Overcoming Performance Anxiety: Rehearsal Tips and Tricks

Overcoming Performance Anxiety: Rehearsal Tips and Tricks

Embracing the Butterflies

You know the feeling – your palms are sweaty, your heart is racing, and you can barely hear the musical director over the sound of your own thoughts swirling in your head. Yup, it’s the dreaded performance anxiety rearing its ugly head again. For years, I tried everything I could think of to make those pesky butterflies in my stomach disappear before stepping onto that stage. Bananas, chamomile tea, even convincing myself that the audience was just hanging out in their underwear (spoiler alert: that one didn’t work). But the more I tried to “get rid” of the anxiety, the worse it seemed to get.

That is, until I learned a little trick from my old graduate school mentor, performance coach Don Greene. He showed me that anxiety isn’t the enemy I thought it was – in fact, with the right mindset, I could actually use that adrenaline rush to my advantage. Suddenly, those butterflies weren’t something to be feared, but rather a powerful tool I could harness to take my performance to the next level.

Centering for Success

The key, according to Don, lies in a pre-performance routine called “centering.” It’s a seven-step process designed to channel your nervous energy and direct your focus, rather than trying to fight it head-on. The first step is to pick a focal point – whether it’s a spot on the wall, the floor, or even just closing your eyes. This helps minimize distractions and keeps your mind from wandering into anxious territory.

Next, you form a clear, positive intention for your performance. Instead of telling yourself “Don’t mess up the high note,” flip the script and say something like “I am going to sing that high note with power and confidence.” See the difference? The former plants a negative image in your mind, while the latter gives you a specific, achievable goal to work towards.

Once you’ve got your intention set, it’s time to start breathing. But not just any old breathing – we’re talking deep, diaphragmatic breaths that activate your parasympathetic nervous system and counteract the “fight-or-flight” stress response. As you inhale and exhale slowly, take a moment to scan your body and consciously release any excess tension.

Finding Your Center

The next step in the centering process is to literally find your center of gravity. Imagine a glowing ball of energy at the base of your abdomen, and feel it radiating outwards to fill your entire body. This sense of being grounded and centered can have a remarkably calming effect, both physically and mentally.

With your body now in a relaxed, focused state, it’s time to latch onto a specific “process cue” – a word, image, or feeling that encapsulates the exact sound, physical sensation, or emotional expression you want to convey in your performance. Maybe it’s the image of your voice soaring effortlessly, or the sensation of your fingers gliding across the keys. Whatever it is, let it become your mantra as you move into the final steps.

Channeling the Energy

In the last stage of centering, you’ll take all that nervous energy you’ve been building up and use it to power an inspired, dynamic performance. Imagine that ball of energy at your core expanding and radiating outwards, like a laser beam shooting from your eyes or forehead and connecting with your audience. Don’t hold back – let that intensity and passion pour out through your music.

It may sound a little “out there” at first, but trust me, this technique works. I’ve seen it work wonders for everyone from Broadway veterans to my own students at the Musical Theater Center. And the best part is, with a little daily practice, you can get the whole centering routine down to just 5-10 seconds. Suddenly, that pre-performance panic becomes a thing of the past, replaced by a sense of focus, clarity, and unwavering confidence.

Supercharging Your Rehearsals

Of course, the centering process is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to overcoming performance anxiety. The real key is to start integrating these techniques into your daily rehearsals, so that they become second nature by the time you hit the stage.

Think about it – in the practice room, we have a tendency to zone out and just mindlessly repeat passages over and over, making small corrections but not really engaging our minds. But then as soon as we step into the spotlight, our brains suddenly shift into overdrive, with endless self-criticism, overthinking, and nervous energy getting in the way of our ability to perform freely and expressively.

That’s why it’s so important to use your rehearsal time to actively train your mind, not just your fingers. Incorporate centering exercises before each practice session, and make a conscious effort to cultivate that same sense of focus and flow you want to experience on stage. Pause frequently to check in with your body, release any tension, and reinforce your positive performance intentions.

Building a Bulletproof Mindset

And don’t just take my word for it – this approach has been proven effective time and time again, especially in the world of elite athletes. They understand that true mastery isn’t just about physical skill development – it’s about building a whole arsenal of mental skills like confidence, focus, trust, and resilience.

In fact, one Redditor shared their own journey with conquering performance anxiety, and how they discovered that “simply performing more without the tools to facilitate more positive performance experiences just led to more bad performance experiences.” It wasn’t until they started incorporating these kinds of mental training techniques that they were able to finally break free of the vicious cycle.

So if you’re tired of letting nerves derail your performances, it’s time to stop just “practicing harder” and start giving your brain the same level of attention. With a little daily centering work and a shift in your mindset, I guarantee you’ll be able to transform that anxiety from a liability into a powerful asset – one that propels you to new heights on that stage.

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