starOvercoming Stage Fright


I have suffered from stage fright for a long time. When I played the piano in recitals as a child, my knees would shake so much that the whole piano vibrated loudly. I have now played the cello for 10 years and have ways of dealing with the problem which might help others.

Primarily, I have changed my attitude and now play solely for the pleasure of moving others. I try not to think about whether the audience will like me or my playing but focus on reaching out to them with my cello.

It helps to realize that stage fright is a physical response to something chemical going on in our bodies. We are frightened and our body produces adrenalin. This can happen very quickly. You know it is happening when you feel the rush of sweat to your palms, your heart pounding, or butterflies in your stomach. Once this occurs, it takes a while for the chemistry to normalize, no matter what you do and your playing will be affected. So it is important to minimize the chemical rush. A little bit is not bad, it can enhance your performance. During the day of the performance I try to have a positive attitude that I am going to enjoy this. I eat something before hand and try to get a back rub . I make sure that I know exactly where I am going and arrive early so that extraneous anxieties do not trigger the rush. When I am waiting to play, I am most vulnerable and watch my body very carefully. I breathe slowly, deeply and calmly. Most important, I imagine the adrenal gland has a valve which I can control. If I feel it is open too much I visualize turning it down, manually. This works! Once I am playing, the pleasure of the experience takes over and I can concentrate on the music and performance.


1. There are several books and articles regarding your question. The topic you bring up is much discussed -- stage fright and self-confidence. Remember that you are not alone. I have seen it from little kids to famous soloists, including the legendary Leonard Rose, who visibly tightened when he had to play big shifts.

Some resources are: "The Inner Game of Music" by Barry Green with Timothy Gallwey, 1986, Ancor Press/Doubleday. This book dwells on how to overcome stagefright and uses kind of a Zen approach. I found this book to be very helpful.

The Spring 1995 issue of American String Teacher Magazine contains an article in the Guitar Forum called "Six Golden Rules for Conquering Performance Anxiety," by David Leisner.

"Stage Fright" by Kato Havas, 1973, Bosworth & Co. Ltd is also good. The examples in the book are directed toward the violin, but are easily extended to the cello.

I have some other tips for you:

Always stress the note before a big shift.

If the hard part is in your left hand, think about your right hand. If the hard part is in your right hand, think about your left hand.

Breathe, breathe, breathe! We often forget to breathe when we are anxious. This makes things worse. You may want to put breath marks at each phrase to remind you to breathe. This will reduce your overall tension and may distract you from your fears.

Don't forget to think when you are nervous. You don't want to forget about the helpful tips you discovered while practicing. Don't fall into the common trap that performing means it's time to just think about the music. Thinking doesn't mean dwelling on thoughts like, "Oh my god, I'm going to miss that shift," which is called "inner chatter" in "The Inner Game of Music."

Some other ideas that have been mentioned in past discussions are:

Count the beats and their subdivisions or to think the note names as each one is played. The idea is that this will keep your brain distracted from the inner chatter activity. These things must be practiced, though. So don't just go into a concert without having worked on these skills.

Practice the rests in the music. If you haven't practiced the rests, you may not know when to come in during a performance, while will intensity the anxiety.

Always arrive early and get acclimated to the performance hall.

Tune before you go on stage. You may be too nervous to do a job with everybody watching.

Good luck!

Tim Janof

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