We've all been there when the conductor asks, 'Does anyone want to play a solo?'. Most people look at the floor or all of a sudden there's something interesting to look at out of the window. It takes guts, nerves of steel and a whole load of confidence to perform a solo in front of an encouraging audience, or just your friends and family for that matter!
I am going to talk about the emotions that crop up when faced with this challenge and a few tips on how to overcome them.In the context of nerves whilst performing a solo, the emotional strain begins with the first fearful thought about getting up and performing in front of others.
Thoughts that crop up may be 'What if I split the first note?
'What will the band think of me if I don't play in time with them?'
'Omg so and so looks so confident up there- I can never match that, I am going to look so stupid!'and so on.
These thoughts then manifest into loads of negative thoughts that cause the anxiety and stress, and symptoms like a racing heart beat or sweaty hands may occur. When I'm nervous, my hands are either really sweaty or really cold. It is the flight or fight response in our brains that alert our bodies- ready to face the imminent danger. We have evolved to a point where tigers aren't chasing us and we don't have to run for our lives, yet for many of us, our amygdale (this is part of our brain, which is located just about here that ";plays a pivotal role in triggering a state of fear";) is still in over drive. The trick is to calm the mind and reassure yourself there is no danger.
One way, and a method that works for me, is to use mindfulness.Mindfulness is about powerfully connecting with the present moment. It is something we do quite naturally as young children. Last week, I was sat having lunch on Sheffield city hall steps, watching a 2 year old chase a pigeon up and down the steps. He was 100% fixated on the movements of this pigeon and was doing everything in his power to catch up to it. He was completely in the moment. The problem is, as we get older, we get more responsibilities and often get wrapped up in our to-do list and forget to just 'be'.
If we can connect mindfulness to playing a brass instrument, the following 3 techniques can be used.
1. Be aware of your surroundings- scan the room and make eye contact with your audience
Your audience have chosen to be there and will most likely be willing you to succeed and play well. Give them a bit of eye contact to show you are human after all!
2. Be aware of your breath
Breathe the first four bars of your music as if you are playing them. This will help you feel a bit more confident to start your piece with clarity and precision.
3. Get in the present moment- focus your mind on the style of music you are about to play
So next time you feel nervous about performing, try following these tips and please let me know how you get on.
And finally- enjoy the limelight, and think about the applause and sense of pride you will receive after your brilliant performance!