s all about because, after all, we started playing the trumpet because it’s fun, right!?
So what should you do if you get nervous when playing the trumpet?
I’m going to write this article in two parts and I encourage you to read both parts as they are, in my opinion, equally important. The two main parts will be…
- How to Not Be Nervous on Stage -Practical Biological Tips-
(how to have control over your hands and body etc.)
- How to Not Be Nervous on Stage -Mental Tips-
(psychological tools and techniques)
Are you ready for it?
Good because here we go…
Performance Anxiety in Music
I have a YouTube channel about anxiety and nervousness and in one video I explain the EXACT STEPS I personally take to have control over my body and hands when performing the trumpet and playing a trumpet solo.
I give EASY practical steps we can take, starting from a few days before the performance, all the way leading up to playing the solo and… what to do during the performance.
P.S Be sure to continue to read the rest of the blog post because the video only talk about the practical steps. So be sure to read the mental tips and a few bonus tools and tricks continuing down below, as well!
Discover new, easy PRACTICAL tips and
Watch this video now!
If you are interested in the natural anxiety supplement I talk about in the video, and the one I use for my own trumpet performances, you can
Click here to read a review I wrote about it (and where to find it)
No Alcohol for at least two days prior to the gig
- I like my beer! Why is this important?
You see, alcohol dampens the signaling in the central nervous system. Your body, smart as it is, always wants to maintain “homeostasis”. It does not like it when some outside substance enters it and slows everything down. In order to get back to the “baseline speed” of the nervous system it counteracts and presses down the gas pedal…
…here’s the deal though: The alcohol will soon leave the body, meaning we do no longer have a substance slowing down the whole system BUT…
…the gas pedal is still activated. That’s right, we are now left with an overactive system. The whole nervous system is now running on higher speed than it was before we took that drink.
An overactive nervous system means much higher anxiety levels
These are biological functions and will happen whether we have problems with alcohol or not. We can not escape the biological laws of nature.
If your nervous system is running on “high speed” these are some of the things you might experience:
- Shaky hands (particularly if triggered buy a stressful situation…like performing music 😉
- Tense muscles
- Shortness of breath (not really desirable when playing the trumpet, right?)
- More difficult to control the body in a smooth manner. The movements easily becomes “jerky”. (this is because the slight down regulation of the GABA receptors from the alcohol)
No coffee on the same day as the trumpet gig!
- I like my coffee as well, why are you doing this to me!?
While we are on the “nervous system subject” I just had to bring up what drinking coffee, or more accurate caffeine, can do to our performance anxiety in music. Caffeine is a stimulant, unlike alcohol which is a depressant, meaning that when you drink your cup of coffee the nervous system, again, is starting to run on higher speed…
…and you do remember that, if we have problems with being nervous on stage, this is not what we want. This is especially true if you have problems with shaking or shaky hands when playing the trumpet.
Even one cup of coffee can have negative effects on your trumpet performance so…
…save your beloved cup for AFTER your trumpet solo. Just like with the alcohol =)
Keep your blood sugar levels stable!
For people who never suffers from performance anxiety this tip is not that useful, however for the rest of us, that tends to get nervous when performing the trumpet it is very important.
We want to keep our blood sugar stable because our bodies have a built in stress response that activates when the blood sugar drops too fast. Every time the sugar levels comes crashing down (if they went shooting up too fast) they come crashing down even BELOW the blood sugar baseline.
When this happens our body goes into a state of anxiety because the interpretation is that it is now running out of fuel for the brain (glucose) and in order to quickly get the blood sugar levels up to baseline the adrenal glands squirts out cortisol and adrenaline into our bloodstream…
…and trust me, we do NOT want those powerful stress hormones in the bloodstream when performing a trumpet solo.
How do we keep the blood sugar stable then?
First avoid all sugars on the day of the trumpet solo but, unfortunately, this is not enough.
We need to eat in a way that keeps everything super stable and you have a few options here:
- Do intermittent fasting
- Eat a ketogenic diet
- Eat a low glycemic diet
All of these will keep your blood sugar levels steady as a rock. The intermittent fasting will also increase your mental alertness, focus AND it helps with us having better control of our hands, by boosting BDNF and GABA in the brain…
…a real double whammy!
If you are not used to doing intermittent fasting or a keto-diet then you should NOT try it for the first time on the day of your trumpet performance. It takes a few tries for the body to get used to it and if you just skip your food on the day of your gig without any experience it might backfire on you…
…watch the video above to learn more about this! The low GI diet is something you can do right away without getting used to it so try that one out first. However…
…the intermittent fasting is the most effective one of these three and this is the one I personally do to help with my own performance anxiety. Again, watch the video for more details and do some exploring on Google if you are not familiar with the keto, intermittent fasting and low GI tactics.
Nervous when performing the trumpet?
How to breathe for reducing anxiety
When it comes to learning how to control nerves when performing music we just have to talk a bit about breathing. Not just deep breathing but, what is even more important is…
If you only focus on trying to breathe very deeply you might actually make your performance anxiety worse if you breath in a tempo that is aslo too fast.
Sure we should aim for a full breath but we should also make sure to make the out-breath longer than the in-breath. This is because when we breath IN we are actually stressing the body a bit and, on the other hand, when we breath OUT, the body relaxes.
This is due to the “dance” between the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system PNS. The in-breath activates the SNS (which is responsible for the fight and flight mechanism) And the out-breath activates the PNS (which is responsible for the “rest and digest system”)
Knowing this it is now more easy to see why we want to make the out-breath longer than the in-breath…
…because we want more of the relaxing responses. My personal favorite “breathing ratio” is one of the following (depending on the situation and stress level)
- Three seconds in and six seconds out
- Two seconds in and four seconds out
- Four seconds in and eight seconds out
As you can see the out-breath is longer than the in-breath in all of the variations. I start to deliberately incorporate this breathing on the same day as my performance. I do it on and off during the day, from the morning waking up on the day of the gig…
…all the way to, and during, my trumpet performance.
More practical tools?
In order not to make this blog post waaay too long I have to stop with the practical tools here. But there are more tips on my other “anxiety website” IF you would like to learn more of them then you can for example
Click here to read the article “16 unusual ways to deal with anxiety”
Another option is of course to use beta blockers (prescription drug) as they reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety and I have used them myself, however, I do no longer really recommend these as there are some potential risks that comes along with using them. I talk more about that in my article musicians using beta blockers for performance anxiety.
Performance Anxiety in Music
If you always get nervous when playing the trumpet then it would also be useful to learn a few mental tools. If I get REALLY nervous when performing with my trumpet I know that there is a too big gap between the “ego” and the will to “just share music”…
…let me explain!
If you go into a music performance with the mindset that you have to “prove” something and you have that mindset alone then, yeah, you will get nervous and depending on what “trumpet-confidence level” you happen to be on that day, you might even have an anxiety attack.
If we attach our whole “trumpet skill status” to that one gig alone, or even worse, if we attach our whole self-worth, how valuable we are as a human being, to how well we perform our mental health will suffer.
Mental tip #1 -You are a transmitter-
Try to build up the mindset that you are just there as a transmitter. You are just transmitting what the composer had in his head to the ears of the audience. You are not there to show people what an amazing trumpet player you are, so that you can then validate yourself with “I must be such a good person”and, if so, I have the right to feel good.
Notice that I said “build up the mindset”. It takes time and practice to be able to think like that and, just like we practice the trumpet, we also have to practice the right mind set.
So in conclusion:
Go to the gig with the mindset that “I hope I can be a part of making that old lady, with the red hat, have a better day with some well written music by a fantastic composer”
Mental tip #2 -Make more mistakes-
Humans make mistakes and if you are reading this I assume that you are human. (Well I guess you could be a Google bot crawling the site) Anyway, it is important that we really think about this. We must allow ourselves to make mistakes because there are just NO perfect people.
I would even go as far as encouraging you to play a few wrong notes on purpose during some of your performances…
…What!?! Why on earth would I do that?
By doing so, a few things happen to the subconscious mind. First it will learn that nothing bad happens when making a mistake. The birds will keep on singing and the earth will keep on spinning!
And when you deliberately make that mistake the effect on the subconscious mind gets even stronger and it will now take this “knowledge”, that nothing bad happens, along with it to your future trumpet gigs and you know what…
…the subconscious mind controls all of our bodily responses, including stress and anxiety, so you just might just want to have it on your side.
Oh and one more thing…
…by allowing yourself to make mistakes you will eventually make LESS mistakes. This is one of life´s awesome paradoxes.
Mental tip #3 -Progress not perfection-
The words “progress not perfection” is something I always try to think about. While it may sound corny and very clichè it really is all about the journey…
…and we should realize that what matters is personal growth.
Even if we happen to mess up during the music gig you can BET that there is always something that we can take with us from that trumpet gig. Something that we can take to heart and imprint into our minds. Perhaps something that we now know how to tweak and do differently the next time we perform.
Mental tip #4 -Love the Challenge-
I think it is perfectly fine to never overcome stage fright completely. If you keep working on it and you make improvements then that is really all we need…
…even if it does not get rid of your neravousness completely! It is by pushing ourselves through uncomfortable situations that we grow as human beings. If we every now and then spend a bit of time thinking about that, we can actually learn to appreciate that nasty feeling.
…at least more than we have so far. If we can learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable then do you realize what that makes us?…
…I’d say that pretty much would make us invulnerable. Again, it is by letting go, stop resisting and being vulnerable that the paradox of life shows us the way to true strength.
Final words and conclusion
Being nervous when performing trumpet on stage, when having band practice or even just in front of friends or colleagues, is very normal. Some people learn to overcome stage fright completely, while others might be struggling a bit with nerves their whole life.
We are all different and for the latter group it’s not so much “learning how to not be nervous on stage” as it is “learning to deal with it to the best of their abilities”…
…and that’s perfectly fine.
As you probably realized by now my philosophy is to accept ourselves and stop resisting our feelings and emotions. That does not mean we shouldn’t try to improve. Far from it!
However, if we really can grasp the concept “I’m already perfectly fine and great and I’m on my way to become even more perfectly fine and even more great” …
…well, then we have the power of true self-esteem behind us. The power of self acceptance in combination with wanting to keep growing…
…and this will make us get much further with everything we do in life and not only that…
…the road will also be more enjoyable.
There you have it. I hope you found at least some of the tips helpful when it comes to dealing with being nervous during your trumpet performances.
If you did not watch the video I would really encourage you to do so.
Take a look at the video now
If you want to try the anxiety supplement I talk about in the video and use for my trumpet solos then you can
click here to read my review about it on my other website
Thank you for reading the blog post “How to not be nervous on stage / nervous when having a trumpet gig”