“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.”
Plato

Friday, July 26, 2013

Anxiety


     A student writes that he suffers immensely from performance anxiety. He practices diligently but feels out of control in performance and he can't stop negative thoughts from interfering. 
     My response: It sounds as if you are at that place where trust is an issue: You don't trust yourself to do what you know how to do. Developing this self trust comes with experience, but there are specific steps you can take. If most of your practicing consists of playing at tempo, then change that to practicing mostly under tempo. For many pianists, playing from memory is a major anxiety factor. So, take away most of the digital memory by playing so very slowly that you can think of the next notes before you play them and then play them deliberately. We rely on digital memory in speed, of course, but constant repetition in speed sends the other types of memory—aural, visual, intellectual—further into the unconscious. By reinforcing the other memories, you will be able to say to your yourself, yes, I know this piece. I call this giving ourselves permission to do what we know. 

     I know it's easier said than done, but try to find a still

point in your mind before you walk on stage. I call it a safe house. In this place I can control my breathing, which I do by deliberately concentrating on it, taking deep, slow breaths. This will help slow your pulse and increase the chances of finding the right tempos, reducing that feeling of being out of control. Next, I transfer that focus to the first piece. What is the mood and what does it feel like to play the opening notes? Every pianist is unique. You will find your way. 
     There is more about performance anxiety elsewhere in this blog and a chapter on it in Piano Technique Demystified: Insights into Problem Solving.

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