January 1


9 Ways To Reduce Nerves for Piano Performances

By Declan Cosgrove

January 1, 2024

Here are my top tips to minimise nerves before a piano performance.:-

  1. Practice keeping going if you mess up 
    - Most audiences do not notice small mistakes especially if the rhythm continues on unaffected and you do not show show signs of an error on your face. Don't pull a grimace in the event of playing a wrong note, keep composed at all times and act as if if every note was played correctly. Hey - maybe its just a unique arrangement or maybe jazz! 
  2. Use relaxing breathing to calm your body down and reduce stress
    - breathe out twice as long as breath in. For example breathe in your nose for 3 seconds and out your mouth for 6 seconds and repeat this for a couple of minutes, in order to feel more relaxed and reduce your heart rate.
  3. Practice the piece until your playing is ‘bullet proof’ 
    – varying your practice helps to avoid situations where you only know the piece on a superficial level, which can cause issues when you are playing in a stressful situation. Practice builds confidence that you can play the piece well, which helps to reduce your nerves. Varying your practice helps build a deeper proficiency eg start at various points in the piece and change the speed at which you play it. This builds stronger connections in your brain and learns the piece on a deeper level both consciously and unconsciously.
  4. Use Visualisation
    – days before the performance, visualise you playing a successful performance and how great you will feel when you see the audience smiling and hear their applause. A great time to do this is just after you wake up in the morning, when you are still lying in bed or just before you go to sleep.
  5. Use a small visual 'cheat sheet'
    - if you are playing without music (which gets a much better connection with an audience than using sheet music),  you can a small amount of music instructions (e.g. this could be the first chord and first few melody notes for each section (verse / chorus ..) on a piece of paper, to help as signposts to trigger your memory in the event that you lose your way. Place this somewhere discreet on the keyboard, so that the audience won’t be able to see it, but it will be there in case you need it. Ideally you won't need it, but knowing it is there in case you do, can be reassuring and help reduce nerves.
  6. Have a plan B
    - in the event that you get a 'blank' and forget what you should be playing. To do this, practice peddling (repeating one or two chords in a rhythmic pattern that suits the song you are playing, until you regain composure). Another tip is to make sure you know the start of the song and start of chorus to a level that is absolutely 'bullet proof' and instinctive, so you can jump straight there if have a wobble
  7. Use Logic to put things into perspective
    – ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that can go wrong?’ - realise that your fear is largely irrational and that your body is overreacting. This can help to calm you down.
  8. Face your fear and do it anyway
    – the more you perform, the easier it gets. Accepting your feelings eg butterflies in your stomach and feeling of nerves, makes it less uncomfortable and knowing that it will improve every time you do it, makes it easier to face
  9. Focus on giving enjoyment to the audience
    – don't focus on your own ego and accept that the odd mistake is okay.

If you practice effectively and don’t stop ie keep playing through any mistakes, most people don’t notice your small mistakes and even if they do … hey we are all human! As long as you have a smile on your face and your intention is to entertain the audience, then it can't go too wrong :) 

Everyone is different and will find their own mix of techniques works best for them, but try these out and see what works best for you. 

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