Performance Anxiety and Pressure Relievers

The symposia at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute brought three top flight performers together to share thoughts about performance-related issues.

Leon Fleisher, Yo Yo Ma, and Pamela Frank, all fine musicians in their own instrumental cosmos, agreed that the Ego can be an impediment to anxiety-free music-making.

Zeroing in on “performance pressure,” Maestra Frank, a soulful violinist with a rapturous tone–daughter of pianists Claude Frank and the late Lillian Kallir, emphasized “connectivity and love for music” as her primary defenses against invading jitters and worries about critics’ reviews.


Without a doubt, total involvement in the act of playing bound in LOVE, should support a singular, unimpeded music-expressive focus, yet too many amateurs and professionals alike, are plagued by shadow parents who count wrong notes and hesitations. Childhood-originated messages are memorialized in the psyche and chip away at meticulous practice and preparation.

So what can we do about a perpetual cycle of performances marred by Superego trapped self-punishments?

I assert that we can re-set, pre-programmed messages to become positive reinforcements of our efforts.

1) Visualization is a start: I watch performances of pianists I revere. In the realm of the effortless, outpouring of music with a calm, meditative dimension, I select Irina Morozova’s rendering of the Chopin Impromptu. (you can choose your own preferred soloist—Perahia, and Rubinstein are particularly relaxed players)

In this spirit of maximized, RELAXED concentration, Olympic athletes, IMAGINE graceful motion and successful outcomes. From the diving board into the vast air space, they land with a centered arrival in the water without impact.

Likewise, we can launch our playing, with a full breathing space, then swim with liquid beauty from phrase to phrase until final cadence, having inspired role models to emulate.

2) In preparation for a performance, I recommend super-slow motion practicing, with a “FEEL” for the ebb and flow of phrases while monitoring long, natural breaths. This blocks anticipation or thinking ahead to what’s coming next. Such concern for the future can easily get the performer into a jam. THINKING SLOWLY in the PRESENT, even while playing through fast passages–a paradox of opposites–can work wonders. (Note that Muscle Memory is a big component in an ongoing biofeedback that’s part of all practicing–Keep a Journal by the piano, and take NOTES when awakenings occur)

Part and parcel of performance prep is the sense of being in the moment– having all the time in the world to communicate music and imagining a setting for warm, listener and soloist-affirmed interaction. Such mind-driven run-throughs should take place in the practice module leading to a performance.

3) Making videotapes of one’s own playing and revisiting them as objectively as possible can also fine tune areas needing improvement, absent a harsh overlay of judgment. These video rehearsals put a player in the audience, but as a sympathetic, understanding and reassuring listener. It’s a reminder that the experience of SHARING between player and audience is at the center of performing.

4) Self-hypnosis, another valuable tool in the arsenal of anti-anxiety fighters, should be part of practicing, preparation and performance. All playing, immersed in beauty with a resonating singing tone, can be framed positively through a set of affirmations recorded on audiotape. Feelings, environments and associations that calm the mind should be identified and utilized as needed.

(In the 1980’s I consulted a hypno-therapist who worked with me to devise my pre-performance recorded script that I replayed many times before my upcoming recitals, and naturally these were embedded in my practicing phase as the basis for MEDITATIONS)

Finally, don’t believe that having multifarious opportunities to perform will eradicate performance anxiety, especially if a cycle of unhappy experiences has been the norm.

The negative outcome cycle has to be broken by self-generated changes that should include a disciplined re-programming of the psyche.

As teachers, we know first-hand how the mind plays such a powerful role in making music. Auto-suggestions, prompts, pivotal verbal cues, can work like magic when a student is restricted by muscle tension, and thoughts of failure.

We’ve seen it time and again, so why not make tools available to our pupils that are performance anxiety relievers. While they’re dealing with it, we grow in increments, right beside them.


A book I highly recommend, Just Being at the Piano, by Mildred Portney Chase is referenced and modeled (by You Tube video) below the first link.


How do I deal with my Performance Anxiety?

Performance Anxiety and the Pianist

How Anticipation can Trip you up, and what you can do about it

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