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I know 'performance anxiety' has been done to death but I'm at my wits end and I don't even have anybody watching...

All set to record my grade 5 video, can play my pieces fine and really want to get it done.

As soon as I hit record I cannot play at all. My hands shake visibly. Often I make a mistake in the first few bars, or somewhere I never make mistakes any other time. When I do make a mistake my mind completely blanks and I cannot recover. I have made probably 20 attempts and got through my first piece acceptably once. As I started piece 2 my hands where shaking so much I couldn't even hit a note accurately and I crashed and burned almost immediately.

While playing I get a lot of 'mind chatter', but I don't know how to quieten this down. I try to concentrate and focus on following the music but ironically when I do this I start to get thoughts like 'hey, going great now, this is the one...' etc which then gets into my head and I fall apart again. Why can't my brain just shut up for 10 minutes! This and the hand shake seems to be the main problems.

I've long got beyond any perfectionism or even expectation that I'll play anywhere near my best. I just want to get through the pieces mostly correctly. I am on the verge of giving up entirely. Is there anything I can do?

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You are not alone. It is normal to have these nerves. The advice I can give you, as I am going through the ABRSM performance exam: incorporate recording in your ‘practice’..and the more often you do it..the more you get used to having the camera on. Whilst you are ready to record..just do a few every day I owning the first few runs will be awkward. I meditate for 5 minutes before or do any calming techniques: yoga or breathing techniques. Key is to calm the ‘chattering monkey’.


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Have a camera on and recording permanently. Eventually you will forget it and capture pieces from practice or self performance sessions. Of course this may not overcome the performance problems with an 'audience'.

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I start every performance with slowly sitting at the piano and taking several very deep breaths. I then mentally think through the first few measures, thinking of how it should sound— all before I play the first note. You might also try this mental talking to your self about the music as you continue playing; thoughts such as e flat major chord in LH or softer next measure— anything related to the music itself rather than anxiety about the music.

I found a book ‘A Soprano On Her Head’ to be quite helpful. You can find very inexpensive used copies.

Last edited by dogperson; 09/23/21 07:29 AM. Reason: Typos
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This sounds just like me, so I feel for you. I do this when playing in front of a camera, or if anyone is around, but especially in front of my piano teacher because the pressure is on even more. I've started trying to record myself every day to try to get used to it. Calming exercises don't help because even when I feel like I'm calm and prepared as soon as I hit that button everything changes. I also get the same "mental chatter" and can't shut it off, and when I think I have shut it off then I start thinking about how I have and then it's all over. I don't have any ideas except to hope that by recording more often and playing more in front of others it'll improve over time.

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Happens to us all. Read up on "fight or flight" syndrome.

Deep breaths.

Practice visualizing yourself playing the pieces well, away from the piano. Go through all the motions as if you were sitting down to play, but in your head. Sports psychologists do this for athletes and it works.

Play the pieces all the way through several times a day. Get used to playing them as if it was second nature.

Practice recording just like you practice piano. You wouldn't think of sitting down to play a piece for an audience without practicing it first. Why do you think you can record without practicing recording? Or performing...

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Here's a book that might help you.

The Inner Game of Music
"...here's a book designed to help musicians overcome obstacles, help improve concentration, and reduce nervousness, allowing them to reach new levels of performing excellence and musical artistry..."

Also like others have said, more recording you will do, the more you will get used to it.



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Originally Posted by spanishbuddha
Have a camera on and recording permanently. Eventually you will forget it and capture pieces from practice or self performance sessions. Of course this may not overcome the performance problems with an 'audience'.

+1. Forbid yourself to practise anything at all without recording yourself, and in case you wear nicer clothes on during recordings, wear those nice clothes also during practice sessions. Put a clock somewhere on or close to your piano, so your camera captures the clock as well. When you manage to play a piece well enough - and this may take a week or even longer - write down the time so you can easily find your good performance on the video. Then cut out this performance, and there you go. smile


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I can relate and I’m not even recording for graded stuff like you are. I can be home alone playing fine turn on camera then immediately everything falls apart then frustration sets in and makes it worse. I have noticed it’s getting better the more I do it though. It’s odd I had to idea it would take practice of having on camera to learn how to play with a camera on. So bizarre but I have also asked this and we’re not alone sounds like it’s very very common even with advanced pianists.

Originally Posted by spanishbuddha
Have a camera on and recording permanently. Eventually you will forget it and capture pieces from practice or self performance sessions. Of course this may not overcome the performance problems with an 'audience'.

+1
This is what helped me too, just leave it running. Reason being every time I stopped camera and started over, I put to much pressure on myself but just letting it run you almost forget it’s going.

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Recording all practice sessions has the added benefit of offering a chance to get a more objective view of (and of course also a good listen to) exactly how you're interacting with the keyboard: your posture, hand and arm shape, any habits of tension. It can be super illuminating!


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I’m a little embarrassed to be the only one with a medical solution, but I experienced all the same ‘stage fright’ symptoms when I first started lecturing to large university classes (125-150 students).

It was so debilitating that I finally went and spoke to my doctor about it.

He prescribed an *extremely low dose* beta-blocker, saying “We routinely give this medication to patients to control blood pressure in doses of 200-250 mg, but one of the odd discoveries is that just a “whiff” of a beta-block almost entirely wipes out stage fright. It’s been reported by thousands of concert musicians and other performers, but let’s try the lowest possible dose (5-10 mg) and then see what happens. However, be sure to take it the first time in some everyday situation, not for the Big Keynote Presentation at a national conference, just so you have a chance to make sure there is nothing that bothers you about it.”

Anyway, it was a miracle cure for me.

Oddly, after just a couple of doses before my 3x a week lectures, ‘my body’ completely lost the stage fright reaction and I’ve never used beta-blockers since, even for the big keynote addresses at conferences with 1000-2000 people. So so weird.

I’ve recommended it to other professors and grad-students who were similarly afflicted (as: talk to your doc! only) and have received emotional notes back, saying things like “Life-changing! Transformed my career!” and “At my first talk, an audience member said he couldn’t hear my voice over the sound of the papers in my hand shaking, and then asked, one week later: ‘oh my god, that was great! what happened?!’

Extreme Low-Dose Beta-blockers happened.

There’s a lot of discussion online about whether this is “fair”, to take a beta-blocker before a performance, along the lines of ‘say no to performance enhancing drugs’. I do fully understand and support the view. However, I am not sure that some people realize just how excruciating and life-ruining or career-ruining stage fright can be for some of us— and I’m not sure it’s “fair” that not everyone experiences it like some of us do. We practice just as hard, we prepare just as diligently.

btw, even with low-dose beta-blockers, all the excitement, sometimes dread, some anxiety, and some fear is still present as I prepare for a lecture or big talk, but the horrible physical symptoms (e.g., knees and hands shaking, complete inability to focus, etc.) are now entirely gone, first thanks to the med, easing the adrenaline over-reaction and then, nearly immediately, thanks to the near-instant “retraining” of my brain.

As others note online, some wish to quickly wean themselves off the meds because there’s a little bit of a trade-off between the ‘sparkle’ that high adrenaline give you in a performance, and the easing of the awful symptoms. You’ll need to assess that seriously, yourself, if you give it a try.

All the other advice is really great and sound and safe— but, if that fails, before giving up, maybe: talk to a doc.

Last edited by mtb; 09/23/21 02:10 PM.

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Back in my day we called that "Red Light Fever" because old recording studio had a red light that went on when tape was rolling to people knew to shut up and don't enter the studio. When I was young I didn't get red light fever, but as I grown old I have developed a case of it. What's weird for me is I can playing with teachers or others and not hesitation, but by myself recording audio and/or video I can get the fever.


Two solutions was to start recording all the time when practicing so hitting the record button becomes just part of playing. Especially today when it's easy to record entire practice sessions. I also record my lessons I get to where I just forget the recorder is running. So record all the time so you don't even think about it, plus listening to yourself play is your best teacher.

Also what helps me is when I screwup when recording I get ticked at myself for messing up so I keep doing more takes. I find as I do more takes I get more focused on playing right and I forget I'm recording.

It's like stage fright you have to get to where you're nervous until you hit the first note and after that all focus is on playing. Something they taught at music school was learning to control turning your focus on and off as needed. When the song starts all focus is on the music for the duration of the tune, then you turn you focus off until the next tune.

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Originally Posted by mtb
I’m a little embarrassed to be the only one with a medical solution, but I experienced all the same ‘stage fright’ symptoms when I first started lecturing to large university classes (125-150 students).


I’ve recommended it to other professors and grad-students who were similarly afflicted (as: talk to your doc! only) and have received emotional notes back, saying things like “Life-changing! Transformed my career!” and “At my first talk, an audience member said he couldn’t hear my voice over the sound of the papers in my hand shaking, and then asked, one week later: ‘oh my god, that was great! what happened?!’

Extreme Low-Dose Beta-blockers happened.
A not-so-secretive secret: in every professional orchestra, there will be a few players who take propranolol prior to performances. Some may only take it if they have a big solo to play (e.g. the clarinettist in Rachmaninov's Symphony No.2, or the concert master in R.Strauss's Morgen! or Beim Schlafengehen......and if you're the horn player in this, you definitely don't want to crack your note just because your lips seize up due to nerves (even if you're a kid whistle):


Among solo concert pianists, it's probably used more often than we know, but it's even more hushed up. No virtuoso wants to admit he uses beta blockers to quell the effects of performance anxiety.

As always, your doctor can advise you if contemplating propranolol (- if you have certain conditions, it is contraindicated) - which, BTW, is licensed for anxiety in most countries.

As for me, I do suffer from time to time with performance anxiety - and I perform in a monthly recital. But I've never used beta-blockers. My piano exam days are long over, and I'm too old to care if my hands and feet shake (which they do, if I'm stricken) in the middle of Scarbo...... smirk

Incidentally, propranolol is not a performance-enhancing drug: it's a performance-restorative drug if you are a musician (but not an archer). Caffeine, on the other hand, is performance-enhancing - and I know, because all my PRs (= PBs) in running (10K, 1/2 marathon, marathon, ultra-marathons) were set when I used it. But it's entirely legal, including in the Olympics......


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When you're practicing, leave the camera on. The first few times playing a piece you may not do it perfectly but eventually you will do a much better job. I'd go to a movie editor and trim off the sections that have missed notes. When you're not playing, watch your good playing over a few times. Eventually you get the performance into your head and your mind just think about your good playing.

Instead of recording an entire piece all at once, do it in sections and probably in slow tempo until you're ready to do it in full tempo. Play a section very well and press record. Before playing just sit still for a minute or so and focus on your hand positions. I tend to memorize sections of my pieces so I'm not as nervous having to read every note. If you can get the first bar perfectly, the rest would follow by muscle memory.

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Originally Posted by elczkc
All set to record my grade 5 video, can play my pieces fine and really want to get it done.


How did you handle grades 1-4 ?


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Not sure if I want to be promoting the drug option.

You can get family members to listen to your playing. Once you feel comfortable having people around, your fear of playing in front of people would diminish. I can remember in my school days learning to play violin. The first time I had a concert with other students in the school auditorium in December before the Christmas break. Nobody came forward and admitted they had stage fright.

Meanwhile, when you're practicing, work on small bits to solidify your playing for each section. You need to be able to repeat the same sections a few times. Some people learned a piece and can play it well once or twice but not all the time. If you have uncertainty, you can stumble.

Today I was at a music store trying a few pianos. I played a piece I worked on & off for 3 weeks. In the back was a young man working on the Chopin Ballade. After a few bars of intro, he started stumbling a bit. The piece needs work but people who knows Chopin can hear what he was playing. People walking in & out of the store didn't bother me. Didn't seem to bother him either.

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Do you remember the snooker player Bill Werbeniuk who had 10 pints of lager per game to control arm shaking as his propranolol was outlawed by the governing body? I try the same for the piano but it has deleterious effects on my legato. J

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Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
Not sure if I want to be promoting the drug option.
Put it this way: I know all about drugs, because it's a big part of my job, and I'm very, very, very old and therefore have a lot of experience of their effects on lots and lots and lots of people.

Which is why I'd never touch alcohol (I value my grey cells too much), nor smoke, let alone do weed or whatever people get up to these days.

But if I was going to do piano exams again, I'd take propranolol without a second thought. One 10mg tablet before the exam. Just like I might take an anti-inflammatory if my ancient knees creak & groan after a long ascent of Nanga Parbat.

BTW, I'm not on any medications, and have no health issues.


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The health benefits of meditation are well known with incredible side effects, I’d encourage you down this route.


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I am still waiting to hear what he (OP) did for grades 1-4.

I would say ..... Well, do that.


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