Stage fright is something that all musicians have to deal with at some point. We all experience in different ways. Some may feel short of breath. Hands may shake. Others experience tunnel vision. Most students don't seem to believe me when I tell them that I get nervous. When the nerves hit, I experience a panicky feeling, and my hands shake, which doesn't help my guitar playing. While stage fright never completely goes away, there are ways to manage it. Here are some techniques that I have developed over the years.
The best way to counteract stage fright is to be prepared. For musicians of all ages, this means practicing your music until you know it backwards and forwards. Start practicing your performance music a few weeks before you have to play it in front of an audience. Cramming a few practice sessions the week before a performance will only add to your stress levels. Playing your music over a longer period of time will help you become more comfortable with the music.
Once you know your music pretty well, practice performing it in front of people. Play a mock recital in front of your family or some friends. The more often you play in front of people, the more natural it will feel when it's time to get up and play the "big show."
Play Straight Through
It's important to stop in your practice sessions to fix mistakes, but it's also important to learn to play through the music in spite of any mistakes you may make. As you get closer to the big day, you should do more run throughs and fewer nit picking practice sessions.
Forgive Your Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes when they perform. The only time you're going to hear a perfect performance is on a recording, when the musicians had the luxury of rerecording any part of the music they messed up. All professionals make mistakes when performing, including myself. When you do make a mistake in the performance, don't dwell on it. Just let it go and keep playing. Chances are that nobody will notice your mistake if you just keep going.
Take a Moment
Before you play your music in a performance, take a moment to mentally go through the music, reminding yourself of places in each song where you need to pay particular attention.
Control Your Space
There are many variables in performance that are beyond your control, but you should take control of the things you can. I can't tell you how many times I've been uncomfortable on stage because the microphone was at the wrong height. I finally learned to take a moment and make adjustments so I could play and sing more naturally. Take the time to adjust the height of a music stand, move your chair, etc.
We're on Your Side
It can be scary to be in front of an audience. It's helpful to remember that everyone is on your side. The audience is there because they like you, and they want to support you. They want you to succeed almost as much as you want to succeed. Remember that the audience is your friend.
Stage fright will never completely go away. In a way, this is a good thing. Your nervousness is a sign that you care about what you are doing. I hope that these ideas will help you manage things when you get the jitters.