Notes from a Master Class on Performance Anxiety

To close out this week’s series of master class notes (read Part 1 and Part 2), here are my notes from a talk given by David Sternbach, Research Director of the Center for Arts and Wellness at George Mason University. A former horn player himself, Mr. Sternbach visited a studio class during my time at UW-Madison. Mr. Sternbach has authored numerous articles covering a variety of issues facing musicians and other performing artists.

David Sternbach Master Class, The University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • Excellence is a habit.
  • Stage fright has three stages: 1) anticipatory 2) on-stage 3) afterwards
  • To deal with stage fright (performance anxiety) it is necessary to restore your sense of engagement and reexamine your practice room conduct.
  • Visualize what you want to accomplish.
  • Spend at least some time in every practice session playing something you love.
  • Establish a “minimum emotional standard”.
  • Get the body warm before starting a practice session.
  • Take more frequent breaks.
  • Have zero tolerance for tension – it’s not worth learning a passage of music if tension is the result.
  • Act, don’t react.
  • Construct and practice affirmation phrases, and use them to replace the normal stress response. The affirmation has to be more powerful than a habitual negative statement.
  • As in physical exercise, the cycle of challenge and recovery is important in the practice room. Practice should be regular and patterned.
  • Create an environment in which you are happy.
  • Play for your own delight at the beginning and end of a practice session.
  • Physical fitness, especially cardiac fitness, is very important. Good cardiac health allows the body to recover faster from panic.
  • Rehearse the feelings in the music, as well as the notes and rhythms. Train the mind to feel a certain way.
  • We want alertness, not terror.
  • Real Self vs. Performer Self: It is possible to train an emotional state, and replace negative thoughts/emotions with positive ones.
  • Relaxation training: Practice quickly achieving a relaxed state by stopping suddenly in the middle of practicing and forcing yourself to relax. Abdominal breathing can help achieve a relaxed state.
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