Everything you need to know about performance anxiety in one massive guide. Develop the confidence to express yourself, execute at the highest musical and technical level, and enjoy your time on stage. Click now to learn more!
How To Speak Confidently On Stage
In 2017, my colleagues and I were ecstatic and grateful to receive honorary doctorates for our work at Denison University. With this honor, we were asked to give the commencement speech as well...to thousands of people. While it did not phase my colleagues, it definitely got my heart pumping followed by a rush of anxious thoughts. Now this wasn't the first time I was getting nervous at the thought of speaking in public, but it was definitely a situation with higher stakes. Some of the thoughts that went through my head were what if I messed up? Would the University be embarrassed that they just honored me? Would my colleagues be disappointed? Would the faculty and students question my value and forever remember me as the guy who couldn't speak? AHHH! Be right back, freaking out.
So, what should I do to not feel anxious?
Prepare. Sound familiar?
The first step is to develop great content. If you don't have great content, you won't feel as entitled to speak as well. It's like the difference between playing a piece that clearly lacks quality compared to your favorite piece. There's just a different mindset even if as a professional you try to play every piece with equal effort. Along with developing great content, you'll inevitably discover techniques like "making good eye contact". All of these techniques are in service of helping you communicate your great content. It's like learning how to produce a good sound quality with your instrument so the audience is not distracted and can actually listen to the music.
The second step is working with a speaking coach. We all know the value of private lessons and coachings. Nothing gets you to your goal faster and more efficiently. In tandem with working with a coach, you will need to practice consistently and develop good habits. All the typical practice principles apply like taking it slow, doing it right the first time, listening intently, analyzing and applying the right solutions, experimenting, and repeating the passage until you can execute it 10 times perfectly in a row.
The third step is to begin speaking in public! Join a toastmasters club or practice in front of friends. This is a crucial step because we all know that no matter how much you practice, it never guarantees how you will do on stage. You need speaking experience!
The fourth and final step is to speak with a clear intention in the present moment. A lot of times you will watch many presentations and speeches that have zero personality. This will not be good enough. There needs to be a performance aspect to it. You need to embody the character of what you are saying just like in music.
In conclusion, you will need great content, techniques to convey your message, individual practice, public practice, and that X factor to speak in public successfully. This may sound like a lot of work, but as performers already, you have the foundation in place to move people with your words. So, do not fear, put in the work, be patient, and develop this vital skill!
How To Recover From A Bad Performance
This article is about how to survive after you had a terrible performance or audition. If you have not experienced a terrible performance or audition recently, this article is not for you. However, if you just had a terrible performance and are feeling down about it, then you will want to read this content.
So you just had a bad performance…maybe you couldn’t get into the music, execute your passages, or the pressure of the situation was too much to handle. Either way, welcome to the club. Maybe it’s not your first visit, but I guarantee there is no successful performer out there that hasn’t experienced this. So how do you feel after a bad performance? Frustrated? embarrassed? disappointed? Sad? These are all totally natural reactions and inevitable. Our career consists of constant evaluation and at certain points, even with little or massive preparation, we will have poor performances that get under our skin. It’s just going to happen.
However, what I want to help you realize is that this experience is the single greatest opportunity to improve your performance skills. Not only is it the best opportunity to improve your performance skills, but a huge opportunity to improve your life. Right now, you have tons and tons of leverage. The performer I am today is because of many experiences like this and it’s to the point where after I had an amazing performance, I actually look forward to the next bad performance because I will become more self-aware and rise to the next level. This is how awesome a bad performance is!
Let me describe to you what experiencing a bad performance is like to me. I hate them because it just ruins my mindset. It chips away at my confidence, increases my anxiety for the next performances, makes me feel frustrated that I couldn’t play to my standard, and leaves me embarrassed. In fact, the worse it is, the harder it is to shrug off and it can have an effect for quite a while. Probably the most powerful experience I had was back in undergraduate school where I entered a competition and expected to win. So guess what happened when I started performing? I began doubting myself, focusing on the wrong things, and the physical manifestations overpowered me. My heart was pumping too fast, my bow control was all over the place, I was rushing like crazy, and it was a disaster. So of course, I didn’t win. I felt so destroyed after that competition I didn’t even practice for a month. I was really down and unmotivated which is the complete opposite of what got me to that competition in the first place- waking up early to practice, being patient and persistent with my development, and loving a musical life. Maybe you have experienced something similar to this but again, this is your biggest opportunity to develop your performance skills because of a few reasons.
The first one is because this is a time you’re going to have to perform with a really negative mindset. The professional schedule doesn’t give you much time between performances so before you know it, you’re back on stage. But this is a great thing, because it teaches you how to perform at a high level without being dependent on your state of mind. What do I mean by this? Well when things are rolling in life and everything is good, your positive state of mind helps inspire your music, makes performing easier and life is all good. However, being in a negative state of mind forces you to become a robot by discovering the processes that mechanically allow you to perform your best. Why is this awesome? Because if you can perform well with this mentality, think about when you get your confidence back. You’ll be unstoppable.
However, there’s more to just learning the mechanics and principles of performing. For example, it’s the focus on how we want to feel in life. After that competition I felt what I felt- unmotivated, sad, and basically just helped time move forward by watching movies and over eating carbohydrates. Then I saw my friend perform and this guy is just conquering life. The way he talks about music, his vibe and energy he projects to the audience, the way he authentically performs and more. So, I’m sitting there in awe thinking, “Shouldn’t I be like this? Weren’t there times I resembled some of these traits?” I thought to myself- what would I rather be? a negative, uninspired, self-loathing musician which is what I strongly felt, or would I rather get back on the path to becoming the best musician I can be. Well I decided to get back to work and I improved my preparation process exponentially by reflecting over every detail, learning from others, finally checking off things on my to do list that have been on there for months, and my teacher took notice. It took a while but I felt like I arrived to a new level.
Look, don’t be afraid. I always say go out and perform as much as possible but part of that is getting to experience these terrible performances or auditions, There is nothing like sinking to rock bottom of your musical career and then building yourself back up. After such bad performances, my performance skills shot up to levels I didn’t even know I was capable of. I felt a renewed and soaring confidence.
The last benefit is that it forces you to realize that you can be fulfilled and happy just being yourself and that’s what matters the most. It might sound crazy and unreasonable right now, but you have to ask yourself how can you survive and THRIVE off of these inevitable experiences? What kind of mindset does it take? Once you answer those questions it all leads back to the key idea that you can define your own happiness as a musician. It is not until this is realized that you are able to perform well and ironically, that’s when the more prestigious accolades start coming in.
Finally, we all got big dreams. Some may want to become a soloist, professional orchestra member, active chamber musician, teach, start a music business, etc. However, with those big dreams come obstacles like this where it sets you back into a negative mindset. From now on, every time that happens, you get this unique opportunity to learn how to strengthen your core self, thrive, and before you know it, you are even more rock solid and ready to face your next challenge. I want to end with a corny quote from a famous man. Thomas Edison once said “our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
How to Improve Creativity In Music Part 4: Native American Music
Welcome to part 4 of improving your creativity in music! The past three articles have summarized my visits to the baroque, jazz, and EDM worlds. In this article, I am so excited to introduce you all to one of ETHEL's main collaborators, Robert Mirabal.
Robert Mirabal is a Native American flute player, instrument builder and three time GRAMMY® Award winner. In collaboration with ETHEL, we created one of our most powerful programs called "The River". During this program, the audience is immersed in a flow of music, narrative, and ritual, that evokes timeless Native American traditions through contemporary musical artistry. It is truly a unique collaboration and has empowered me to develop not only as a performer, but as a person.
I grew up viewing the stage as a place to perform my piece at a high level, entertain the audience, and somewhere along the way, I started seeking the validation of the audience. These are common views shared by many in the musical world, but what does it result in? In my case, it produced a musician who was negatively affected by both the extreme pressure to execute at the highest level and audiences potential negative opinions. I was simply stressed every time I was performing or auditioning and it wasn't a fun or successful time. To solve this, I learned managing techniques, developed strategies and intense processes for performing my best and enjoying the stage. After years of work, I was able to get to that point and it felt amazing. With multiple successful experiences and auditions, I thought I had performing finally figured out. However, when I started performing with Robert Mirabal, I quickly realized he embodied a different spirit on stage that could help me even further.
If you ever attend a Robert Mirabal concert, which you should, you'll immediately feel his connection with the audience. He is the definition of a natural performer. But how does he get there? Well aside from owning his music and being the best at what he does, he views the stage as a place of ceremony. A ceremony differs from the standard view of the stage because it is just something you do. It's not a place to seek validation and prove yourself. It's not even about executing at the highest level. For example, if you go to church and the congregation or priest is singing out of tune, no one is judging. They are there for the ceremony. Now of course as a performer you don't want egregious execution to distract from the ceremony, but you get my point. The focus is more on creating the experience, ritual, and spirit.
The results of this are some of the most moving experiences I have ever felt on stage, which directly translates to the audience. After a concert, you'll typically hear comments like "I enjoyed the show, you're so talented, and that was beautiful." While we receive those types of comments, we also receive statements like "thank you for healing our soul tonight." This is the power of focusing on the ceremony and makes a concert experience that much more effective.
Now does this mean you have to replicate "The River" and it's ceremony on stage? Not at all. In fact, classical music concerts are already a ceremony. All you have to do is switch your perspective of the stage. When you begin to view every concert and audition like a ceremony, you'll reduce your anxiety, self pressure, and create an unforgettable experience.
How To Perform Your Best in Auditions and Concerts
Having trouble believing in yourself? Learn about entitlement and how it can help you succeed on stage! If you're going to win an audition or perform your best, developing the good type of entitlement is an absolute necessity. The stage is a place to succeed. You deserve to be yourself.
Leave a comment below about your level of entitlement or opinions and contact me with any questions!