Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 13:35:53 -0800
From: Scott Englebright <>
Subject: Performance Anxiety

Hello, everyone!  In light of the recent questions we have received and read about on TPIN, we thought we would share a little about performance anxiety. We cover it in Tasteebook I and II, but we figure that there is a very slight possibility that someone out there doesn't have a copy of either J

Thoughts of failure? Distracted? Muscle tension? Thoughts of avoiding or escaping the situation? Feel overwhelmed? Go blank? Sound better in the practice room? Headaches, nausea or diarrhea, extreme body temperature changes? Excessive sweating, shortness or breath, light-headedness or fainting? Rapid heart beat, and/or dry mouth? Feelings of fear, disappointment, anger, depression? Fidgeting, pacing, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, compare yourself to others, difficulty organizing your thoughts?

Don't worry.  You aren't alone. Most of us go through performance anxiety at one point or another. That's the bad news.  The good news is that you have several options when faced with overcoming anxiety. Anxiety is the body's natural response to fear and uncertainty. The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for action by dilating the pupils of the eyes, cooling the skin, and raising the blood pressure and pulse rate. Blood is sent to the muscles for running, etc. and epinephrine is produced winding you up even more.  This is known as the 'fight-or-flight' response.  It prepares the body to attack or to escape from a threat.  The opposite is instigated by the parasympathetic nervous system and is known as the 'rest and digest' response.  Blood is shunted toward the digestive track after eating. We will be concerned with the SNS.

Anxiety typically begins when our minds begin to lose focus. The less we concentrate, the more distracted we get.  What follows is nervousness and general cognitive confusion leading to a fear of performing.  However, there are certain things that can be done to prepare you for performing to reduce anxiety.  Remember: a little anxiety is good.  It keeps us on our 'toes' (gives us a heightened level of concentration). Let's look at some thing we can do and think about to help.

When you are on stage, remind yourself that you have practiced as much as possible.  It should go without saying that preparation is your best defense against anxiety.  When you are set to play, don't think, just play! The more second-guessing you do, the worse you will do.  You are ready to play and you sounded good during practice.  Don't think about all that can go wrong.  Something else that helps is to perform for you, not others. Don't care what others will think because you will be playing for self gratification. Don't try to impress anyone!  It will do you more harm than good.  Have confidence when you walk on stage.  Don't be cocky, just confident.  Think positive!  Also, don't get distracted.  Don't focus on one particular thing in the crowd.especially a face.  They will all be looking and it will freak you out. Have fun!  Everyone is basically on your side. Don't be critical of anything or anyone.  Just have fun!  If possible, simulate the performance by running though the actions of getting there, setting up, walking on stage, etc. Something else that will help includes deep breathing.  Take in a deep breath and exhale slowly several times. Also, don't get to the job too early.  Don't give yourself more time to get nervous. Something that might help some of you is to perform with less sleep.  You are less likely to care about what isn't important when tired. This may affect your concentration level, so watch out!  But, it's worth a try.  Above all else, don't worry!  There's a fine line between thinking too much about something and not thinking enough.  Find that line and play better. We don't want our arousal too high or low.  If it's too high, we freak out.  If it's too low, we fall asleep. Again, preparation eliminates most anxiety. Make sure you practice,  you manage your time efficiently and make sure you are organized.  Stay confident, don't think about failing, fear of failure, and stay away from negative thoughts.

If none of that seems to help, there are always pills.  Something that we have tried is

Beta blockers (propranolol). They are prescribed by a licensed physician for high blood pressure, angina, irregular heart rhythms, migraines, prevention of a second heart attack, tremors, alcohol withdrawal, anxiety and glaucoma. The drawback is that it causes central nervous system side effects, such as hallucinations, and depression. But, they work well for a lot of musicians. It is also possible that you have social anxiety disorder and have a fear of being watched.  If diagnosed, you will need therapy, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) or other popular drugs such as Paxil may be prescribed. However, don't rule out the above unless the problem is too overwhelming.

We do explore anxiety deeply in our book as well as cover most aspects of trumpet playing.  If you don't have them, check out our page for more information.

If there are any questions, send us a message.

Scott & Donny..The Tasteebros