Stage Fright - tips from Jenny Leigh Hodgins

Most everybody experiences some level of stage fright when preparing to perform for an audience, audition, or examiner. And it's completely understandable, we are showcasing something that we've put a lot of preparation into, and we want our performance to reflect our hard work, to show what we're capable of, and to bring our audience enjoyment. But what can we do when the nerves start to take over?

Today I'm sharing some tips from fellow music blogger, Jenny Leigh Hodgins' site all about turning those nerves into a positive performance energy. Hodgins shares 4 big tips for nervous performers (plus a couple bonus ones at the end) and I hope you'll find them as useful as I did. With the KMTA Progressions & our studio Spring Recital just around the corner, I think these will definitely come in handy in the coming months!

1. "get as many performing opportunities as possible and frequently!"

This is absolutely the number one way to become a confident performer. For me, the stage fright has never actually gone away, but at some point I started to believe in my ability to perform in spite of it. Successful performances build confidence in our abilities, and the more we practice performing, the less intimidating it becomes. One of Hodgins' great tips here, is that if you don't have an audience, record a video of yourself! This activates some of the same nerves that having an actual audience does, and gives you the practice in playing confidently under pressure. 

In this studio we have both a Fall & Spring Recital, the Multi-Piano Christmas Festival in December, KMTA Progressions in April, our Young Composers Program in the Summer (where students record their original composition for an album), peer performances in each of our bonus group classes, AND we share success videos from lessons regularly on the studio social media channels. Each of these experiences that your piano kid participates in is one more assurance that reminds them that they are a competent musician. 

2. "Making mistakes is usually due to lack of thorough preparation."

 It always seems to come back to practice, doesn't it? It seems like common sense, but practicing effectively has a huge impact on our ability to perform well. And we know that 'Practice' doesn't just mean running through your piece top to bottom a dozen times a day and calling it good. Real practice digs into the fingers, note accuracy, and timings in small pieces. We isolate the passages that may cause us to stumble and we practice them until we can play them, and then we keep practicing them until we can't miss them. Hodgins reminds us that we want to know the music, not just have the muscle memory of how to play it. Muscle memory is definitely a valuable tool musicians use, but we don't want to rely on it solely for a performance. Know the notes, dynamics, key signature, structure, and style of the piece - this way if you do stumble you know enough of your piece's building blocks to keep it going and jump back in. 

3. "See Yourself . . . There"

Visualization is a lifesaver for those of use who have performance anxiety. Imagining your audience, the stage, what the room looks like, and the nerves as you practice will help eliminate the shaky hands and legs while you're on stage. In your visualization, you'll want to remember that the audience is never 100% quiet. You can hear people breathing, shifting in their seats, or children whispering questions. Try to practice with those things in mind too, or perhaps recruit your family to provide some mild distraction and see if you can play your piece anyway. 

One last thought on this one before we hear the last tip: Have you ever had the experience where you're onstage and your heart starts beating like crazy? One way to recreate this at home is to go for a run, or sprint around the house a couple times, then sit down to play your piece. This way you can practice finding that calm place that your music comes from, and play from there even when your energy is elevated.

4. "shift focus away from yourself and fixate on making the music for the audience’s benefit"
 A lot of our nerves come from a place of wanting to do well, which is not a bad thing, but it can make the performance about us, when in fact its really about music. If we turn our focus to how music creates connections between people, and wanting to create that space for our audience, we don't have as much room to worry about how we do as an individual performer. Hodgins shares that "it all comes down to heart to heart communication brought alive through the universal medium of great music." 

 Before wrapping up, Hodgins shares 2 last practical performance tips. The first is to remember that nerves can actually be a positive energy. They make us alert, aware, and ready to take on challenges. The second is to take a deep breath, this will slow our minds, and shift our focus as we begin to let the music flow out to our audience. And these may be my favorite of the bunch, because they are the ones that are easy to implement when you're about to go on stage and you feel yourself start to freak a little bit. Take that shift of perspective and a deep, restorative breath, and voila! you've just turned those nerves into a positive performance energy. 

A huge thank you to our guest blogger this week. Jenny Leigh Hodgins is a music educator, and composer, as well as being a poet, lyricist, writer, and amateur photographer. On her website, you can find her blogs on a variety of topics from piano education to spiritual wellness. Her website is at