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#2028498 - 02/07/13 03:14 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: bolt]  
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Also, you didn't say if you drink coffee, espresso or caffeine tea, but if you do you might want to give that up or avoid them in the hours before a performance.

-Bolt


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#2028596 - 02/07/13 09:10 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]  
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Originally Posted by Vasilievich
Originally Posted by Hakki
I SAW you playing the Chopin Ballade (last year's video) . I can say that you are stiff. The shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, upper body etc. You try to relax but actually that only seem to distract your concentration, but not a true relaxation occurs.

With all due respect, I take all advice to change my technique with a grain a salt. Of all the pianists I've met, especially at my current school, (just this semester three people have had to cease their studies due to strain issues) I'm one of the few people I know who has never had any problems with tendonitis, carpal tunnel, back problems, or even noticable physical fatigue (I don't ever feel physically "stiff")—and I also practice much longer than anyone else I've met. That's not to brag or boast or anything, I'm just saying that whatever I'm doing seems to be working for me; I've always been able to play anything I wanted to and never experienced any physical discomfort or strain. You're not the first to comment on this though—my teacher at first assumed I was trying to consciously imitate Horowitz and was angry. Now he realizes it just is how I play and it works for me and has never been an issue since. The performance anxiety problem is something different entirely; in fact, when I begin to panic during a performance I feel as if I am too physically relaxed if anything and no longer have rigid enough motor control—like trying to play with wet noodles.

Quote
See if you are doing unnecessary head/body movements that distract your concentration. If so just try to be as focused as you can but in a very relaxed state as well. That is, you will be conscious of what you are doing in every second of your performance. But your shoulders, arms, wrists, hands all will be very relaxed.

This is part of the reason why I usually remove the visual feed from my recordings—the issue of body movement and "histrionics" in performance is a touchy subject, and people love to criticize it and tell you how stupid you look. All I can simply attest to is the fact though that any body movements are completely unconscious, and in fact I often am the most physically active with my body when I am completely focused and "in" the music. Thus, it is not a distraction to my playing but rather a symptom of deep concentration. My best performances and recordings all share this in common—a friend of mine used to describe it like a trance I would go into. I have all sorts of amusing anecdotes about it—in a video of one performance there was a very loud crash in the middle of the performance, as someone had actually broken their chair, however I don't recall ever hearing it, and was totally unfazed by it in the recording. In another instance, my dad was actually guilty of leaning on a switch in the classroom the competition was in, turning out the lights for part of the room—again, I was none the wiser. This "trance-like" state is becoming more and more difficult or altogether impossible for me to achieve during performance nowadays as I am so uncomfortably aware of my body, my racing pulse, my involuntary shaking, and my nervous thoughts.


I would have to agree that the body movements or the stiffness that Hakki is referring to most likely has nothing to do with the problem. Performance anxiety is not a physical issue, it is a mental one with physical symptoms. By addressing only possible physical symptoms (i.e., telling someone to just "relax") you're not going to really help the issue.

Vasilievich, I believe this trance-like state may be a part of the problem, actually, depending on what exactly it is. Here's my thoughts: you say this trance-like state allows you to play through all sorts of serious distractions without even realizing it.

My question is: during this trance-like state, where is your mind? Are you so engrossed in the music, being musical, being in the moment, sharing this beautiful music with the audience, that you don't notice these things? Or is it more like auto-pilot, out-of-body experience, where you really aren't thinking anything at all? If it is the former, then yes, then I agree you need to return to that. If the latter, however, that is most likely the opposite extreme of the same problem. If your mind is not communicating and thinking about the music itself, then it will tend to wander and most likely start thinking about everything but the music.

Now if in fact the "trance-like" state is completely engrossed in the music, then you will have to discipline your mind - a very un-trancelike thing to do - to think about the music. Force it to stay focused, bring it back on the music when you notice it's gone elsewhere. You may eventually be able to achieve this trance-like state again, but then again it may be replaced by this more active mind that is purposefully thinking about the music. Not entirely a bad thing.


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#2028715 - 02/07/13 01:02 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Hakki]  
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Originally Posted by Hakki
That is, you will be conscious of what you are doing in every second of your performance.


Morodiene:
You are actually saying the same thing in a couple paragraphs instead of my single sentence.

Last edited by Hakki; 02/07/13 01:03 PM.
#2028796 - 02/07/13 03:14 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Morodiene]  
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Originally Posted by Morodiene
Vasilievich, I believe this trance-like state may be a part of the problem, actually, depending on what exactly it is. Here's my thoughts: you say this trance-like state allows you to play through all sorts of serious distractions without even realizing it.

My question is: during this trance-like state, where is your mind? Are you so engrossed in the music, being musical, being in the moment, sharing this beautiful music with the audience, that you don't notice these things? Or is it more like auto-pilot, out-of-body experience, where you really aren't thinking anything at all? If it is the former, then yes, then I agree you need to return to that. If the latter, however, that is most likely the opposite extreme of the same problem. If your mind is not communicating and thinking about the music itself, then it will tend to wander and most likely start thinking about everything but the music.

Now if in fact the "trance-like" state is completely engrossed in the music, then you will have to discipline your mind - a very un-trancelike thing to do - to think about the music. Force it to stay focused, bring it back on the music when you notice it's gone elsewhere. You may eventually be able to achieve this trance-like state again, but then again it may be replaced by this more active mind that is purposefully thinking about the music. Not entirely a bad thing.

Very interesting! And yet, I'm not not entirely sure how to respond—if it at all makes sense, my experience seems to be a combination of both scenarios. I would agree that there is a certain element of "out of body experience" to it, as I am not thinking about my hands, fingerings, the keys, my body or even specific notes or articulation. I am not completely removed from what is going on though, and am "feeling" the music in a more abstract sense in terms of ideas, emotions, character, etc. It is similar to the state of mind I feel when improvising, and why I enjoy improvising so much—aside from the occasional thought in terms of a specific chord or harmony, I am not focused at all on the physical production of the notes, only the aural result and going after a certain mood or idea. For some reason it is becoming harder and harder for me to get in this frame of mind when performing other composers works—I become fixated on the physical and mental elements of playing the notes versus the larger musical picture.

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#2028984 - 02/07/13 09:19 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]  
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FWIW --

I asked a friend of mine (a psychologist, practicing "cognitive behavioral therapy", which is a pretty well-respected discipline), to look over this thread.

His response:

. . . "Yes, he likely has an “anxiety disorder” (not uncommon)
. . . which in the hands of a good CBT therapist is eminently treatable."

It sounds like Vasilievich has done all the "common-sense" stuff, or has good reasons for _not_ doing it. So that leaves two unexplored alternatives:

. . . psychotherapy (CBT, in particular), or

. . . beta-blockers (which are widely used by performing musicians).

I suspect one (or both) of them will work.

. Charles


. Charles
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#2029017 - 02/07/13 10:43 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Charles Cohen]  
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Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
FWIW --

I asked a friend of mine (a psychologist, practicing "cognitive behavioral therapy", which is a pretty well-respected discipline), to look over this thread.

His response:

. . . "Yes, he likely has an “anxiety disorder” (not uncommon)
. . . which in the hands of a good CBT therapist is eminently treatable."

It sounds like Vasilievich has done all the "common-sense" stuff, or has good reasons for _not_ doing it. So that leaves two unexplored alternatives:

. . . psychotherapy (CBT, in particular), or

. . . beta-blockers (which are widely used by performing musicians).

I suspect one (or both) of them will work.

. Charles


Wow, thanks for that. I will definitely be researching some of the things that have come up in this thread, like CBT, beta blockers and meditation/altered awareness.

#2029643 - 02/09/13 04:41 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]  
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I've struggled with this long and hard. I very much share your frustration of hours spent reading blogs and books that prescribe things like positive self talk, visualization, deep breathing, centering, etc...... but end up not working at all. A person's psyche is too nuanced and complex to be subjected to such general, assuming, and - for lack of a better word - lame treatments. By that end I've found the only way one can deal with such problems is by repeating the problem (i.e. performing in this case) ad naeseum, (even if you fail each time), until by a combination of so many experiences and your own intellectual perception, solutions begin to slowly emerge.

Here are some thoughts:

1.) From what you describe, it seems that your teachers is possibly THE reason for all of this. I recall from a while back that you are new to music study in college (your undergrad degree was in something else..). I don't know the details of your situation, but if this is the first real, college level relationship-experience with a piano professor and it's been bad since the outset - that can have a ridiculously large impact on your mental well being. Weekly meetings with a teacher who is unsupportive, impatient, or not tuned into the nature of your own problems and intellect - leaving you depressed for the rest of the day - is toxic. I know; I've been there. Try to play for another teacher in secret, if you can. Life is too short to spend with assholes.

2.) In my opinion, there is no shame in using drugs. I've had periods where I routinely took beta blockers or xanax before performances. They're no silver bullet, but they do really get rid of your PHYSICAL symptoms. (heart racing, shaking, sweaty hands, etc.). Some will say they take the "edge" of your playing and make it boring, but in my experience that does not happen.

3.) Nor is there shame in using psychotherapy. Arrau, Watts, Curzon, and Backahus (I think) all suffered from such debilitating stage fright at certain points in they careers that they sought out psychological help. (Arrau, in particular, SWORE by psychoanalysis and recommends it as the only real solution for pianists with this problem. Joseph Horowitz's book "Conversations with Arrau", may be of interest to you).

4.) Probably the most important thing: Keep performing! I know this is exactly what you are sick to death of hearing, but just keep doing it - and even more if you can. If you have only been a music major for two years, I am going to assume that you have only really been performing in serious, professional (read intimidating) settings regularly for two years - which really is not that long in the grand scheme of things. Some things take years, even decades, to truly resolve.

Now, as a last point - when you say you "perform a lot, and often", how much of this performing is a REPEAT PERFORMANCE OF THE SAME PIECE? For myself, I find my nerves have less to do with how often I'm stage, but more about WHAT I'M PLAYING AND MY EMOTIONAL/MENTAL HISTORY OF SUCCESS WITH THAT PIECE AND THE PASSAGES IN IT. You may perform twice a week, but if you are playing different things every time (chamber, camp, then solo, etc)...you aren't gonna actually solve your problem.
I would say for a truly successful performance, you need to have no less than 5 acceptable performances of that same piece in your past. Any less, and you really haven't gotten it out of your system on stage. There is a famous concert pianist and teacher in New York who has a similar problem: even when he knows the piece really well, he simply blanks out whenever he plays it in front of people. Even his wife. His strategy: to play the same piece(s) for no less than 10 people in no more than two weeks..starting with his wife and increasingly getting more serious. When he's reached the magic number 10, he will have enough positive backlogging to carry out a successful performance onstage in the recital, when it really counts.

Success begets Success.

Last edited by Opus_Maximus; 02/09/13 05:12 AM.
#2029720 - 02/09/13 09:07 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]  
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Morodiene Offline
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Originally Posted by Vasilievich
Originally Posted by Morodiene
Vasilievich, I believe this trance-like state may be a part of the problem, actually, depending on what exactly it is. Here's my thoughts: you say this trance-like state allows you to play through all sorts of serious distractions without even realizing it.

My question is: during this trance-like state, where is your mind? Are you so engrossed in the music, being musical, being in the moment, sharing this beautiful music with the audience, that you don't notice these things? Or is it more like auto-pilot, out-of-body experience, where you really aren't thinking anything at all? If it is the former, then yes, then I agree you need to return to that. If the latter, however, that is most likely the opposite extreme of the same problem. If your mind is not communicating and thinking about the music itself, then it will tend to wander and most likely start thinking about everything but the music.

Now if in fact the "trance-like" state is completely engrossed in the music, then you will have to discipline your mind - a very un-trancelike thing to do - to think about the music. Force it to stay focused, bring it back on the music when you notice it's gone elsewhere. You may eventually be able to achieve this trance-like state again, but then again it may be replaced by this more active mind that is purposefully thinking about the music. Not entirely a bad thing.

Very interesting! And yet, I'm not not entirely sure how to respond—if it at all makes sense, my experience seems to be a combination of both scenarios. I would agree that there is a certain element of "out of body experience" to it, as I am not thinking about my hands, fingerings, the keys, my body or even specific notes or articulation. I am not completely removed from what is going on though, and am "feeling" the music in a more abstract sense in terms of ideas, emotions, character, etc. It is similar to the state of mind I feel when improvising, and why I enjoy improvising so much—aside from the occasional thought in terms of a specific chord or harmony, I am not focused at all on the physical production of the notes, only the aural result and going after a certain mood or idea. For some reason it is becoming harder and harder for me to get in this frame of mind when performing other composers works—I become fixated on the physical and mental elements of playing the notes versus the larger musical picture.


OK. I do not focus on the physical except to bring my mind back to a trouble spot in a passage. But for the most part, then I agree, you should be focused on the musical aspects, the sound you want to make, the emotion, etc.

I suspect that the way your teacher is teaching you (let alone the whole lack of respect thing) is going against this instinct of yours. Is he perhaps more of a technician and less musical in his own playing by any chance?

Last edited by Morodiene; 02/09/13 09:08 AM.

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#2031513 - 02/11/13 11:37 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Morodiene]  
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Originally Posted by Morodiene

I suspect that the way your teacher is teaching you (let alone the whole lack of respect thing) is going against this instinct of yours. Is he perhaps more of a technician and less musical in his own playing by any chance?


To the question over being a "technician," yes, my teacher is an extremely technical performer and educator and I have never heard even the slightest error at any concert. We also spend a lot of time in lessons with him sight reading slowly through my music after I play it and often focusing mainly on my fingerings and changing them. I guess it's not surprising that I would become preoccupied with this during performance when we focus on this so often in my lessons.

Last edited by Vasilievich; 02/12/13 02:46 AM.
#2031702 - 02/12/13 09:06 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]  
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Morodiene Offline
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Originally Posted by Vasilievich
Originally Posted by Morodiene

I suspect that the way your teacher is teaching you (let alone the whole lack of respect thing) is going against this instinct of yours. Is he perhaps more of a technician and less musical in his own playing by any chance?


To the question over being a "technician," yes, my teacher is an extremely technical performer and educator and I have never heard even the slightest error at any concert. We also spend a lot of time in lessons with him sight reading slowly through my music after I play it and often focusing mainly on my fingerings and changing them. I guess it's not surprising that I would become preoccupied with this during performance when we focus on this so often in my lessons.


I do think that is possibly a part of the problem. Performance anxiety is a complex issue and there's usually not one root cause, but unraveling the various possible causes is helpful.

If your teacher is more of a technician and that is what he focuses on in lessons, that becomes what you focus on in your performance. Nothing wrong with technique, but when it comes time to perform, no one wants to hear technical perfection. It is a means to an end, and the end is to communicate to the audience whatever it is you have to say through the composer's works.

IMO, it sounds as though this teacher has negated and neglected your "voice" in the process of learning his technique. That is not to say that technical work is bad, and perhaps it was much needed. There is only so much time in lessons, so sometimes teachers have to pick and choose (I'm deciding to be optimistic about your teacher as I really can't know his motives, nor do I need to). However, you as the performer, need to stay true to yourself and recognize that just because your teacher isn't helping you in that area doesn't mean you shouldn't be adding that in when you perform. If he is actually telling you not to do certain musical things when you play for him, then you will have to decide if you just want to leave those out when you play for him, but when you perform, you perform for your audience.

I think in your particular case, you will need to remind yourself that you were encouraged to become a music major because of how you touched your audience in your playing before. If you can make people feel something, that gives validity to everything that you have to say through your music, regardless of the implicit or explicit opinions from supposed professionals.

In the end, YOU are responsible for how you play for your audience, not your teacher. And by leaving out this part of you, as you can see, it has disastrous effects. You are obviously a very sensitive person, which makes you perfect for performing, but you do have to become a bit more thick-skinned when it comes to those who criticize you harshly. Remember, it's only a person's opinion, and your opinion is just as valid.

Last edited by Morodiene; 02/12/13 09:08 AM.

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#2032601 - 02/13/13 06:35 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]  
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Sage- Sage works really well for anxiety. I took one fresh sage leaf 4-5 times a week a month before a show and wasn't nervous at all throughout the preformance.

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