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#2023372 - 01/29/13 10:31 AM Performance anxiety getting progressively worse
Vasilievich Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/04/10
Posts: 90
"You get better the more you do it."
"Confidence comes from experience."
These are things I've heard and read a thousand times, and yet in my case the opposite seems true. I've been in graduate school for two years now. In that time, I've watched my ability to perform go steadily downhill. I went from only having performed a handful of times in my life and giving a very good audition with some difficult repertoire, to now being barely able to make it through any piece after the "experience" playing over 50 different solo and chamber recitals and other performances in the past few years. It doesn't seem to matter how much I practice (6-9 hours a day most days), or the way I practice (most of the time below performance tempo), or how many relaxation methods, visualization techniques or books and blogs I read on the subject. Depite knowing that I have done something literally hundreds of times before in practice, I can't kick the self doubt away when it comes time to perform.

The best way to describe how it feels is as if I were in a car approaching a hilly road: I feel my gears start to lock up as I approach a passage and I ultimately stall, sputter, stop and have to restart or just push to somewhere else and start from there. Sometimes I start actually physically shaking, like I'm shivering but not cold. This happens again and again throughout the piece, and the bumps are often not even technically or musically challenging passages and things that I have never struggled with in the practice room. In fact, practicing and warming up for a performance I generally feel good about it and prepared! Once a performance starts though, there I am on that treacherous road. My teachers here have not been helpful, mostly parroting the lines like those at the top and the general "practice more," which aside from being impossible unless I give up sleeping altogether, I don't think addresses the real problem which seems like more of a mental self-confidence issue. I haven't gotten along well with my primary teacher from the outset and was actually kicked out of my lesson once, having learned, memorized and written paper on a work and brought it to play it for him (he was convinced that it was completely out of my league and I could never do it so he refused to even listen to a single note), so I'm not sure if that teacher-student relationship factors into all this in any way. I'm in my final semester facing my graduating recital in a few months and am now getting desperate to figure out how to reverse this seemingly out of control tail spin my performance has entered.

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#2023377 - 01/29/13 10:44 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Nikolas Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 4997
Loc: Europe
Ok...

I've never ever had such an issue. I'm generally confident when I go out in public, as long as I'm prepared to do what I'm supposed to do: Give a recital? Fine. Sing well rehearsed songs? Fine. Dance naked? Fine... The minute someone asks me to dance, I have to get another ton of beer in order to bare my feet further from my table/bar and even then my dance moves are impossible... :-/ Of course when I'm alone, or dancing with my kids I'm very much fine...

_________________________

My impression from your post is that you are in a loop right now. This thread is probably the perfect proof of that! You are overthinking about it, which definitely doesn't help.

Your relationship with your primary teacher seems to have something to do with this... I do think that I'd always give a chance to my students if they brought me something, even if I thought it rubbish as a thought alone!

__________________________

Now the what to do...

I'm not sure, to be honest.

I think that professional psychological help might help there (is there something like that in your uni?).

The other things you could do would be to actually start video taping yourself, or playing in audience constantly (like every day if possible). It doesn't matter what you play or how well you play it. Find a 'free piano on the street', if you can, or get to a friends house (musician or not), and play the piano without asking for permission. Even if it's for 10 secs and then you'll get arrested(!!!). Don't play something supper difficult. In fact play anything: Try some Anna Magdalena, or some Czerny if you wish. Play anything stupid. Play it wrong for all you care...

Now, I think that I'll let Mark post... I'm a composer, not a psychologist... wink

but best of luck.
_________________________
http://www.musica-ferrum.com

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#2023381 - 01/29/13 10:52 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
ClsscLib Online   content

Platinum Supporter until Jan 02 2013


Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 1599
Loc: Northern VA, U.S.
You're obviously a very, very skilled and accomplished pianist. I'm not. I'm an adult beginner. Yet when I read your account of the symptoms of when this happens, I identified completely. I played in my first-ever piano recital in December, and I felt exactly what you described.

I have only one suggestion to offer, and take it for the little that it may be worth:

This does NOT sound like a piano problem. It sounds like an anxiety problem. It appears to me from what you say that all the practicing in the world won't address the issue. The key (much easier to say than to do!) is to re-orient your own perception of the performance experience so that you find a way to leave the various stress and worry factors behind when you sit down to perform.

The teacher and other aspects of your performance setting may be part of the issue; I had a little of that too, and I've found a way to begin making things better.

Here's what I did. I made a point of finding some ways to perform in front of small groups of friendly and completely supportive listeners. Doing that -- and trying to assume the same frame of mind I would in any performance -- has begun to make me feel more confident about playing for others. Perhaps doing "mock performances" for friends could help you get back on track?

Oddly, the disaster recital experience was completely new for me. I do a lot of public speaking in front of large audiences of very smart people, and I'm never fazed by it. I've also performed publicly in an orchestra section hundreds of times -- no stage fright. But playing piano by myself to an audience for the first time was absolutely terrifying. There's no logical reason that should be so, and I'm trying to find ways to convince my silly brain that it's just a normal, human experience.

I sympathize with your frustration and wish you the very best in solving the problem, as I know you will.
_________________________


"People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing."

-- Florence Foster Jenkins

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#2023390 - 01/29/13 11:09 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
chopin_r_us Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/17/10
Posts: 773
Loc: UK
Can you play through your programme in your head perfectly, no hesitation or breaks at all? knowing the harmony as you go? Can you do this hands separately?

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#2023445 - 01/29/13 01:03 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: chopin_r_us]
Vasilievich Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/04/10
Posts: 90
Originally Posted By: chopin_r_us
Can you play through your programme in your head perfectly, no hesitation or breaks at all? knowing the harmony as you go? Can you do this hands separately?


Yes, I have used several visualization techniques like you describe with little effect. Last semester I was preparing the Rachmaninoff fourth concerto for a competition and decided to try spending at least a quarter to half of my practice time on the piece just playing it mentally. When then final round came around, I still became gripped with terror that i would not be able to do it this time and in places completely froze, and then once I had "thawed" having to then jump ahead to catch up to my accompanist.

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#2023458 - 01/29/13 01:32 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
bennevis Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4402
Do you ever perform in a low-stress situation, like for friends, colleagues and family, or at someone's home at a gathering or party, or even in shopping malls and hotel lobbies, where you aren't judged by knowledgeable critics?

This is the principle of gradual exposure to increasingly stressful situations, and adaptation - works for phobias, social or otherwise (like spiders, creepy-crawlies etc). It also works for acquired stress, which seems to be what happened in your situation.

I used to dread anything to do with playing in public, or speaking in public, but by gradual exposure, initially playing for friends and acquaintances who aren't pianists and don't know much about classical music (so I could play as many wrong notes as I liked....), I got used to it, and it doesn't bother me anymore. Not even when I play fistfuls of wrong notes grin.

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#2023460 - 01/29/13 01:34 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Ralph Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/01
Posts: 1293
Loc: Delaware (slower/lower)
Some types of anxiety simply cannot be overcome by preparation. Many careers have been ruined by such an affliction. It's a controversial issue, but maybe some medication is in order.
_________________________
Do or do not. There is no try.

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#2023470 - 01/29/13 01:50 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
FSO Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/03/12
Posts: 741
Loc: UK, Brighton
Oh my, um, I completely understand (I think). I mean, I'm nowhere near as good as you, but my first concerts were fine, then the shaking came, vomiting in intervals etc. and then, after a year of this steadily worsening ailment, froze when a fairly simple solo in a reorchestrated version of Kije's Wedding popped up...um...I gave up public performance after that...I can't play in front of more than one person nowadays unless my best friend is there in the room with me...even recording alone is a struggle...she lives half way around the world now, so ho hum laugh Anywho, getting back to you (I just...I wanted you to not feel so utterly alone in your state is all smile ), it sounds like a similar...maddening and perplexing condition which is, of course, completely psychological. It's impossible to diagnose and fix you just like that, in a forum such as this (I'm sure Mark will rush to say), so any advice given here must be taken with a "maybe this will help"...but there's *something* blocking you from performing in front of an *audience*; if it were insecurity about unfamiliarity with the works surely you'd have come across improvement with practice, by *knowing* that you know it forwards and backwards...so, um, I'd be pretty sure (in that maybe kind of way wink ) it's nothing to do with that...I...it *could* be a simple over-exaggeration of the fear of failure, as brought about by practicing so you *know* you know it...um...I mean, I'd follow Nikolas's advice in your position; try performing in front of someone casually but, perhaps, try playing a piece you *don't* know so well...I mean, if it's a half remembered piece from years ago nobody could blame you for playing it wrong, right? So...um...there'd be no reason to panic about failing as you *couldn't* fail...but, that's only if that *is* the problem, which it all too easily might not be laugh But it's worth investigating, right? Beyond that...um...I'd have to start questioning whether anything changed in your life, or how you felt about it, about the time that the problem started presenting itself...which would be much better explored with a counselor. Um...I...I just wouldn't worry *too* much about this, it'll pass sooner or later; I understand my problem and why my friend helps me and I will perform well, publicly, again one day...you just need to find out what you're tripping over; I'm really sure (maybe wink ) that it's not a lack of preparation...crikey this is too long, um...take care!
Xxx
P.S. Your teachers sound just awful, frankly.
_________________________
Sometimes, we all just need to be shown a little kindness <3

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#2023483 - 01/29/13 02:09 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Vasilievich Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/04/10
Posts: 90
Now that I have a lunch break, thanks for all the advice so far!
Quote:
You are overthinking about it, which definitely doesn't help

Absolutely. I have over thought everything in my life since I was 12 or so. In elementary a girl gave me her lunch card to keep safe in my pocket, I forgot to give it back to her and the pants went through the wash. I was mortified when I realized what had happened and did not come out of my room for a week, fixated on it. I know this sort of behavior is silly, but unfortunately being aware that it is silly doesn't seem to equate to stopping it.

Quote:
I think that professional psychological help might help there (is there something like that in your uni?).

I have thought about this as well, as I have struggled in general with self confidence and perfectionism my whole life so music performance may be a reflection of something else.

Quote:
The other things you could do would be to actually start video taping yourself

Yes, I do this and record myself regularly to try to keep track of and develop my interpretation of a piece, as well as occasionally share it with others via YouTube or a cd. And while It can be frustrating because I obsess over it so much, especially if I plan on distributing the recording, I don't have the same feelings as performing in front of someone and am generally able to accomplish what I want.

Quote:
The key (much easier to say than to do!) is to re-orient your own perception of the performance experience so that you find a way to leave the various stress and worry factors behind when you sit down to perform.

I agree, although I'm not sure exactly how to do that. Simply trying to "think positive" doesn't work, there is still doubt there, even if I try to ignore it, and then of course I am aware that I am trying to ignore it so I'm not really ignoring it...perhaps I simply need a straight jacket.

Quote:
Perhaps doing "mock performances" for friends could help you get back on track?

I already do this regularly and the results are mixed—sometimes better than a "real" performance, and sometimes the same. One idea I had, however, was to have a practice "buddy" so to speak, that would work with you (and assuredly, vice versa) much like a spotter at the gym—actively encouraging and helping you through a piece as you play.

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#2023505 - 01/29/13 03:20 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Serge Marinkovic Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/11/09
Posts: 328
Loc: United States
I am a urologist not a psychiatrist but it sounds like anxiety disorder and sometimes there can be panic attacks mixed in. Because it has progressed after taking it carefully at first it's simply the way God has made you.
_________________________
Serge P. Marinkovic, MD


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#2023516 - 01/29/13 03:31 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
ClsscLib Online   content

Platinum Supporter until Jan 02 2013


Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 1599
Loc: Northern VA, U.S.
Originally Posted By: Vasilievich
...One idea I had, however, was to have a practice "buddy" so to speak, that would work with you (and assuredly, vice versa) much like a spotter at the gym—actively encouraging and helping you through a piece as you play.


This seems like a really good idea.

If your case is like mine, being asked to give a public performance induces a "fight or flight" reaction in what my doctor calls our "lizard brains".

It may well be that having a "buddy" supporting you in your practice performances (and maybe even having the same person turn pages for you during the real thing?) could re-introduce a basis for believing (at the "lizard brain" level) that performance is a social activity to be embraced, and not a frightening experience that should produce this level of anxiety.
_________________________


"People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing."

-- Florence Foster Jenkins

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#2023519 - 01/29/13 03:42 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
beet31425 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/12/09
Posts: 3621
Loc: Bay Area, CA
Vasilievich,

I suggest that there's a connection between your ongoing anxiety and your relationship with your primary teacher. In the best of circumstances (protective, encouraging, tough but non-judgmental teacher who you trust with your life), performing can be very difficult. I can't imagine laboring under the conditions you describe. It sounds toxic, and toxicity spreads and invades all aspects of life.

If there's any faculty there you truly trust, maybe a few lessons with them might help. Not necessarily for the concrete advice they might offer, but for the sense of support. For many people, that simply makes all the difference.

-J
_________________________
Schoenberg op.10+k, Beethoven op.100+k for k=9
Schubert D.899/4, Chopin op.25/2

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#2023781 - 01/30/13 01:40 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Peter K. Mose Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/06/12
Posts: 1242
Loc: Toronto, Ontario
You can use all sorts of helpful techniques to diminish some of this anxiety, but I think it's imperative that you find a teacher (perhaps in secret) who is warm, loving, and supportive-as-heck. Perhaps you have never encountered such a keyboard mentor, but we do exist - in every metropolis, if not necessarily at every university or conservatory.

Secondly, you should seek out a psychotherapist you are comfortable with, and give this avenue some serious work over a period of the next year or two. Because "performing pianist" is a major part of how you define yourself.

Thirdly, there's no dishonor in deciding, "Public performance is not for me as a pianist. I leave that for others. So instead I need to examine more carefully what the future holds for me professionally, as I near the close of my formal studies."

Good luck, and thanks for the candor.


Edited by Peter K. Mose (01/30/13 01:41 AM)

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#2023785 - 01/30/13 01:59 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Elene Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/26/07
Posts: 1402
Loc: near keyboard, mouth open
Vasilievich, I'm so sorry that this is happening to you, and especially that your teacher is so unsupportive.

I think I may have an idea why your situation has been getting worse. It may be like what happens when people become agoraphobic. They have a panic attack once, or a few times, and then they are so afraid of having another that they can't put themselves in a situation where it might happen again. They become anxious about the anxiety itself, in a way, and things snowball. It's a learned response, and it's possible to learn something different.

With what you describe about your life of perfectionism and anxiety, I do think that professional help sounds like a great idea for you, and I hope that appropriate help is available in your area. In my own practice I treat such issues with acupuncture, herbs, and energy work (Reiki, etc.).

One of my patients is using self-prescribed Holy Basil (tulsi) for her anxiety at the moment with good effect. There are a number of effective herbs, supplements, and homeopathic remedies. A pharmaceutical medication might be the way to go for you. Please do look into trying something to help smooth out your brain chemistry. You don't have to just keep suffering like this. It may be "the way God made you," but that doesn't mean you can't become a happier and more effective version of you!

Among the relaxation techniques, etc. that you've tried, I wonder if you've come across Emotional Freedom Technique? It's a method of tapping on acupuncture points that has been hugely helpful for a lot of people's performance issues. It's simple to learn, costs nothing to do for yourself (but there are skilled professionals to help with it too), and has no adverse effects. If you would like to look into EFT, there are a couple of sites that give a lot of free information (just Google, and/or PM me about it).

Elene
_________________________
Semi-Pro Musica

Blog: http://elenedom.wordpress.com
Website: http://elenelistens.com






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#2024002 - 01/30/13 11:40 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
sophial Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/11/05
Posts: 3405
Loc: US
Vasilievich,

I'm sorry you are having such a difficult time. My advice would be to get some professional psychological help and a new teacher if possible. Best of luck with this!

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#2024020 - 01/30/13 12:18 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Keymar Rob Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/24/11
Posts: 17
Loc: Maryland, USA
I had the same problem. I solved it with beta blockers. The only thing you feel is normal and no shakes or muscle lockups.

I also use them when I testify in court.

They don't make me a better pianist, practice is the only solution there, but they do make me a relaxed one.

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#2024025 - 01/30/13 12:31 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Pogorelich. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/28/08
Posts: 4491
Loc: in the past
I have the same problem and no, it's not teacher related I'll tell you that. It's definitely mental. I'm considering seeing a therapist and we'll see. Jus know that you're not alone.
_________________________

'I want to invest my emotions only in music; it will never disappoint me or hurt me - it is a safe place to be.'

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#2024080 - 01/30/13 02:18 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Vasilievich Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/04/10
Posts: 90
Thanks again for the advice, everyone. It does seem that the problem i'm having is more psychological than musical.
Quote:
*knowing* that you know it forwards and backwards

This gave me an idea. I had my lesson again this morning, so practicing for it last night, I decided to "test" my memory of the piece by trying to literally play through the entire sonata backwards, phrase by phrase from memory. I was able to do so quite readily, thus, now I theoretically actually and consciously knew that I know the work forwards and backwards. Yet in my lesson I still was extremely nervous, unsure and had racing, panicked thoughts while playing, an inability to focus, leading to stutters and blank outs like I described above. The fact that I went in being able to play through it forwards and backwards from memory seems to indicate pretty clearly that the problem is not at all related to memory or knowledge of a piece of music, but yes, something to do with the psychological element of performing itself that is somehow putting a wall up between all that preparation and the actual execution. As an in-debt graduate student I'm not sure I could afford regular psychiatric help, but it's seeming like it may be just about the only avenue left to explore, as no amount or method of practicing seems to help.

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#2024087 - 01/30/13 02:37 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
beet31425 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/12/09
Posts: 3621
Loc: Bay Area, CA
Originally Posted By: Vasilievich
As an in-debt graduate student I'm not sure I could afford regular psychiatric help, but it's seeming like it may be just about the only avenue left to explore, as no amount or method of practicing seems to help.

There are three avenues here, not two: (1) practicing more/better/different (2) psychological help; (3) a much more supportive teaching environment.

Please do really consider the effects of (3) on your performance anxiety. We're all different, and this might not apply to Pogorelich e.g., but it might really apply to you.

Best,

-J
_________________________
Schoenberg op.10+k, Beethoven op.100+k for k=9
Schubert D.899/4, Chopin op.25/2

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#2024091 - 01/30/13 02:43 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Keymar Rob]
Vasilievich Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/04/10
Posts: 90
Originally Posted By: Keymar Rob
I had the same problem. I solved it with beta blockers.

A few friends have suggested this to me (among other drugs and substances!), but as I understand, this still requires a prescription and can have some nasty side effects. I've always been a very independent, self-driven person—I like to figure out and solve things for myself (hence why I'm skittish about seeing a psychiatrist, as well) so I am loath to the idea of taking medication. This might just be something I can't tackle without help, though.

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#2024093 - 01/30/13 02:53 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Nikolas Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 4997
Loc: Europe
Originally Posted By: Vasilievich
Originally Posted By: Keymar Rob
I had the same problem. I solved it with beta blockers.

A few friends have suggested this to me (among other drugs and substances!), but as I understand, this still requires a prescription and can have some nasty side effects. I've always been a very independent, self-driven person—I like to figure out and solve things for myself (hence why I'm skittish about seeing a psychiatrist, as well) so I am loath to the idea of taking medication. This might just be something I can't tackle without help, though.
Good for you! And well done on resisting the 'easy way out'! smile
_________________________
http://www.musica-ferrum.com

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#2024103 - 01/30/13 03:09 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: beet31425]
Vasilievich Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/04/10
Posts: 90
Originally Posted By: beet31425
(3) a much more supportive teaching environment.

Please do really consider the effects of (3) on your performance anxiety. We're all different, and this might not apply to Pogorelich e.g., but it might really apply to you.

I actually do agree that at best this certainly doesn't help, and at worst has actually precipitated the entire problem itself. I believe there is something you can learn from everyone, however not all relationships are positive ones, and that certainly seems to be the case here. The day I was removed from my own lesson and essentially told I wasn't "good enough" to even justify hearing my performance of a piece of music that I knew I could play—I actually went to the other piano faculty member the next day after giving myself some time to "cool down" and asked point blank if I could change teachers, only to find that my teacher had gotten to him first and complained about me, and thus I was denied from changing studios due to political reasons. At that point I was so upset that I was ready to drop out of the program entirely and try to transfer to a school somewhere else. But being in my final semester, that seems perhaps foolish. It would also look and sound impulsive on a transcript or if I had to ever explain it to any one. Thus I decided a sensible course of action for the time being is to stick it out these last few months, then I can take some time off and sort this out, and hopefully find a better teacher. I do still have to make it through this final term, though, which is a daunting task given the current state of things. Three months never seemed so long.

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#2024111 - 01/30/13 03:27 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
bennevis Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4402
Originally Posted By: Vasilievich
Originally Posted By: Keymar Rob
I had the same problem. I solved it with beta blockers.

A few friends have suggested this to me (among other drugs and substances!), but as I understand, this still requires a prescription and can have some nasty side effects. I've always been a very independent, self-driven person—I like to figure out and solve things for myself (hence why I'm skittish about seeing a psychiatrist, as well) so I am loath to the idea of taking medication. This might just be something I can't tackle without help, though.


Beta-blockers are routinely used in hypertension (though not so much these days - calcium channel blockers and ACE-Is are preferred) and for angina and heart failure - and among performers to reduce the symptoms of nerves. They don't actually stop you feeling nervous, but just reduce (or even stop) the shaking, sweating etc that go with nerves. As long as you're not asthmatic, side-effects are remarkably few. They slow the heart down, so will reduce exercise tolerance. But playing the piano isn't like running 400m on the track. Whether you want to try them is up to you, but most doctors will be quite willing to prescribe them for anxiety symptoms, for which they're licensed.

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#2024114 - 01/30/13 03:32 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
ando Online   content
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/10
Posts: 3341
Loc: Melbourne, Australia
Originally Posted By: Vasilievich
I've always been a very independent, self-driven person—I like to figure out and solve things for myself (hence why I'm skittish about seeing a psychiatrist, as well)


You might be under a misapprehension about what therapy is. It need not be pharmaceutical in nature (although that is an option). Perhaps you should try a psychologist first, rather than a psychiatrist. Among the things counselling can offer you:

- to learn coping strategies.
- to get an objective view of things you can't be objective about.
- to work through issues that you have stalled on or avoided, but which are related to your current predicament.

What it won't do is:
- Do the work for you: you still have to confront whatever is bothering you.
- It's not a magic bullet, it's only as effective as your willingness to confront and work through things. You get out what you put in.

I suspect you need all of the things mentioned above. It generally takes some time to find the right therapist and to work through things, but it will no doubt be part of the solution if you want to conquer this problem. The fact that you seem quite mystified by your performance anxiety suggests you need greater insight into the problem. Don't be a "self-sufficient" hero - get some assistance! If you could solve it on your own, you would have by now.

I sincerely wish you the best in your quest.

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#2024157 - 01/30/13 04:45 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Krummholz Offline
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From your initial post, I see you're approaching the end of grad school with your final recital coming up in a few months. I know from years of experience that perfectionism can be a terribly debilitating prison to find oneself in, and one which is very difficult to escape from.

I wonder about the extent to which you've become overwhelmed by an understandable desire to deliver a flawless performance at this recital rather than focusing on the simple joy of making music, both for your own enjoyment and for the enjoyment of others. Do you sense that your confidence as a performer might return once graduate school is behind you?
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#2024217 - 01/30/13 06:37 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
aidans Offline
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Registered: 03/08/10
Posts: 141
This may be something you've already tried, but in case you haven't, it's something that has been surprisingly useful for me.

I write down the things that I want to be true of myself, in first-person, present tense. If this sounds lame, bear with me. My high school cross country coach taught me this, and it's a very common technique among distance runners, for whatever that's worth. So I write things down, like, "I play my best under pressure," and "I am a natural performer." I write them 5 or 10 times at a time, one right after the other, at least once a day.

It's hard to describe the effect, but it slowly changes your "gut sense" about yourself.

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#2024227 - 01/30/13 06:50 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: bennevis]
MarkH Offline
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Registered: 11/16/08
Posts: 828
Loc: Seattle, WA
Originally Posted By: bennevis
Originally Posted By: Vasilievich
Originally Posted By: Keymar Rob
I had the same problem. I solved it with beta blockers.

A few friends have suggested this to me (among other drugs and substances!), but as I understand, this still requires a prescription and can have some nasty side effects. I've always been a very independent, self-driven person—I like to figure out and solve things for myself (hence why I'm skittish about seeing a psychiatrist, as well) so I am loath to the idea of taking medication. This might just be something I can't tackle without help, though.


Beta-blockers are routinely used in hypertension (though not so much these days - calcium channel blockers and ACE-Is are preferred) and for angina and heart failure - and among performers to reduce the symptoms of nerves. They don't actually stop you feeling nervous, but just reduce (or even stop) the shaking, sweating etc that go with nerves. As long as you're not asthmatic, side-effects are remarkably few. They slow the heart down, so will reduce exercise tolerance. But playing the piano isn't like running 400m on the track. Whether you want to try them is up to you, but most doctors will be quite willing to prescribe them for anxiety symptoms, for which they're licensed.


Another supporter of beta blockers here. My experiences were quite similar to yours (though perhaps not quite so severe): shakey fingers, memory slips, dramatically reduced reading ability (when performing from music), despite not being "nervous" before beginning, or experiencing any such symptoms in other high-pressure settings, like public speaking. I'm not into pharmaceutical solutions generally - otherwise I take no drugs except for antibiotics when I have an infection. However, beta blockers are magical for me. They allow me to see, hear, and think clearly when performing. And I experience 0 side effects from them (except of course that I can't go off and work out like a maniac right after a performance, because they temporarily reduce your heart rate and blood pressure).

I remember after a particularly bad performance filled with memory slips, someone suggested that I should seek psychological counseling. From my perspective, this seemed ridiculous and inappropriate. It seemed clear to me that the issue was physiological, and a physiological solution in the form of beta blockers seems to have solved the issue. This is not to say that your situation might not benefit from psychological assistance, but given that you would ideally be giving your graduation recital in 4 months, it seems reasonable to find a solution that will get you through this part of your life quickly. After you're out of this unhappy situation you've become stuck in at school, you'll have plenty of time (and hopefully a little more money) to deal with any psychological issues you might want to tackle with professional help.
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#2024238 - 01/30/13 07:18 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Ralph Offline
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Typically the dose of beta blockers when used for anxiety is 1/10th the dose used for hypertension or angina. Usually 10mg of propranolol is all that is needed. The usual dose for cardiovascular reasons is 100mg. Side effects should be pretty minimal with 10mg. Four months is not a lot of time to get you hands around this problem, but definitely a prescription is the only way to go. Don't accept any medications from any "friends". See a lisenced therapist and take it from there.
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#2024317 - 01/30/13 10:38 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
jdott Offline
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Registered: 01/17/13
Posts: 34
Loc: Colorado, USA
You have my sympathies. I always got the shakes, so I always tried to break the ice with one of my 'war horses.' We pianists, unfortunately, all have the same goal: perfection. Of course we can't attain our goal; we need to accept this and realize that close is good enough and concentrate on making the best possible music we can. I understand your predicament-the clock is ticking on your performance career. With only four months left, I tend to agree that maybe you could use some temporary pharmaceutical help, then address your problem later. Hopefully, Mark will provide you some professional guidance. It always helped me to have someone important in my life down front where I could see, and focus in them. Best wishes...

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#2024342 - 01/30/13 11:22 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Kuanpiano Offline
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Have you performed chamber music under less-stress environments? I find playing with partners much less stressful than having to pull together a solo performance. In addition, playing music at events where you aren't the centre of attention is good practice to relax, because there's not real pressure.

I have the same problems as you in terms of performing for an audience, though I do sometimes look back and listen to old recordings, to find it actually wasn't as bad as I made it out to be.

Best of luck!
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#2024364 - 01/31/13 12:18 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Jonathan Baker Offline
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Registered: 06/09/09
Posts: 258
Loc: New York City!
Originally Posted By: Vasilievich
The best way to describe how it feels is as if I were in a car approaching a hilly road: I feel my gears start to lock up as I approach a passage and I ultimately stall, sputter, stop and have to restart or just push to somewhere else and start from there.


It sounds like you are driving with the breaks on.

I went through a very similar experience when I was in the conservatory. In my case, I was simply over-worked, always exhausted, increasingly anxious about my abilities, my future, etc. In one word: unhappy. I do not want to project my experience on to you, but perhaps your situation is a bit similar?

Chopin was absolutely horrified and angry when students over-practiced, advising them to limit it too about two hours a day, three at most.

If the birds are not happy, they do not sing. That applies to all of us. If we are not happy, everything begins to fall apart. I seriously discourage medications as a solution. They merely mask the problem and delay a solution. Find someone you can talk to about the things you really don't want to talk about in public (and a qualified counselor could do that, although you might want to 'shop around' to find the right one). I found that helped me immensely in the past.

Maybe you have to barrel through to get your degree. If not, I would suggest taking off for a semester, but if that is not an option, find a sympathetic ear in the mean time. You need someone on your side you can confide in. I don't know how anyone gets through college without a nervous breakdown since it seems designed to achieve that end.


Edited by Jonathan Baker (01/31/13 12:23 AM)
Edit Reason: spelling
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#2024425 - 01/31/13 03:25 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
stores Offline
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Hmm. Gee, that's too bad.
_________________________

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#2024482 - 01/31/13 07:52 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Lemon Pledge Offline
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Registered: 12/21/04
Posts: 349
I'm not the judgmental type, and I almost never give anyone advice about how to live, but in this case I'll make an exception and state the obvious: you're practicing too much. This may or may not have anything to do with your performance anxiety, but if you've been consistently putting in 6-9 hrs/day for two or more years, that's just bad living, and you shouldn't be surprised to develop some unexplainable problems.

As for the anxiety, I had a similar difficulty at roughly the same time in my life, my second and last year of grad school. My problems weren't nearly as actue as yours, but I remember that performance stopped being something that I looked forward to, and instead became something I got very nervious and anxious about, and preferred at some level to avoid. My problem (and I'm not implying that your problem is the same) was that I imagined that the stakes of performance had been raised. In grad school, I felt that I had made a commitment to the life of a pianist, and my sense of self-worth came to depend on how well I thought I was playing on any given day. This was my identity, and so the next performance was going to reveal a lot -- to me and to everyone else -- about my value as a person, about my propsects for success, status, security, love, happiness, etc. This was difficult stuff. Maybe some of it applies to you, maybe not. Looking back, though, I was wrong about evrything. The stakes were not high at all.

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#2024577 - 01/31/13 11:02 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
BDB Online   content
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You have to give yourself permission to make mistakes. They are going to happen. If you need to practice anything, practice making mistakes and faking your way past them.
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#2024937 - 01/31/13 11:06 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Vasilievich Offline
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Registered: 04/04/10
Posts: 90
Quote:
This may or may not have anything to do with your performance anxiety, but if you've been consistently putting in 6-9 hrs/day for two or more years, that's just bad living, and you shouldn't be surprised to develop some unexplainable problems.


Quote:
Chopin was absolutely horrified and angry when students over-practiced, advising them to limit it too about two hours a day, three at most.


Yes it is some long, long days at the piano. I work as graduate assistant accompanying students, and am responsible for learning about an hours worth of different music (and in the case of the current semester, the reduction accompaniment for an hour-long opera as well) on top of my hour long solo program. With that much material to cover, two hours (or even three or four) just isn't enough, especially at the start of the semester when I have to learn 20 pieces at once to have ready for rehearsals the next week. Burnout is definitely an issue.

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#2024942 - 01/31/13 11:24 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Sandra M Offline
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Registered: 05/09/11
Posts: 56
Hello and I am Sandra M and I had a wonderful piano teacher who told me not to focus on myself at all when performing. She told me when performing to say to myself," The is a job now and my job is to perform this selection of this composer to the best of my ability." That takes the focus off you and onto the composer. Good luck and it works for me and hope it helps you. Think with logic and not emotion is what she told me too. Also if you imagine yourself performing and how calm you are as you go onto the stage and how you remain calm as you sit down and perform etc and teacher taught me this one but the other one works for me.

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#2025111 - 02/01/13 07:22 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Nikolas]
Keymar Rob Offline
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Registered: 11/24/11
Posts: 17
Loc: Maryland, USA
I don't think gutting it out is helpful. Sometimes it really is physical and if that is taken care of you can focus on the performance not the performer.

Another thing that helps me is to tape my works with the intention of sharing it with family or friends or whomever. I find that I get all of the same symptoms and can battle them there without an audience. It also helps to hear yourself objectively. I always think I'm playing at a much higher level than reality.

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#2025558 - 02/01/13 07:55 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Mark Polishook Offline
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Vasilievich. First you deserve a lot of credit for posting in detail about what your working through. You've generated a lot of discussion and there's quite a bit that many will find helpful.

One thing that might be really helpful is the practice of mindfulness, which a form of meditation that's a very important part of Buddhism. The basic idea is the practitioner develops skill in non-judgementally watching thoughts go by. A mindful approach to anxiety might be to embrace it as something that's natural and in some situations even helpful - instead of looking to suppress it or disperse it or dispel it. The idea is the practitioner watches and experiences and learns to be curious and kind, and again, non-judgemental - about what's running through the mind.

Here's an introduction to mindfulness by someone in the US who's been a very influential advocate.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nwwKbM_vJc

You could also look up mindfulness at Amazon - there are a million books about it. The British medical establishment has embraced mindfulness as a very effective approach to a wide range of things. I can tell you from own experience it's helped my playing and my approach to the piano immensely in the short time I've been working with it.

You might google mindfulness and the name of the area you're in. My guess is you'll find many people and places where you can get an introduction to the practice. My limited experience is a teacher or a professional or an experienced practitioner who really has practiced it and knows what it feels like, rather than someone who got a certificate in it for seminar or an intensive weekend of work or simply as a credential, is the best person from whom to study it.

Hope this helps ...
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#2025696 - 02/02/13 02:05 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
BeccaBb Offline
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Registered: 12/09/11
Posts: 905
Loc: Thunder Bay, On Canada
+1 printer1

I use mindfulness to help control stress (I have an incurable stress disorder.) I'm not on medications, I'm back to work, learning to play piano, occasionally going out to watch live musicians etc.. Before that I was locked in my house (sometimes for 8-9 month long stretches.) I was introduced to it by my therapist and it's the singular thing that's gotten me to this point.

A really good book on it is "The Issue At Hand." It's not a for retail book but you can google it and write to the community to get a copy.

I don't recommend using medication to help with anxiety or stress. Learning what's causing it, good coping skills and some healthy understanding and acceptance of yourself will last you a lifetime to manage through issues described by the OP. Medication lasts only as long as the dose stays in your system and can have side effects. Only downside to learning a new way of doing things is it takes time and work!

Best of luck to the OP! I hope you manage to find a path to anxiety free playing.
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Began: 01-12-11


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#2025733 - 02/02/13 04:31 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
hawgdriver Offline
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Registered: 12/13/09
Posts: 637
Loc: Denver, CO
Originally Posted By: Vasilievich
I can't kick the self doubt


Skydive. Try boxing. Risk rejection so much you stop caring. Take a break from everything related to who you are and what you do now.

Why force society's approval? It is only your own approval you really seek.

Challenge yourself away from the piano, get perspective, the answer will arrive.
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#2025734 - 02/02/13 04:33 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: stores]
hawgdriver Offline
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Registered: 12/13/09
Posts: 637
Loc: Denver, CO
Originally Posted By: stores
Hmm. Gee, that's too bad.


You are good for a laugh.
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Only in men's imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life. -Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski

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#2025739 - 02/02/13 05:07 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: BeccaBb]
bennevis Online   content
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Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4402
Originally Posted By: BeccaBb



I don't recommend using medication to help with anxiety or stress. Learning what's causing it, good coping skills and some healthy understanding and acceptance of yourself will last you a lifetime to manage through issues described by the OP. Medication lasts only as long as the dose stays in your system and can have side effects.


I think it's worth getting things into perspective.

There is one drug/poison that most people use on a regular basis - alcohol. Not only are its side-effects almost instantaneous, it also causes damage to several organs (including the brain) when used for too long at a quantity that cannot be dealt with by the main detoxifying organ in the body, the liver. The ability of the individual to cope with it depends on his genetic make-up. (Note the word 'detoxify' - alcohol really is poisonous, and it crosses the blood-brain barrier easily). And many people predisposed to anxiety use alcohol to 'cope' with their symptoms, which actually only makes it worse. (Many alcoholics suffer from Chronic Anxiety Disorder - CAD).

Compared to which, propranolol and other beta blockers have been taken life long on prescription by zillions of people, with no adverse effects like liver cirrhosis, various cancers, early dementia (all known effects of alcohol) and so on.

Personally, I don't drink alcohol, because I dislike its effects on my cognition, on my brain, my ability to think straight, my ability to perform tasks properly. I wouldn't touch any mind-altering drugs like cannabis either. I've never taken beta blockers, because I don't have to give public performances, but if I have to and they suffer because of my nerves, I'd take propranolol without a second thought. And if it works, I'd take it again for my next performance. I take it in the knowledge that many, many people are on beta-blockers for life for cardiovascular problems or to prevent recurrent migraines, in daily doses far exceeding the one dose I need to enable me to stay focused for the particular performance.

Those who believe that no matter how bad one's predisposition to nerves are, it can always be cured or solved by non-drug therapy (CBT/hypnotism/whatever) or meditative techniques obviously haven't spent much time with highly-strung, intensely nervous, perfectionist people with CAD tendencies.

Most people take antibiotics every time they get any infection, including even if it's not required. (Many even take it for coughs and colds, which don't respond to antibiotics.......). Each course lasts 5-7 days (three days for uncomplicated UTIs, two weeks for some infections, six to twelve months for TB) at full dose (two to four times a day, occasionally one/day for one or two antibiotics) and side-effects like thrush, nausea and diarrhoea are common. Someone who takes three courses of antibiotics a year will be swallowing around 60 pills a year. Someone who has to cope with giving 60 performances a year will be swallowing.....60 propranolol tablets a year. Someone taking propranolol for heart problems (or migraine prophylaxis etc) will be swallowing 1095 tablets a year, each dose likely much bigger than the one used for coping with performance anxiety.

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#2025753 - 02/02/13 06:55 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: bennevis]
Mark Polishook Offline
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Registered: 11/29/12
Posts: 534
Loc: Leicester, UK
Originally Posted By: bennevis
Originally Posted By: BeccaBb



I don't recommend using medication to help with anxiety or stress..



Those who believe that no matter how bad one's predisposition to nerves are, it can always be cured or solved by non-drug therapy (CBT/hypnotism/whatever) or meditative techniques obviously haven't spent much time with highly-strung, intensely nervous, perfectionist people with CAD tendencies.

.


The point of the discussion, is it not, is to contribute to solutions for the OP. So let's try and do that. Argumentative statements to the effect of someone obviously doesn't have experience with ..... (fill in the blanks) presume much more than they contribute. Most of us are posting anonomously for whatever the reason. Let's be kind and give the benefit of the doubt. In particular, lets avoid arguing over what someone obviously does or doesn't have experience with. There's simply no way to know.

+1 to mindfulness
+1 to alternatives
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#2025756 - 02/02/13 07:11 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: BeccaBb]
wr Offline
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Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7432
Originally Posted By: BeccaBb

I don't recommend using medication to help with anxiety or stress. Learning what's causing it, good coping skills and some healthy understanding and acceptance of yourself will last you a lifetime to manage through issues described by the OP. Medication lasts only as long as the dose stays in your system and can have side effects. Only downside to learning a new way of doing things is it takes time and work!



Well, certainly, solving an issue without the use of drugs is better than using them. However, I think the OP is in the kind of a bind where temporarily using beta-blockers might be useful to get past the immediate issue.

I have gone through a lot of this sort of stuff, and, in fact, it was a major reason I abandoned the idea of a career in music, decades ago. To me, it's an exceptionally complex issue, and because of that, it is really hard to discuss the specifics that pertain to an individual in a forum like this.

But generally, yes, I think that mindfulness work and meditation can make a big difference for us folks who have problems of this sort. I also think that some people dabble in this kind of thing, and when it doesn't produce dramatic results in a week or so, give up on it (and then they go on to say it is useless). It takes real work, not just dabbling. But I don't think the OP is in a position to be learning how to do that kind of stuff right now.

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#2025763 - 02/02/13 08:03 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: wr]
bennevis Online   content
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Registered: 10/14/10
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Originally Posted By: wr
However, I think the OP is in the kind of a bind where temporarily using beta-blockers might be useful to get past the immediate issue.

But I don't think the OP is in a position to be learning how to do that kind of stuff right now.




I only wrote that long post when several people started saying things along the lines of 'avoid medication at all costs' (seemingly), no matter how crucial it is that the problem needed to be resolved by the OP in terms of his future; and he's already told us of his many failed attempts to get it under control by non-medication methods. In my line of work, I've seen how holding all sorts of dogmatic viewpoints can lead to disaster - in the high mountains, in situations where it's no longer just 'mind over matter', people fighting a losing battle against their genetic make-up and unwilling/unable to concede that only medical intervention will help etc.

I know of some people who are perfectly calm and self-confident in everyday life, yet go to pieces when required to 'perform' (speak or sing or play an instrument) in public. They've gone down every route imaginable from self-help to counselling/CBT to meditation to 'online self-CBT' (yes, there are good websites for this) without success, but saved their careers and rose to the top with judicious use of beta-blockers when they require them for certain occasions. There is a letter in Clavier Companion (Jan-Feb 2013 issue) written by a person whose career as a church organist was saved thus, despite the fact that she regarded propranolol as akin to a 'performance-enhancing drug'.

In the end, it's up to the individual, and I'd never force anyone to do anything he or she doesn't want to (unless it was a matter of life or death), but I believe that at the very least, the OP should be given the facts without being made to feel that he'd be a 'failure' if he decided to avail himself of medical help to save his future.

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#2025936 - 02/02/13 02:32 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Vasilievich Offline
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Registered: 04/04/10
Posts: 90
Quote:
Those who believe that no matter how bad one's predisposition to nerves are, it can always be cured or solved by non-drug therapy (CBT/hypnotism/whatever) or meditative techniques obviously haven't spent much time with highly-strung, intensely nervous, perfectionist people with CAD tendencies.

Personally, I agree. I appreciate all the suggestions and am glad that these are things you've all had success with. However, I think every person responds to stress differently, and while I've never met someone who said they didn't ever get nervous, this sort of debilitating anxiety is simply not something that everyone experiences. I started realizing this when I complimented a fellow student who is a wonderful performer for always sounding very confident on stage. To my great surprise, she responded that no, she was actually not confident, in fact very not confident! I thought, how can this be? She had no major mistakes, no blankouts, no restarts, no hesitation, no wild tempo fluctuations—all things I would personally associate with anxiety and doubt based on my own personal experience. Then I realized that all those things were just that, defining my own experience based on how my mind and body have reacted in the past. Clearly her personal definition of stress is different and tied to her own experiences with how her mind and body react under pressure. Thus how we could both claim to be not confident, yet have that manifested in such radically different ways. And so, since the way it is manifested between us is completely different, it then logically follows that what might work for her to deal with her lack of confidence might not apply to mine.

Personally, I do not generally seem to respond well to mind-over-matter techniques and have a fair bit of experience with some of these alternative-medicine practices as I had a friend who went off the deep end with it. He also became very pushy about wanting to "heal" me every time I saw him, and partially because I was trying to have an open mind and partially because I'm too polite to say no or walk out, I went through many, many of these "sessions" with him. Gradually it turned into the only thing we would do when we would get together. His claims about these alternative practices grew more and more fantastical—he began talking about how he could heal open wounds by just thinking about it and cure chronic back problems by just placing his hand on someone's back and "willing" the bones back into place. Finally, one time after sitting silent and motionless on a table in my birthday suit with my feet in a bucket of salt water as he waved his hands in the air around my body "manipulating my energy field" for three hours straight, I decided enough was enough. Unfortunately when I told him this wasn't for me, but I still wanted to be friends, he got angry and stopped speaking to me. So anyways, I know that sort of thing isn't what any of you are indicating, but that's just where I'm coming from (and I thought some of you might get a kick out of it). Also, just recalling how pushy and ready to make-or-break a friendship this person was with alternative medicine, I think it is important for both sides to remember to have an open mind and realize it will work for some but not for others.

That being said, just talking about it and directly, openly confronting the issue (something I've tried to hide or struggle with in private) seems to have helped in the slightest. I am playing in a master class tomorrow afternoon so we'll see if it's enough to make a difference. My gut tells me though that apart from the possibility of a medication "quick fix," this is going to be something that requires some serious medical, mental and/or psychological attention over a long period, and this is just the first step.

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#2026014 - 02/02/13 07:17 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
pianoloverus Offline
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I do not know how common or how serious the side effects of beta blockers can be, but I'm wary of being overly concerned about the side effects unless they can be severe(in the doses usually prescribed for performance anxiety) and are a problem for some significant percent of those taking them. All medications, even the most common like aspirin or Tylenol, can have side effects but most people of a certain age and beyond are taking some medications on a permanent basis and do not have serious side effects.


Edited by pianoloverus (02/02/13 08:31 PM)

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#2026326 - 02/03/13 01:40 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: pianoloverus]
musiccr8r Offline
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Registered: 01/16/08
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I am in the same boat as you, though I do attribute a small part of it to issues with my eyesight, (which has helped curb just a little of the self-denigration, but not had a huge effect on the nerves in general). I was curious if you experience the same problem in your accompanying? Since I only play publicly as an accompanist, I'd say that the times I am able to overcome the nerves to the greatest degree are when I am able to focus the most deeply on what my soloist is doing (and God love 'em, I have to admit the very best is if they happen to falter in any way, as a whole new "gear" of my mind opens up and goes into overdrive in the moment of possible derailment). Have you experienced this? I am wondering if there's some way to translate that mentality to your solo work. Maybe, as odd as it might sound, to even imagine yourself as an observer or mentor to your playing self? Since you know your material extremely thoroughly, maybe you could start an inner dialog with yourself ("OK, you might want to lighten up on the bass here...that melody is getting lost right now....keep steady tempo through this passage" ) not so much in a panic mode of "What do I play next??" as much as just listening to what you are playing and prompting yourself in the same way you might if you were mentoring someone during their lesson? I dunno, maybe that's a completely stupid idea. I do know that the third-person mentality helped me immensely in my counseling practicum, where I was also very nervous. I was able to "hear" the practice client as if I was in the room with my supervisor going over recordings.. "OK, what did that person just say?" and it made it much less stressful than trying to just spurt out some appropriate comment in the moment. ? I hope that even makes sense.


ETA Other accompanists out there, want to weigh in on the experience of assisting a faltering performer? There's something so viscerally "I am no longer here, I am only an instrument to help" (not musical instrument, but object) that completely eclipses my own "How am I doing" nerves. If there was some way to home in on that mindset as a soloist.....


Edited by musiccr8r (02/03/13 01:58 PM)

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#2026767 - 02/04/13 08:53 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Sandra M Offline
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Hello and your teacher or teachers are not supportive of you and that is most of your tension. I feel badly for you. I have been where you are. I never had performance jitters as my first teachers were so supportive of me and treated me as though I was a gift to them. When I played for church years later the minister had studied conducting and was impressed with himself and loved to correct me. I had major performance jitters for the first time ever. The jitters went away after he was out of my life. Your lack of a support system seems at the root of your performance jitters. You will be fine once rid of these teachers who are not good teachers and should find other vocation as you are a gift to them and they should HONOR YOU their gift. Sandra M...


Edited by Sandra M (02/04/13 09:30 AM)

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#2026773 - 02/04/13 09:04 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Morodiene Offline
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Originally Posted By: Sandra M
Hello and your teacher or teachers are not supportive of you and that is most of your tension. I feel badly for you. I have been where you are. I never had performance jitters as my first teachers were so supportive of me and treated me as though I was a gift to them. When I played for church years later the minister had studied conducting and was impressed with himself and loved to correct me. I had major performance jitters for the first time ever in 30 years of performing every Sunday while under his thumb. The jitters went away after I decided to quit and move on away from him... Your lack of a support system seems at the root of your performance jitters. You will be fine once rid of these jerk teachers who are not good teachers and should find other vocation as you are a gift to them and they should HONOR YOU their gift. Sandra M...


I agree 100%. Teachers who say such things have never experienced performance anxiety and have not really taken the time to find out what it takes to help a student through it.

According to some surveys, over 95% of professional musicians experience some form of performance anxiety. It is a real problem that only the right kind of preparation will help. I am reposting from a similar thread in the Piano Forum below. Feel free to ask more questions and/or PM me. I have experienced performance anxiety first-hand and have been able to overcome it personally and have also helped my students overcome it.

It is a complex issue that takes little steps over a long period of time with lots of performances along the way to build upon.

Preparation is very important. Not only do you have to know your music well, but you have to know *yourself* well. Know the places where you are likely to make mistakes, and create a Plan B (Plan A is to play perfectly). Plan B is what you are going to do if you make a mistake in this spot. Then you practice playing Plan B every time it comes up in your practicing. You still try to play what is written of course, so if you play it perfectly then you don't resort to Plan B.

You will also want to practice starting from different key spots in the piece. I would pick areas where the music changes, after a cadence, things like that and practice starting from those areas at random. Also, practice starting from a spot right after places where you are likely to make a mistake. Sometimes Plan B will be just to skip to the next measure. These things will help you to play without stopping or having to go back to the beginning and start over.

Then there is the part of preparation that involves simulating a performance before the real thing. This should happen after you've gone through the above prep work, but no less than 1 week prior to the performance. Play for everyone and anyone who will hear you. You can also video record yourself (or audio, but video is much better I think) which can simulate a performance as well. Be sure to listen or watch it and try not to be overly critical of yourself, but make comments that are valid changes you'd like to make in your playing.

Lastly, but vastly important, is the inner dialogue. This is what goes on in your head as you perform. See if you can reflect on your past few performances and recall what was going through your mind while you were playing. My guess is that your thoughts were not focused completely on the music and what was coming up next immediately, but rather on the audience, issues you might have with the piano or the position/height of the bench, how your hands are shaking or butterflies in the stomach or other symptoms of anxiety, that mistake you made 2 measures ago and how upset you are that you made it - basically everything BUT what you should be thinking about.

Music is about communicating feeling/emotions through sound. If you are not focused on the music and what you want it to sound like in the moment (NOT the past, which you can't change by thinking about it) then you are no longer communicating with the audience, you are communicating with YOURSELF. This is what is called "inner dialogue", and it is what destroys even the most prepared performers.

During your practice performances, you are to try and shut this inner dialogue off. It will still come in, but as soon as you notice it, refocus your mind back to what's coming up next in the music. Perhaps your first time you'll be able to stay focused 10 or 20% of the time. Then the next time it will be a little bit better. It's very hard to ever get to 100%, so don't get wrapped up in perfectionism. Just do the best that you can with the time you have before each performance. After the performance, assess your progress. If you had one moment where you noticed your mind wandered and you were able to reign it back in, then that is a successful performance and you can build upon that for your next concert.

Remember, live performance is about the risk, and that is what makes it exciting for the audience. It's not about perfect at all. It's about communicating feeling, and you can certainly do that with wrong notes.


Edited by Morodiene (02/04/13 09:04 AM)
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#2026979 - 02/04/13 03:30 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Morodiene]
Sandra M Offline
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Thank you for your wonderful post as you are a teacher and understand with kindness. We have so many wonderful teachers who are are a credit to the teaching profession. Sandra M

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#2027004 - 02/04/13 04:18 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Entheo Offline
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excellent thread, and something i'm sure most of us (e.g. myself included) struggle with.

in those rare moments of transcendence when performing in front of others it feels as tho i'm a member of the audience, listening to the music, self-consciousness is gone. but how to achieve that state with regularity? i don't know.

as others have said, being mindful of the inner dialogue can help focus it (e.g. by counting, to train monkey mind on a single task). then there's the additional stimuli of having others' attention focused on you. emotions kick in and involuntary hand shaking starts to occur, further bifurcating attention away from the music itself. then it becomes a question of survival.

i'm not sure trying to conquer our fears is the right approach. in eastern philosophy surrender is a far more important concept; that overcoming is achieved thru a complete acceptance of the situation. lots of meditations cultivate this state of awareness.

lastly, re: beta blockers -- unless one is a christian scientist and avoids any and all medication, i don't know why one would not entertain its use to potentially build positive experiences. you wouldn't be alone, as evidenced by the following article...

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/arts/music/17tind.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0
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#2027039 - 02/04/13 05:38 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Entheo]
bennevis Online   content
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Originally Posted By: Entheo
..... then there's the additional stimuli of having others' attention focused on you. emotions kick in and involuntary hand shaking starts to occur, further bifurcating attention away from the music itself. then it becomes a question of survival.

lastly, re: beta blockers -- unless one is a christian scientist and avoids any and all medication, i don't know why one would not entertain its use to potentially build positive experiences. you wouldn't be alone, as evidenced by the following article...

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/arts/music/17tind.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0


Good article in the NYT.

As the article stated, propranolol is NOT a performance-enhancing drug in the way anabolic steroids and erythropoietin (EPO) etc are; it just puts performers on a level playing field with those who don't suffer badly from nerves. It just stops you messing up your own performance with involutary shaking etc, something you wouldn't do at any other time when playing, except in front of the audience.

People who don't suffer badly from performance nerves don't know what it's like when your fingers/hands/arms/feet start shaking violently and uncontrollably, your head starts swimming, and there's no way of getting yourself out of the deep hole. Whereas most other people just get an adrenaline rush to the head, which makes their performances more exciting, more hair-raising, a few more slips of finger maybe - but not total loss of control, not the feeling you're falling into an abyss with no way of avoiding it.

I've performed in public (for charity etc) several times, but entirely voluntarily, and for me, it's like a visceral thrill when I feel the adrenaline surging through me, almost a masochistic enjoyment of 'the chase'; I often play faster in the fast music, and slower in the slow ones, daring myself to more extremes of expression than I'd ever play if no one was listening. But I'm not playing for critics, or for a jury, and my future prospects certainly don't depend on how well I play. And my audiences are not knowledgeable musicians, so finger slips are rarely noticed, therefore I'm not bothered by them either. For me, taking a beta-blocker would be counter-productive, because I'd lose some of the (in some ways, perverse) enjoyment of 'walking on a tightrope'. I get a similar sort of thrill out of doing it as I do when sky-diving, or mountain climbing in adverse conditions. (Why take a beta-blocker if you want to jump out of a plane for fun?)

It's an entirely different matter if your future is at stake, you're under total scrutiny from teachers and being judged on the way you play at that time, and you have no choice.

When I was younger and doing piano exams, my playing often suffered through nerves. (To this day, I still remember making three false starts in a Haydn Sonata in my Grade 8 exam. Fortunately, the examiner was sympathetic...). If I was to do them again now, there's no question I'd take propranolol. But beta-blockers weren't a known option at the time.

As I'm not someone who is prone to anxiety (in fact, quite the contrary) in normal everyday life, I see no earthly reason to put myself through 'therapy' of any sort.

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#2027042 - 02/04/13 05:42 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Chris H. Offline
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I used to suffer stress and anxiety over performing when I was a student. Always thought there must be something wrong with me because I never really gave any terrible performances so couldn't blame it on any particular experience. Even so no matter how many times I put myself up there it never got better. I would also get really annoyed at how other students would thrive on it and could never see what all the fuss was about. About ten years after I left university I went back to study for my postgrad in an attempt to get over it but I felt exactly the same every single time.

Although it was awful at the time I'm fine with it now. In fact I'm glad that I didn't try to make a career as a soloist as I think it's a pretty hard life. I feel that the whole experience has helped me as a teacher because I understand what many of my students go through with the same issue. And I still get to enjoy playing and performing every week. Only now I accompany choirs and other soloists,
Ay in ensembles and regularly provide background music for weddings and functions which is so much less stressful and frankly more lucrative.

What I'm saying is that it's okay to feel the way you do about this. There might not be any need to fix it. Sometimes it's just the way it is. Finish your course, I'm sure you will play just fine and pass with flying colours despite the anxiety. Then take some time to think about what you really want out of life and accept who you are.
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#2027073 - 02/04/13 06:46 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Vasilievich Offline
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Quote:
Hello and your teacher or teachers are not supportive of you and that is most of your tension. I feel badly for you. I have been where you are. I never had performance jitters as my first teachers were so supportive of me and treated me as though I was a gift to them.

Absolutely. Myself and another student of my teacher played in the master class yesterday. A friend of mine who knew I was having problems came and sat in the audience—little did I know she was actually observing my teacher the whole time. I initially thought performance itself went alright. I tried to be as calm and focused as I could, practiced breathing and visualizing playing the piece beforehand...but when I began the performance, I still had a racing pulse pounding in my ears, panicked thoughts and inevitably, one moment where I totally lost my resolve and had to skip a measure. That being said, it actually was not a complete disaster, and I thought it went better than the last time I performed it. When I talked to my friend afterwards though, she was upset. She said that while the other student was playing, my teacher was paying attention and noticeably engaged with the performance going on. But while I was playing, he seemed to not be paying attention or interested at all, and did not even look at me the entire time—the only time he seemed aware of what was going on was when there was an error or a sloppy note, and an eyebrow would raise. I was horrified. It was as if he was so ashamed of me in particular that he could not even bear to watch and be engaged in my performance.

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#2027077 - 02/04/13 06:50 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Chris H. Offline
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I don't think it was very helpful of her to tell you that.
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#2027082 - 02/04/13 06:59 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: musiccr8r]
Vasilievich Offline
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Originally Posted By: musiccr8r
ETA Other accompanists out there, want to weigh in on the experience of assisting a faltering performer? There's something so viscerally "I am no longer here, I am only an instrument to help" (not musical instrument, but object) that completely eclipses my own "How am I doing" nerves. If there was some way to home in on that mindset as a soloist.....

I still get really nervous accompanying, sometimes more so because there's the possibility that I could actually screw the soloist up, and ruin their moment in the spotlight. That being said, it very rarely happens that way around, and often I do have to think on my feet to compensate for a missed entrance or early entrance. There definitely is something about that moment where your mind goes into hyperdrive in a beneficial sense.


Edited by Vasilievich (02/04/13 07:00 PM)

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#2027147 - 02/04/13 09:53 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
jdw Offline
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Originally Posted By: Vasilievich
But while I was playing, he seemed to not be paying attention or interested at all, and did not even look at me the entire time—the only time he seemed aware of what was going on was when there was an error or a sloppy note, and an eyebrow would raise. I was horrified. It was as if he was so ashamed of me in particular that he could not even bear to watch and be engaged in my performance.


Just to suggest another interpretation--is it possible he did not look at you because he knows of your problem with nerves and thought it might be more helpful to you if he didn't?
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#2027159 - 02/04/13 10:20 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: jdw]
Vasilievich Offline
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Originally Posted By: jdw
Just to suggest another interpretation--is it possible he did not look at you because he knows of your problem with nerves and thought it might be more helpful to you if he didn't?

I assume you mean that I were to make eye contact or see his face in the middle of the performance it might distract me or make me feel more pressured? I'm not sure I agree in any case, but due to the unusual setup for the masterclass, the audience was behind me, and I so could not see my teacher or anyone else while seated at the piano.

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#2027171 - 02/04/13 11:03 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
chickenlump Offline
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I'd like to also chime in - in favour of propranolol. I prescribe a beta blocker almost on a daily basis , and it's a very safe drug when prescribed properly.

I've prescribed it for people with panic disorders before and it seems to help break the cycle of the physical symptoms of anxiety amplifying the actual feeling of anxiety. Anxiety is a self perpetuating thing - the more you have issues with performance, that will continue to negatively feed into subsequent performances.
Propranolol at the doses taken for performance anxiety (10-20 mg occasionally for performance) is way less than a regular dose of 80-160 mg twice a day, so side effect profile is minimal.

Also, as people have said here, this medication just prevents the physical symptom of anxiety, (palpitation, tremors, etc), the skill and technique is all you, so there is nothing unethical about it.

While I do agree with others here that counselling and relaxation techniques, are important (things like CBT, very important depending on exactly what the indication is), but pharmacotherapy has it's role as long as it's prescribed safely by a physician. In conjunction with counselling, but it may help you get out of your head enough that you can gain perspective to get over that hump.

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#2027187 - 02/04/13 11:30 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Nikolas Offline
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A note if possible...

This is an Internet thread. And this IS the Internet. For the shake of sanity do NOT take any drugs based on what you read here!

Vasilievich: Hang in there. It's another 5 months, right? Get on with it, finish off your studies and then find a person you can feel as your mentor and start working properly. Your current teacher is... oh well... I can't swear here, can I? cursing

Moreover your friend was RIGHT to tell you everything about your teacher. Now you can claim back your fears and trace them to your ugly teacher! It's not you, it never was you!
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#2027284 - 02/05/13 05:43 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
bennevis Online   content
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It's important that we don't let our prejudices - often based on no knowledge, or hearsay 'knowledge' - cloud our judgement, or indeed, our advice to others.

Doctors practise evidence-based medicine - i.e. everything is based on science and research (over years, if not decades). Not innate prejudices, like 'all drugs are dangerous, (except alcohol and nicotine)', or 'never take drugs at any cost, unless it's alcohol or nicotine'. I hope people see the fallacy of that argument.

I also think some people here haven't read the OP's posts properly, and just chime in with their own recommendations, most of which have already been tried by the OP with no success.

Please, let's not propagate our own prejudices - especially those based on no medical knowledge whatsoever - and let the OP decide for himself whether he should seek the advice of his physician.

And let's be clear on this - anxiety is a licensed indication for propranol use. There are many medications which are prescribed off-licence for certain indications, but this isn't one of them.


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#2027286 - 02/05/13 05:49 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Nikolas Offline
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bennevis, I don't know if your post is aimed at me, but my point was that I think someone needs more than an internet post to take any kind of drugs, but some paracetamol, for example...
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#2027288 - 02/05/13 06:02 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Nikolas]
bennevis Online   content
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Originally Posted By: Nikolas
bennevis, I don't know if your post is aimed at me, but my point was that I think someone needs more than an internet post to take any kind of drugs, but some paracetamol, for example...


Yes, it was, to you and a few others.

I don't think anyone here is telling the OP to go take propranolol (but some are telling him not to take it at any costs). What we are saying is, don't stop him from (or advise him against) seeking medical advice. Those here who have used it have told us of their experiences. Whereas others are parrotting their own prejudices based on no personal experience of the drug, and no medical knowledge.

To get propranolol legally, you need a prescription, therefore you need to consult a physician.

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#2027298 - 02/05/13 07:02 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: bennevis]
wr Offline
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Originally Posted By: bennevis


To get propranolol legally, you need a prescription, therefore you need to consult a physician.


That depends on where you are, I think.

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#2027319 - 02/05/13 08:25 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Morodiene Offline
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Beta blockers can help, but it's like putting a bandaid on a deep cut. It may help, but it doesn't solve the problem. So I appreciate the poster who said combining beta blockers with counseling and other methods might be a good route.

To the OP, I'm not quite sure why that person decided to tell you what your teacher did, hopefully it was to let you know that they are disrespecting you. But really, there is not much you should do about it at this point. You have a recital to do, and you will have to do it without his support.

Something that has always been a necessary element to performing well is being in love mode vs. fear mode. When you feel loved by those around you, there is no room to be afraid (perfect love drives out fear). However, when there is clearly no love (i.e. from the person who should be supporting you the most - your teacher) then it is very hard to overcome, but not impossible.

You must first realize that this person does not really care about you, they care about themselves and how you reflect upon them. Such self-serving people have no business being a teacher, but they do find their way into such positions somehow. This is not to say that they have nothing of value to teach, but you must pick and choose what to learn form them. Fear, is not something you need to learn from them, for example.

I've noticed that those who suffer from performance anxiety tend to care too much. They project their own judgments that they have of themselves onto the audience, who most likely - except in the rare cases of people like your teacher - actually want to just be entertained and are looking forward to hearing you play. Think about it: when you go to hear a colleague perform or a professional, do you go expecting them to screw up, hoping they'll screw up, or get all bent out of shape when they screw up? Of course not! You want to hear what they have to say, and you want them to do well. If they make a mistake, if the performer doesn't make a big deal out of it, neither do you. If they screw up and they do end up barely making it through the rest of the piece, don't you feel bad for them? The audience is more likely to be on your side than against you, and those that are against you - those that expect you to fail, think that you don't have anything of value to say, can't appreciate your efforts - are they really worth thinking about anyways? Those aren't the people you want to even associate with, I'm sure.

Once you graduate you can then surround yourself with those who believe in you. Until then, you have your teacher to contend with, so that is the first thing you must tackle in your mind. Understand that this person is not someone you will ever please, nor should you try to. Instead, focus your energy on playing beautifully (but not perfectly) for those who will appreciate you, those who think you are a musical person and have something of value to say that they want to hear. There's a lot more of these latter people in your audience than the kind that are like your teacher. So love your audience rather than fear them, and they will love you back.
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#2027344 - 02/05/13 09:40 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Sandra M Offline
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"How to Make Performance Anxiety an Asset Instead of a Liability" an excellent article written by Dr Noa Kageyama who is a Juilliard School of Music graduate. Sandra M

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#2027381 - 02/05/13 11:16 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
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What a wonderful thread!
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#2027397 - 02/05/13 11:35 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: bennevis]
Nikolas Offline
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Originally Posted By: bennevis
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
bennevis, I don't know if your post is aimed at me, but my point was that I think someone needs more than an internet post to take any kind of drugs, but some paracetamol, for example...


Yes, it was, to you and a few others.

I don't think anyone here is telling the OP to go take propranolol (but some are telling him not to take it at any costs). What we are saying is, don't stop him from (or advise him against) seeking medical advice. Those here who have used it have told us of their experiences. Whereas others are parrotting their own prejudices based on no personal experience of the drug, and no medical knowledge.

To get propranolol legally, you need a prescription, therefore you need to consult a physician.
You need to remember that this is an international forum, which means that I'm reading it from Greece, others might be reading it from Azerbaijan, etc. All advice taken in, it certainly doesn't mean that one needs a prescription to get propranolol in my part of the world actually! wink Simple as that. That's the point.

More over, it's not about prejudice or anything, but some simple ideas: For matters are serious as drugs, an Internet post is not enough for me. That's all I'm saying. Apart from personal feelings and opinions and comments about how to deal with the problem (to which I disagree with taking drugs of any kind for such an issue, but that's besides the point right now).

So, yes, seek medical advice (heck I said so in my first post here), but not in an Internet forum! wink
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#2027428 - 02/05/13 12:46 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Sandra M]
Vasilievich Offline
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Originally Posted By: Sandra M
"How to Make Performance Anxiety an Asset Instead of a Liability" an excellent article written by Dr Noa Kageyama who is a Juilliard School of Music graduate. Sandra M

I was actually wondering if this would come up. I am very familiar with Dr. Kageyama's writing and his website, The Bulletproof Musician, as it is the only website I know of devoted solely to issues of performance. Hence, I have great respect for his focus and efforts on this issue; however, his suggestions are essentially continually rehashed positive thinking, visualization strategies, and some generic practice and lifestyle advice like slow practice and getting enough sleep—things I either already do or have had little success with. His writing is too abstract, verbose and philosophical for my taste; essentially, a lot of this sort of advice could be summed up as "if you don't want to get nervous, then tell yourself not to be nervous" and unfortunately my body and mind don't seem to want to listen to me, so that approach doesn't work. There is also just not enough science (neuroscience or formal/informal studies) in his writing for my taste, and he quotes poets, authors and philosophers more often than any sort of actual research or scientific information. I realize part of that is simply the general approach he is taking to the issue, which is primarily a psycho-philosophical one, but I have not had success with this approach-at least in the format of reading a generic statement online or in a book and trying to apply it to specific situations in my life.

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#2027429 - 02/05/13 12:46 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
chickenlump Offline
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Yes, I think in the end, the best suggestion is to seek professional help - whether a physician or a counsellor.

I think what people need to realize is that there is a normal performance anxiety that everyone has, and there is a pathologic anxiety that actually severely inhibits function - much more than someone else in the same situation may feel.

I'm not condoning medications on a whim or minor conditions, but I think people need to be sensitive to the fact that if there is truly a mental health condition (and I mean this in a general sense, not in a bad connotation), medications can be a powerful help, along with other proven therapies (ie. CBT).

There is this overwhelming public notion that mental help is something that we should be able to get over with the sheer power of will or thought. If there truly is an underlying condition, there no amount of praying, hoping, will power that will get them over it, because it is an actual brain disease. I just find it sad that this prevailing thought delays people seeking help and harms people's long term lives and rate of recovery.

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#2027441 - 02/05/13 01:06 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: bennevis]
BeccaBb Offline
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Originally Posted By: bennevis

Please, let's not propagate our own prejudices - especially those based on no medical knowledge whatsoever - and let the OP decide for himself whether he should seek the advice of his physician.


Okay I'll bite here. What exactly are your qualifications?

I'm a trained Social Service Worker. I've working with addictions, elderly, and vulnerable populations (mental illness of serious natures.) That's on top of my own struggles with PTSD and having to use the very services I've provided.

I do absolutely agree that if the OP feels this might be more serious then the average performance anxiety that he/she should seek professional assistance. I also agree that medication can be helpful as long as it's understood it's just a band aid and will not resolve the problem only mask it short term. (which is sometimes exactly what's needed.) I stand by my post that finding the root of the problem and finding the right skills to deal with it are the best approach.

I think the OP is already beginning to figure out what the root problem is. The beginning to any solution.

To the OP: best of luck! I think your on the right path in discovering what will help you the most!
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#2027451 - 02/05/13 01:23 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: BeccaBb]
bennevis Online   content
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Originally Posted By: BeccaBb
Originally Posted By: bennevis

Please, let's not propagate our own prejudices - especially those based on no medical knowledge whatsoever - and let the OP decide for himself whether he should seek the advice of his physician.


Okay I'll bite here. What exactly are your qualifications?

I'm a trained Social Service Worker. I've working with addictions, elderly, and vulnerable populations (mental illness of serious natures.) That's on top of my own struggles with PTSD and having to use the very services I've provided.

I do absolutely agree that if the OP feels this might be more serious then the average performance anxiety that he/she should seek professional assistance. I also agree that medication can be helpful as long as it's understood it's just a band aid and will not resolve the problem only mask it short term. (which is sometimes exactly what's needed.) I stand by my post that finding the root of the problem and finding the right skills to deal with it are the best approach.

I think the OP is already beginning to figure out what the root problem is. The beginning to any solution.

To the OP: best of luck! I think your on the right path in discovering what will help you the most!


Let's not start getting into animosity. It's pretty obvious what my qualifications are, and what I do.

As for 'getting to the root of the problem', many people get anxiety problems with situations that are artificially created - like playing piano in front of an audience. It's NOT necessarily a deep-rooted problem, that has to be tackled at its 'roots'. (If that was the case, I'd have one too - I can't speak in front of an audience without getting anxious and unable to get words out. And no, I don't need counselling, or the help of any other professional, or Freudian/Jungian psychoanalysis. I just don't want to do public speaking, full stop. I can play the piano in public only because my audiences aren't musicians or critics, so I can play as many wrong notes as I like - otherwise I'd suffer from performance anxiety too).

It's very tempting to project one's own experiences (personal or otherwise) onto others, but sometimes we just need to step back a bit and look at the situation from the other person's point of view, and think laterally, and empathise without being judgmental.

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#2027483 - 02/05/13 02:16 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
BeccaBb Offline
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LOLOLOLOLOL

The only thing obvious is that you are a member of Piano World.. Too funny
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#2027520 - 02/05/13 03:16 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Nikolas]
Mark_C Offline
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Originally Posted By: Nikolas
....Now, I think that I'll let Mark post....

Thanks for the shout-outs. smile
I usually don't post on such threads for various reasons.

To Vasilievich: I only skimmed the thread so please pardon if this has already been said and discussed (but I didn't readily see it).....

[edit: I see that parts of this have been said]

....My main advice, besides not just leaping to medication (which I say even though working with medications is my main "stock in trade"), is to view this is as a project, a process -- something to be attacked in a very, very gradual way. For the moment, scale back your ambition and start with just simple, limited kinds of 'performing.' Do only very brief performances, like just one piece, in front of just a few people, maybe just one or two -- and much simpler pieces than your actual level. Make it be a piece and a situation where you are SURE to succeed. And then scale it up from there, gradually but surely. Very gradually. Don't take any big leaps of difficulty or complexity of the pieces or programs, or of size or type of audience. If you hit a snag, it means the step was too large, and try to avoid too many steps that fail, because a big principle behind this is becoming accustomed to "success experiences." An occasional "failure" here and there is all right, but many failures would just set you back and perhaps put you back to where you started.

The way I've put it is a simplification but perhaps you can get good ideas from it. And oh....guidance from someone is usually necessary to help you stay on a good track -- perhaps a therapist who knows about such things, but best of all a teacher who knows about such things.

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#2027530 - 02/05/13 03:42 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Whizbang Offline
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I discovered beta blockers by accident.

I'm just an amateur, somewhere on the tail of the talent bell curve. I've struggled with public performances since my teen years, during which none of the recitals I gave could be considered successful.

I ceased even considering public performances sometime around high school. Even playing for my teacher was incredibly stressful. I almost ceased playing piano entirely after college.

I self-taught, if you could call it that, for more than a decade, and, yes, I read various online resources about techniques to manage anxiety. I had some trusted friends I could invite over every couple a weeks and play for. This was still nerve-wracking, very error prone, not very musical.

It's very hard to explain--it certainly makes no logical sense. I can play for myself. Heck, I can play in the middle of a crowded room and everything's reasonably okay if I think I'm being ignored. But if one person starts paying attention or if god forbid its actually a performance, my hands turn into slime, a vice slowly tightens in my chest, my arms and shoulders and hands go rigid, I get light-headed, my mind goes blank, a finger-slip causes the piece to hit a wall.

Familiarity did not necessarily breed more comfort. Slogans and mantras don't seem to make much difference.

Then I started having some heart arrhythmias--a family trait--and was prescribed some daily medication.

The next few times my friend came over to listen, I noticed something. I was still nervous, but the crushing vice wasn't there. The clammy palms went away. I could make a mistake but recover.

Next time I went in for a followup, I asked my doctor--"Is... is the medication you prescribed ever given for -anxiety-? I've noticed my piano playing is a lot better." He nodded.

My arrhythmias were mild enough and infrequent enough that I weaned myself off the medication, but I've felt the difference. Sans medication, I still suffer from very bad performance jitters. My audition piece for my current teacher was a piece I'd played hundreds, maybe thousands, of times before--it became a disjointed mess of missed notes and music stoppages. I still suffer probably a 25% or more impairment of performance in front of my teacher (and, unlike OP, I adore my teacher) and a greater degree of impairment in a performance.

As pianists, we talk about building and reinforcing neural pathways through repeated practice. Was sitting on that bench as a teenager, next to my teacher at a lesson or in a recital hall, -fully expecting- to humiliate myself conditioning my brain physiology to react adversely under stressful conditions? Was I just predisposed to react this way under interpersonal pressure?

I don't know the answer, but it does boggle my mind that pianists would champion one aspect of brain plasticity but downplay another.

I personally know exactly how debilitating performance anxiety can be--where every successfully played measure simply ratchets up the mental tension making the next measures even harder to pull off successfully. And I know that, for me at least, the mental techniques combined with intense preparation alone are limited in their ability to reverse the effects.

I'm not on my heart medication right now, but I can sure tell you that I've considered re-upping that prescription... and not for my heart.
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#2027552 - 02/05/13 04:26 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Whizbang]
Entheo Offline
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Originally Posted By: Whizbang
It's very hard to explain--it certainly makes no logical sense. I can play for myself. Heck, I can play in the middle of a crowded room and everything's reasonably okay if I think I'm being ignored. But if one person starts paying attention or if god forbid its actually a performance, my hands turn into slime, a vice slowly tightens in my chest, my arms and shoulders and hands go rigid, I get light-headed, my mind goes blank, a finger-slip causes the piece to hit a wall.


whizbang, excellent post IMHO, and you really put your finger on my experience with the quote above.

i also share your experience with my introduction to inderal. about 2 or 3 years into my adult lessons my teacher had me tackle a beethoven sonata, which i fully memorized and then prior to the recital had some practice runs in front of my teacher. but of course as soon as i began the sonata in front of a room full of people i went blank around the 8th measure, and had to restart a few times until i finally pushed past.

the rest of the performance went well, but it proved quite traumatic for me in light of my preparation and expectations. i developed an arrhythmia subsequently and the doctor prescribed inderal for it. i did not know at the time that it was used prophylactically for musical performance, but once the arrhythmia subsided i saved the rest for performances, and it had quite the positive effect.

another topic that has been discussed here recently, and is related to this one, is performing with the sheet music vs. from memory. it proves to be a wonderful point of focus (vs. staring at your hands and fearing a memory lapse) and as an esteemed teacher once said to me, "there's no shame in using the sheet music." in fact, as emeritus of a renowned university piano faculty, he considers it a waste of time memorizing pieces (likely because so many of us spend all that time only to encounter trouble when all we are focusing on are our heads & hands).
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#2027565 - 02/05/13 04:50 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Hakki Offline
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Vasilievich:

I don't know how you play.

And I am a bit surprised how so many people were able to comment without knowing how you play.(or maybe they do know)

Would you please post an unedited VIDEO of you playing SOMETHING?

Let's SEE how you play while trying to make a public video that will be posted here.

Then we can better understand your situation.
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#2027579 - 02/05/13 05:26 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Hakki]
pianoloverus Offline
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Originally Posted By: Hakki
Vasilievich:

I don't know how you play.

And I am a bit surprised how so many people were able to comment without knowing how you play.(or maybe they do know)

Would you please post an unedited VIDEO of you playing SOMETHING?

Let's SEE how you play while trying to make a public video that will be posted here.

Then we can better understand your situation.
Why would you ask him to potentially embarrass himself in front of the entire PW audience and untold other viewers? If a video showed him playing well without any obvious problems(unlikely) it would be of no help to anyone, and if he plays poorly it could be extremely awkward for him. If he wanted to post a video he would choose to do so by himself.

His detailed verbal descriptions of what happens are IMO more than sufficient and tell us far more than seeing a video. We have a reasonable idea of his performance level and skill when not under pressure because he is preparing to play his graduation recital as a performance major and has played 50 recitals/chamber music concerts. In other words, he is probably better than at least 99% of PW members.


Edited by pianoloverus (02/05/13 05:37 PM)

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#2027597 - 02/05/13 05:56 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Whizbang]
bennevis Online   content
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Originally Posted By: Whizbang


It's very hard to explain--it certainly makes no logical sense. I can play for myself. Heck, I can play in the middle of a crowded room and everything's reasonably okay if I think I'm being ignored. But if one person starts paying attention or if god forbid its actually a performance, my hands turn into slime, a vice slowly tightens in my chest, my arms and shoulders and hands go rigid, I get light-headed, my mind goes blank, a finger-slip causes the piece to hit a wall.

Familiarity did not necessarily breed more comfort. Slogans and mantras don't seem to make much difference.



Your story is perfectly logical to me.

My experience of playing in public is quite similar, the only difference being that I don't mind people listening intently to me - as long as I believe that they won't notice if I make mistakes (even if my belief is mistaken). But if I know that someone in the audience is musical enough to realize if I'm fumbling, I'll almost certainly fumble. On one level, it doesn't make sense, but on another, it does. If I speak in public, there's no hiding - everyone in the audience understands perfectly what I'm saying (or more accurately, trying to say....) - which is why I won't do it. (And if I ever have to, I'll take propranolol).

Recently, I made a couple of recordings for a piano showroom's and magazine's websites, playing two pieces I knew inside-out and had in my memory for well over two years. Playing the unfamiliar grand in front of the video camera and microphones wasn't the problem (though it was my first experience of making a professional recording) - it was the presence of three people there involved in the recording that threw me, and I had a memory lapse for the first time in the second piece I played (which is familiar to most pianists). But not the first, which is a novelty; which was the reason I had no trouble playing it perfectly - because I knew that they almost certainly had never heard it before (and I was right).

I started that second piece again from the beginning - and my mind went blank in exactly the same spot. I took a break, put the score on the music rest and went through that trouble spot slowly, wondering whether I should try to play from the score for the next take. But I hadn't played from the score for over two years.....

Then, one of the people sitting at the control desk asked me what the music was, and immediately I was OK again. Because that second piece was obviously unfamiliar to them too, so my anxiety was unfounded: I didn't feel like my playing was under scrutiny anymore.

Yes, it all seems very odd. Why should it make any difference whether the people who are listening to my playing knew the music or not? Well, it mattered hugely to my subconscious.....

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#2027619 - 02/05/13 06:24 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: chickenlump]
Sandra M Offline
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Hello and you stated that a prescription to calm the anxious performer could help and I agree from experience. You are not talking long term addiction just to change the fear into relaxation with medication changing the behavior on the short term. When I became a college student for the first time in my 30's I was so anxious before the first exam and I took a small glass of wine to relax with dinner an hour before the exam. It worked I was so relaxed that I made a 97. I never had to drink wine again before an exam. It got me over the hump as you stated. Sandra M


Edited by Sandra M (02/05/13 06:27 PM)

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#2027654 - 02/05/13 07:14 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Sandra M Offline
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You not giving up and looking over and considering all options from us posted in your behalf at Piano World. I admire your powerful positive spirit. Sandra M

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#2027726 - 02/05/13 09:22 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Vasilievich Offline
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Lots of good stuff here!
Quote:
I personally know exactly how debilitating performance anxiety can be--where every successfully played measure simply ratchets up the mental tension making the next measures even harder to pull off successfully.

This hits the nail on the head exactly.

Quote:
Yes, it all seems very odd. Why should it make any difference whether the people who are listening to my playing knew the music or not? Well, it mattered hugely to my subconscious.....

Unfortunately I'm not so lucky (?) as I get just as nervous playing for Grandma as I do for a room full of professors, but I do relate with the "paying attention" bit. A few weeks ago when I was practicing an office aide came in to organize music. I decided to use it as an opportunity to test myself and see if I could keep it together while practicing. I was completely fine until a moment where in some way or another I began to think about whether or not she was listening—and not only if she was listening, but what she thought if the piece itself, since it is somewhat unorthodox and dissonant and as a vocalist she had probably never heard it before (Scriabin op.53). In that instant, things immediately began to go wrong and I eventually had to stop and pull out the music. So what was going on in my head actually seems to be two separate inner dialogues—one that doubts I can play a piece, and another that doubts whether the audience would even like it to begin with. The latter probably comes from my years of feeling awkward and being teased in school about listening to classical music and not popular music. To this day if I put on a recording of a classical work while knowingly in earshot of someone else who knows nothing about classical music, my perception of the music changes instantly and I become fixated on what they think of it, usually convincing myself that they probably don't like it.

Quote:
We have a reasonable idea of his performance level and skill when not under pressure because he is preparing to play his graduation recital as a performance major and has played 50 recitals/chamber music concerts. In other words, he is probably better than at least 99% of PW members.

Well I'm not sure that statistic is accurate, but flattering nonetheless. And unfortunately my laptop met it's untimely demise a year ago and I have been unable to replace it as yet, so even if I wanted to upload a new recording, I couldn't at the moment. Anyone is welcome to view the small collection of recordings I have on my YouTube channel —As someone just brought to my attention, several of my recordings have (unwarrented) copyright claims against them by EMI and other labels and have either been taken down or are in the process of being removed. I'm getting really sick of this obsession we have with copyrights and patents in this country...but this is a different rant for a different time and place.


Edited by Vasilievich (02/06/13 01:48 AM)

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#2027929 - 02/06/13 07:47 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
theJourney Offline
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Originally Posted By: Vasilievich
Lots of good stuff here!
Unfortunately I'm not so lucky (?) as I get just as nervous playing for Grandma as I do for a room full of professors, but I do relate with the "paying attention" bit. A few weeks ago when I was practicing an office aide came in to organize music. I decided to use it as an opportunity to test myself and see if I could keep it together while practicing. I was completely fine until a moment where in some way or another I began to think about whether or not she was listening—and not only if she was listening, but what she thought if the piece itself, since it is somewhat unorthodox and dissonant and as a vocalist she had probably never heard it before (Scriabin op.53). In that instant, things immediately began to go wrong and I eventually had to stop and pull out the music. So what was going on in my head actually seems to be two separate inner dialogues—one that doubts I can play a piece, and another that doubts whether the audience would even like it to begin with. The latter probably comes from my years of feeling awkward and being teased in school about listening to classical music and not popular music. To this day if I put on a recording of a classical work while knowingly in earshot of someone else who knows nothing about classical music, my perception of the music changes instantly and I become fixated on what they think of it, usually convincing myself that they probably don't like it.


For me, playing the piano for others requires a strange combination of intense concentration combined with relaxed letting go of thoughts. The thoughts and dialogs going on in your head sound familiar and are, apparently in both of our experiences, in conflict with performance capability.

I have not studied this thread in depth, so forgive me if I repeat something that was discussed up thread. It would appear to me that you would profit from some kind of practice (not piano practice) such as Zen Buddhism or meditation, perhaps combined with therapy to help you address some of the mentioned unresolved issues, that will empower you to quickly recognize when such counter-productive, interfering thoughts arise within you, allow yourself to name them and then to immediately let them go and then to proceed to lever leave or return to your concentrated but let loose play. Also, focusing on the sound coming out of the piano to the exclusion of all else can be helpful in silencing your internal chatter.

Best of luck to you!

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#2028025 - 02/06/13 11:21 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
bennevis Online   content
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Originally Posted By: Vasilievich
The latter probably comes from my years of feeling awkward and being teased in school about listening to classical music and not popular music. To this day if I put on a recording of a classical work while knowingly in earshot of someone else who knows nothing about classical music, my perception of the music changes instantly and I become fixated on what they think of it, usually convincing myself that they probably don't like it.



I was exposed to this at an early age, when I went to a boarding school. In a dormitory of twelve boys, I'd play BBC Radio 3 on my radio-cassette recorder: Beethoven symphonies and piano sonatas, Handel's Messiah (yes, all three hours of it... grin) etc, while the others had Radio 1's 'Top of the Pops' on their radios. I grew a very thick skin, but the other boys knew I was shy (and probably weird) anyway, and while they were displaying trophies from rugby matches, I was displaying trophies from junior chess tournaments, and spending all my free time playing piano in the Music Department's practice rooms, or in singing practice with the school's Chapel Choir.

Conditioning from childhood definitely helps in this.....

Maybe if I had to give piano recitals to staff and pupils while in school, I wouldn't be suffering from performance anxiety of any sort now - or maybe my nerves would be even worse? Who knows?

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#2028066 - 02/06/13 12:28 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Hakki Offline
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Originally Posted By: Vasilievich
Anyone is welcome to view the small collection of recordings I have on my YouTube channel —As someone just brought to my attention, several of my recordings have (unwarrented) copyright claims against them by EMI and other labels and have either been taken down or are in the process of being removed. I'm getting really sick of this obsession we have with copyrights and patents in this country...but this is a different rant for a different time and place.


OK, I visited your YouTube page. As for the copyright claims at least they are not visible to viewers like me, I didn't notice anything at all. But that is another story.

Anyway, 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.

Therefore, my first advice would be that you consult with your mentors about this state of being relaxed. If necessary attend some Alexander Technique sessions.

Secondly, VIDEO RECORD as much of your performances, practicing sessions etc. But, play simpler pieces (really simple pieces) and watch your self later. 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.
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#2028129 - 02/06/13 02:01 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Hakki]
Vasilievich Offline
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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.

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#2028145 - 02/06/13 02:36 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Hakki Offline
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It was just my 2 cents of advice.

Whatever.
Good luck.
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#2028197 - 02/06/13 03:51 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Hakki]
Vasilievich Offline
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Originally Posted By: Hakki
It was just my 2 cents of advice.

Whatever.
Good luck.

Sorry, i was just responding, i.e. having a discussion. Didn't mean for you to take it personally. I appreciate all the comments and advice, as this is obviously not just an issue for me, but other people as well, so even what might not be true or work for me might help someone else.

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#2028496 - 02/07/13 02:10 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
bolt Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/23/09
Posts: 183
Hi Vasilievich

You might want to read about Kava Kava and about GABA

-Bolt
_________________________
"There is more to this piano playing malarkey than meets the eye" - adultpianist

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#2028498 - 02/07/13 02:14 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: bolt]
bolt Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/23/09
Posts: 183
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
_________________________
"There is more to this piano playing malarkey than meets the eye" - adultpianist

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#2028596 - 02/07/13 08:10 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 10775
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
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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Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#2028715 - 02/07/13 12:02 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Hakki]
Hakki Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 2100
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.


Edited by Hakki (02/07/13 12:03 PM)
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#2028796 - 02/07/13 02:14 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Morodiene]
Vasilievich Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/04/10
Posts: 90
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 08:19 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Charles Cohen Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/26/12
Posts: 945
Loc: Richmond, BC, Canada
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

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#2029017 - 02/07/13 09:43 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Charles Cohen]
Vasilievich Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/04/10
Posts: 90
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.

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#2029643 - 02/09/13 03:41 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Opus_Maximus Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/27/04
Posts: 1458
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.


Edited by Opus_Maximus (02/09/13 04:12 AM)

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#2029720 - 02/09/13 08:07 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 10775
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
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?


Edited by Morodiene (02/09/13 08:08 AM)
_________________________
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MTNA member
www.valeoconservatory.com
Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#2031513 - 02/11/13 10:37 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Morodiene]
Vasilievich Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/04/10
Posts: 90
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.


Edited by Vasilievich (02/12/13 01:46 AM)

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#2031702 - 02/12/13 08:06 AM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 10775
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
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.


Edited by Morodiene (02/12/13 08:08 AM)
_________________________
private piano/voice teacher - full time
MTNA member
www.valeoconservatory.com
Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#2032601 - 02/13/13 05:35 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
DAVE_250 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/30/09
Posts: 23
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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