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How you think can affect how you feel going into a performance.

In my previous posts on Music Performance Anxiety, I explain some physical symptoms and how to deal with them. One important thing that we need to control, is the way that we think about our performances. What we say to ourselves in our heads can affect our playing.

The symptoms of being anxious are very similar to what happens to your body when you are excited. So instead of focusing on how nervous you are thinking and on everything that could go wrong, tell yourself, out loud, that you are excited. Even if you don’t believe it. Try to focus on all the good things that could happen in your performance. It is also easier for your body to go from anxious to excited, as the symptoms are the same, and our body is in a high arousal state, then it is to try to calm down. There have been studies that suggest that changing your thinking to being anxious to being excited can also improve performance.

We also need to learn to retrain our mind into the way that we think when we are practising. Charlotte Tomlinson in her book Keep Calm and Pass Your Music Exam, talks about each of us having our own inner critic. That is the voice in our head that is judgemental about our performance in an emotionally negative way. For example, when you play a wrong note, you might think to yourself that “I’m such a rubbish player, I can’t do even do something so easy!” If we have that internal dialogue with ourselves as we play in a performance setting, we project that onto our performance. We come across as being less confident in our playing, which the audience can pick up on. It becomes some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

The inner critic can be changed, although it does take time. In your practice sessions, every time you notice yourself making a negative emotional comment about your playing. Stop, acknowledge the fact that you have heard it. You then need to turn that inner critic into an Objective Observer. The objective observer is a way to imply criticism that is non-judgemental or emotional. For example, the objective observer would say something like “that was a G instead of an F#, why did I do that? Let's try another fingering.”

Going into a performance, believe that you are not good enough player, is setting yourself up for failure. Start to talk more positively about your playing, before you go on stage. It can feel strange at first and can take a lot of reinforcement to remember to do it at first. But changing your self-talk will give you the extra confidence when you walk onto the stage.

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