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Performance Anxiety – A Musician’s Perspective

Hey fellow Black Sheep we hope all is well. Today, we want to welcome a special guest writer, Steven Phan.

Steven Phan is currently a student at the University of North Texas studying Music Performance. He is accustomed to performing in front of an audience. In this article, Steven discusses the feelings of stress and anxiety and how he has coped and overcome these feelings. Performance anxiety not only affects musicians, but can be examined across people from all walks of life.

Let’s check out what Steven has to say about this.

The very nature of a musician’s career is a constant cycle of performances, auditions and competitions. There is no denying that a career in music is embedded with moments of intense pressure. The feelings one experiences in the days, hours or minutes before your next performance are some of the most crucial. How you react to this stimuli can determine the outcome of your success on stage.

It is common for musicians and artists to experience performance anxiety. Performance anxiety is the stress, fear and nervousness of performing in front of people that can manifest the body in both a physical and emotional form. Symptoms of performance anxiety can vary from person to person; common ones being, rapid pulse, hyperventilation, dry mouth, and trembling parts of the body.

A businessman sheepishly steps up to a microphone as he is exhibits his fear of public speaking.

I believe that the obstacles of performance anxiety are an opportunity for self-exploration, and that through a better understanding of performance anxiety we may better understand our identities.

Performing is more natural than you think; we perform every day, and we play the roles of different characters in every moment of our life. We are always redefining our identity based on our social interactions with others. In daily life, you can be rowdy and playful around your friends and then be serious and well-mannered around your boss. We see a reflection of ourselves through others based on how we believe the other person perceives us, this is known as Charles Cooley’s Looking-Glass Self Theory.

Performance Anxiety – Charles Cooley’s Looking-Glass Self Theory

It is an illustration of a spotlight illuminated by the darkness

Charles Cooley is famous for the quote, “I am not who I think I am, I am not who you think I am. I am who I think you think I am.”

From a musician’s perspective, the fears that come from performance anxiety stem from the idea that the outcome of a performance is based on how the performer imagines how he or she is being perceived by the audience. We can practice this by studying how the interactions we encounter with family, friends and strangers affect our mood, behavior, appearance and character. In the same way that we embody different people throughout the day, a performer must embody the music they are playing. As we study how we must act around different individuals, you must also study the possible political and cultural influences of music being played to fit the performance. Despite this, no performance can be without flaws.

The success of a performance should not be determined by how perfectly you played, or how nervous you were.

Performance Anxiety – Tips and tricks

The success lies within self-exploration and how you share that journey with your audience. Here are some tips to help you along your journey to overcome performance anxiety:

● Being a musician means performing is a constant in life

● What performance anxiety is, how does it affect you and make you feel

● Performance anxiety can be used as self-exploration about one’s identity in hopes that with practice we can dictate what our identity is at any given moment and use it to our advantage

● Performance is natural and a part of everyday life based on different interactions with others

● Charles Cooley quote and theory

● How this quote and theory relates to how we act as performers

● How we can practice acting out the identity you would like to be so that you may feel more confident on how others perceive you when you perform

● We can practice this by studying the everyday interactions that we encounter every day. In order to use Cooley’s theory to our advantage, we can imagine the person we are interacting with as a mirror in which we can view ourselves and study the way we think we are being perceived

● How you can make personal adjustments to be the identity you want to be

● A successful performance is not based on how perfectly you performed or how nervous you were

● Success of a performance should be based on how much of yourself you were able to communicate with the audience by being the most authentic version of yourself

Performance Anxiety – Conclusion

Performance anxiety can be found beyond the performance stage and in our very own lives. Ask anyone, they will definitely have a unique story on how they dealt with performance anxiety. Musicians, teachers, athletes, servicemembers, actors, and many more have or are dealing with performance anxiety. You are not alone! Similar to our last segment Pain and Fear, we can help transform these feelings into something positive.

We hope you have enjoyed this short segment written by Steven Phan. If you have a story to share regarding performance anxiety, please reach out to us,

Till next time!!!!

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