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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
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5369
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 Offline

Platinum Supporter until Jan 02 2013


Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 1819
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: 969
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
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 5432
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.
_________________________
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

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

Registered: 12/09/01
Posts: 1305
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: 854
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: 344
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 Offline

Platinum Supporter until Jan 02 2013


Registered: 03/14/08
Posts: 1819
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: 3832
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
_________________________
Schubert: Bb Impromptu D.935/3; Mozart: D minor concerto; Chopin: first Ballade

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

Registered: 01/06/12
Posts: 1376
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: 1420
Loc: under monsoon clouds
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: 3485
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
Full Member

Registered: 11/24/11
Posts: 21
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.
_________________________
Currently working on:

Bach WTC II- Dmaj P&F
Chopin 3rd Ballad
Gershwin preludes
Beethoven Sonata Op 109

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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: 4530
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: 3832
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
_________________________
Schubert: Bb Impromptu D.935/3; Mozart: D minor concerto; Chopin: first Ballade

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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
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5369
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
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 5432
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.
_________________________
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

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

Registered: 11/23/10
Posts: 3667
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
Full Member

Registered: 01/04/12
Posts: 72
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?
_________________________
Currently working on:
Beethoven Sonata no. 32, Op. 111
Chopin Etude Op. 10 no. 2
Debussy La Danse de Puck

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#2024217 - 01/30/13 06:37 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
aidans Offline
Full Member

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
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/16/08
Posts: 867
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.
_________________________
Currently Studying: Debussy - Pagodes; Alkan - Cello Sonata 4th movement (duet transcription by Alkan); assorted Dvorak Slavonic Dances

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#2024238 - 01/30/13 07:18 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
Ralph Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/01
Posts: 1305
Loc: Delaware (slower/lower)
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.
_________________________
Do or do not. There is no try.

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#2024317 - 01/30/13 10:38 PM Re: Performance anxiety getting progressively worse [Re: Vasilievich]
jdott Offline
Full Member

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
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/06/10
Posts: 2151
Loc: Canada
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!
_________________________
Working on:
Chopin - Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante
Rachmaninoff - Preludes op. 23 nos. 3,4,6, op. 32 no.12
Franck - Violin Sonata

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