Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2002 09:56:03 -0500
From: Bryan Edgett <>
Subject: Re: [TPIN] Performance anxiety ( very long)

Jim et al,

This subject comes up here every year or so. I'm enclosing some of what others have said as well as some of my thoughts that I've found to be helpful. For those here who don't know, Jim Olcott is Past President of the International Trumpet Guild, a Juliard grad., and a heavyweight trumpet teacher. He also tells some of the worst jokes around. (I know, I tell some of that type as well.)

From Mark Minasian:
When I was at IU, Bill Adam held trumpet classes at least once a week. Anyone who wanted to could get up and perform anything for the class and Mr. Adam would then offer some advice. Not only was this another chance to get some extra coaching time with Mr. Adam, but playing in trumpet class, in front of an entire room of trumpet players, where some of those students were awesome trumpet players, definitely tested your nerves. Everyone did it and everyone played their recital pieces. Many crashed and burned the first times, but would get use to standing up in front of their peers and ultimately would get control of their thoughts and play very well. After playing works in trumpet class, doing a recital was a piece of cake.

I mentioned getting control of the mind. This is the whole ball game! I can't count how many times I saw a student get up in trumpet class and play rather poorly. Then Mr. Adam would stand up, usually tell some very corny jokes and start talking to the student, getting him or her to feel at ease. If there was a troublesome spot, he'd work out that spot with the student and make some helpful suggestions. Then, when he saw that the student had regained his or her confidence, he'd have the student play the work again. The difference would be astounding. The student that sounded weak just a moment before now sounded like a pro.

You can prepare yourself for a concert by utilizing some mental visualization exercises. Sit or lie down so that you are comfortable. Close your eyes and mentally visualize the concert. Make the image in your head as real and accurate as possible. See your friends in their seats, see the room, your accompanist, etc. Now, see yourself confidently stride out on stage and execute a flawless performance. Hear the music in your mind. Mentally perform the work. Hear and see yourself playing the piece like a pro.  This sort of exercise is very powerful.  Your mind does not really differentiate between the inputs from your senses and the inputs you create through your imagination. By imagining the concert, as far as your mind is concerned, you now have a successful performance under your belt. By doing this sort of
exercise on a regular basis, you'll find that when the performance happens, you'll feel much more confident.

From Bryan Edgett (1998)
As applied to music, it seems to me that we must be clear about our purpose if we are to succeed. We must have a goal in mind if we ever are to achieve it. Perhaps asking some questions will help to clarify those goals:

1) What do I want to do with my trumpet playing? Do I want to be a competent amateur or a professional who earns a substantial part of his/her income from performing?

2) What are my true strengths and weaknesses as a musician (first) and as a trumpet player (second?) I recommend the help of at least one  trusted professional trumpeter to help with this analysis.

3) How can I highlight my strengths in my playing?

4) Do I have structured approach to address my weaknesses (both musical and performing?)

5) Am I becoming the type of person (both in character and in musicianship) that others will want to hire?

6) This is, perhaps, the toughest question of all to answer. Am I willing to work hard enough to achieve the goals I have set out for myself?

While I advocate working hard, I believe that working smart is more important. I have had students study with me who never get this distinction. One can practice two hours a day and get worse. Yet intelligence, applied to hard work, is a great combination.

Let me offer a word of advice to those who are college trumpet majors. College study is what I have termed "dues-paying time." An intelligent approach including solid listening skills, a mature sound concept, a fluent and accurate technique, and an understanding of music's variegated styles will yield a lifetime of enjoyment and a resource upon which to draw when life's real pressures (such as paying a mortgage, picking your daughter up from school because she's sick, etc.,) preclude you from all of the practice time that you want.

On many occasions, I have had to perform a difficult work when slightly out of shape or underprepared. Note that my habits (and my temperament) normally ensure that I am as ready as I can be to perform. But at times, that type of readiness is impossible. Because I worked my anatomy off during my "dues-paying time." I have confidence that, upon occasion, I can reach into my history and pull out a performance when I am less prepared than I ought to be.

Finally, I recommend that every college trumpet major read the glowing testimonials about Mr. Herseth that appeared in the ITG Journal earlier this year. I read each of them at least three times. The accolades he received from
his most accomplished colleagues made me cry (literally.)

But one in particular stood out. Charlie Geyer recalls a time where Bud was playing the Brandenburg to begin a concert. Mr. Herseth had warmed up as usual, and had gone on stage about 20 minutes before the performance with his piccolo trumpet. He told Charlie that when he tried them, the high notes didn't work. Charlie ask him "what did you do, because what I heard sounded great?" Bud replied "I sat there recalling all the successful performances I'd had and waited for the downbeat." Charlie mused, How many lesser players would have kept checking the high notes and subsequently failed in the performance?

It seems to me that what makes this extraordinary confidence possible is that Mr. Herseth was always so well prepared and so committed to performing at his maximum, that he had deep resources from which to draw, even when the problematic piece was the Brandenburg, and the problem was that he lost his high notes. While few of us can be expected to muster that much confidence, we can use the same approach for lesser challenges with success. But the ability to summon that courage comes from developing the type of resources (with the foundation laid during the "dues-paying time") that gives both musical and technical maturity.

With that, I think I'll practice when I come back from worship this morning.

From Mike Barry
I want to address this subject a bit, because I think I  have something new to offer.

Before you read further, ask yourself this:  am I truly capable of actually playing a particular performance?  Have I prepared enough so I am truly ready?  If not, don't bother with this post, because no amount of mental preparation can overcome a lack of ability or technique.

I've been through a period of stage fright in my career and found a solution that I think we can all relate to and receive some benefit.

I wonder how many of us would allow a perfect stranger to walk up to us on the street and taunt us, and then start to slap us.  (I know I'd make sure it's the last time he ever used that hand, or I'd be seriously injured in the attempt to do so). I'm betting no one here would allow that. many of us would ASK perfect strangers to literally smack us until we were beat to a pulp?  Again, I bet there aren't any hands up out there.

So...ask yourself this.  Why do you allow a group of people (an audience) to mentally beat you up so bad that you get the shakes and perform miserably?  You're giving them permission, in your own *mind*, to smack you around and make you feel inferior.  It's YOU that is imagining these things.

Rarely will there be anyone listening to you that wants you to perform badly.  And, in the rare instance where someone does, it's usually the case that you can't stand them either, and in life off of the stage you wouldn't be their slave, consenting to their smallest wish!!

It boils down to self respect.

In fact, you can take this destructive mental process and turn it on it's head, using it to your advantage.

Oftentimes, the vicious circle we find ourselves in feeds on itself. You don't want to play bad, so you get a little nervous.  Then your nerves affect the way you play and you don't sound as good as you can, and you tell yourself that you're playing bad.  Then you get more nervous, etc., etc.

The mind can work in the opposite direction, and *just* as effectively.
You want to sound good, and know that when you're relaxed you sound great.  You need to do 2 things for this to internalize and become 2nd nature.  First you need to play a good phrase in a concert.  Second, you immediately remind yourself you can do this and also place trust in your abilities.

For me, it's like getting dumped by a girlfriend that I really liked back in college.  I remember that after a while I got so sick and tired of feeling bad that I just let it go.  And everything got better immediately.

Sooner or later, you'll get tired of being nervous and you'll walk out on stage and lay waste to an audience.

From Bryan Edgett
Christy,  The advice you've been given on the TPIN is good. Let me try to help for the future. Many of my students talk to me about performance anxiety in juries. I usually give this advice. It came from Buddy Baker at University of Northern Colorado, where I did my doctorate.

What all musicians want when they perform is confidence -- the ability to know that they'll walk on stage and do a good job. Confidence comes from consistency over time. If you do something consistently well, you have confidence that you can do it. Think about all the things you do during the day that you have confidence that you can do. You can do them without worry.

Consistency comes from correctness over time. If you approach playing correctly, and you do it over a period of time, then you will be consistent.

So, when preparing a jury piece, (or any piece for that matter,) First plan all the important events, e.g. where to breathe, where the dynamic changes are, where to cresc. and dim, etc.  Then play through the work, just to get a feel for it.  Then look for what I call the 10% licks. Those are the passages that are sure to give you trouble. (Some works have more than 10% licks.) Work out the toughest passages so that you can play them 10 times in a row without an error.  Then play the work at a tempo at which you can play from beginning to end. Naturally, when tempi change within a piece, you change too. But most students I know practice too fast too quickly, that is, before they can control their technique.  In your slower practice, strive for ease and beauty. It doesn't matter how much you have to slow it down or where you think you should be, play it where you can play it accurately. Then (no more than 2 metronome clicks at a time) bring up the tempo.  It is important, when practicing slowly, to practice the technique (especially note lengths) like it will be when you get it to performance tempo.

The most important stress reliever, for me, is realizing that who I am is greater than what I play. (A person is greater than his/her art.) I want to do well. I can honestly say that I work to do well. Usually, I do well. But, on occasion, for one reason or another, I don't do as well as I expect myself to do. That happens to everyone (with the possible exception of Andrè and Herseth), student and professional alike.

That said, the next most important stress reliever for me is thorough, intelligent preparation. I tell my students that it's possible to practice 2 hours a day and get worse. (Some have even proven me correct.) Remember that it is how you practice that counts.

Please let me know if I can be of more assistance. These strategies have helped many, myself included. If you want more info. please e-mail me.


Bryan Edgett