Last week we celebrated the wedding of our firstborn son. I can’t begin to tell you how special the whole day was. We now have another very lovely daughter-in-law and sister for Esther. The couple had asked if I would play piano for the songs and accompany our other daughter-in-law as she sang. “No problem,” I said. Just before the service I had some last minute nerves because it was a highly emotional and special occasion for me as mother of the groom. I didn’t want to miss special parts of the ceremony by being stationed at the piano. But our wonderful celebrant affirmed that I needed to be in both places and not to worry about moving as necessary. From then on the nerves fell away and I thoroughly enjoyed my part in the whole occasion.
Performance nerves can strike when we least expect them, so I thought I’d share some helps for nerves before, during and after performances.
The week before: Preparation before the performance
- Deal with repeated mistakes. In the week prior to the performance make sure you have tidied up any mistakes, even the little ones you think won’t trip you up. These are usually the very mistakes nerves like to use!
- Know your stuff well. The better you know your music, the higher will be the confidence needed to keep playing should nerves crop up.
- Do many complete performances. Once the piece is learned all the way through you need to practice playing from start to finish without stops or restarts. For younger children this practice should start from the moment they present to the audience until they sit down at the end again in the audience. Practice complete run-throughs of the performance at different times of the day until there is no sign of restarting at all.
- Get to know your performance place. For my exam pupils I always like to have a little concert for them in the exam room about a week before the exam. This is huge in knowing the room the exam/performance will take place, in trying out the actual piano you will use, and for some play for your very first audience (a friendly supportive group of parents who will do all the nail biting for you if you let them!) As a preparation for playing at the wedding, there was a rehearsal at the venue where I was able to meet the sound technician, other performers and get a feel of the piano.
The day of: Preparation before the performance
- Eat calming foods and avoid unhelpful ones. Green tea, chamomile tea, yoghurt, dark chocolate (yay!) almonds. Don’t eat too much sugar in food or drinks. Save that for the treat after the performance. Too much caffeine probably won’t help unless you are actually sleepy from little sleep (which was the case for this excited mother of the groom.)
- Deep breathing. Take a deep breath to a slow count of 4 and then hold it for a count of 4. Breathe out to a count of 4 and then repeat when the breath is completely released. Each count is about a second apart.
In the moment
- Realise you can do better than you think – the adrenaline will actually help you
- The listeners are on your side. They want you to do well.
- This is what you prepared so hard for – you are not going to let some silly nerves take your moment.
- Don’t identify your mistakes with a grimace or vocal exclamation. Some audiences don’t have a clue what a mistake is, so don’t tell them and they will be much easier to impress.
- But if they do know when you make a mistake, they will be all the more impressed if you handle it well and move on.
- Focus on your task at hand and completely shut out extra noises (babies, shuffling, whispering, etc.)
- Enjoy the moment – all the preparation is done, you may as well enjoy the performance.
After show negatives
- Learn from your mistakes and plan to do it better next time.
- Realise that every performance will help the process get easier.
- If you totally bomb out, you have done your worst, so there is nothing more to be afraid of now. Every performer has a story of the time things didn’t go according to plan. Now you have your story. One day you will laugh about it. Use it as a stepping stone to dealing with fears of failure.
- Humility is a good quality to have. It honestly won’t do you any harm to learn some.
- You now have something you are happy to play at other occasions.
- You just made your parents/friends proud and show something for the financial investment of having lessons.
- A positive performance can motivate and encourage you to move on to the next step in learning new material.
- You can get quite the buzz when you get it right.
- You have given yourself the opportunity to build resilience and your next performance will be that little bit easier.
The afterglow of last week’s occasion will last me a long time, mostly because of an exceptional pair of newlyweds and my wonderful family, close and extended. But I’m also delighted that I can hold in my heart a memory of participating in the music without being hampered by nerves.
Do you have a way of dealing with nerves I haven’t mentioned here? Do leave a comment so we can all benefit.
8 thoughts on “How to Conquer Nerves—before, during and after a performance”
Julie Morrow says:
Great insights, Delwyn, and congratulations on gaining a new daughter-in-grace! Blessings upon you all.
Delwyn McKenzie says:
Sorry I missed getting back to you on this one earlier Julie… thanks for your response. Daughter-in-grace describes her beautifully too. Feeling very blessed.
Marilyn Best says:
Congratulations on your part with the music for the wedding. It was truely memorable.
You played like a true pro, and I wouldn’t have ever thought you had any nerves! It never showed.
A truely memorable day. Well done!
Delwyn McKenzie says:
Apologies for the tardy response Marilyn. What a kind response… so glad to have a special part in a special day.
Congratulations on your son’s wedding. Lovely story sounds like the best wedding of the night! Great info to share Dalwyn, Thank you.
Delwyn McKenzie says:
Thanks for your kind comment Aida, my apologies for the tardy reply. I should warn you… Adam will grow up before you know it, seems no time since our son was Adam’s age. I wonder how many performances Adam will do at the piano between now and then!
Joy Atkinson says:
Wish I could have heard it! Don’t suppose anyone recorded it?
Delwyn McKenzie says:
There was a recording done of it but it is not official or complete. If you want to hear the original artist though here is a link to her singing this song. Chuana sang it with this version in mind while I pretended to be a guitar at the piano https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_F7sxPrCa-E