Performance anxiety? Our psychotherapist advises how to cope with stage freeze

Dr Gerald Stein of Chicago has contributed several interesting posts to Slipped Disc. Few, however, will be more useful to musicians than his five tips on what to do when you hit the black wall. Yes, it happened to him, too. Read Dr Gerald here.

stage fright

share this

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on google
  • Among your many good suggestions, one must take particular care concerning Inderal. Apparently many performers use this drug, risking both developing a tolerance (meaning higher dosages become required to produced the same effect) and addiction. Another danger is that performers need a certain amount of alertness — an edge — to give their performances life. Great performers like Rudolph Serkin used to sometimes be a bit like a caged animal just before getting on stage, but God did he make music once he got there! Johnny Carson used to say that he had anxiety before EVERY monologue he gave on the Tonight Show. Glenn Hall, the Hall of Fame hockey goalie, vomited before every game. I’m not suggesting that everyone should have to live that way, but the performance professions do elicit anxiety. Medication must be respected both for what it can do for you and what it can do to you, including inhibiting your ability to make the best possible music.

    • Truer words were never spoken — nor written. Thorough preparation and a positive attitude combined with a healthy physical condition will always be the best armor against stage fright. If it becomes necessary to take drugs to escape from stage fright, then the fight has already been lost, IMHO.

      • Many thanks, Robert. It is clearly a very difficult profession. When one of my daughters was in a conservatory she knew many of her friends that used drugs to survive and perform, this one in particular. My hunch is that whatever statistics are out there on its off-label use under-report this kind of usage.

    • I totally agree with you. I hope I did not mention this on my blog flippantly. I was strictly offering information and only under the care of a doctor. Any medication is going to change someone (for instance, I’ve read that people who are bipolar sometimes choose to elongate their manic times and even are tempted not to take their medications so that it does not repress their artistic work).

      • I didn’t take it as a flippant comment, Polly. But I wanted to be sure to underline the potential problems. And also, that some amount of arousal or alertness (or some would call anxiety) is almost inevitable and perhaps even necessary for good performance, so long as it isn’t too much. The conductor Giulini said that the only time he felt utterly “flat” going on stage he gave what he thought was the worst performance of his life. Not everyone is suited to this profession. It seems that arousal is more “managed” than “cured.” I suggest that anyone who wants the life of a soloist should go to a Carnegie Hall concert and walk to the front row of the main floor, then look back at the full hall and get a sense of what being on stage might be like. I give speeches every year and am good at it, but you need to feel “something” to have any chance of doing a good job; at least in most cases.There is a reason that the first chair of a prominent orchestra is said to be occupying “the hot seat.”

        • It’s so interesting, to me, how performance anxiety can manifest – even from those who have incredible skills (NPR radio talk show host, Noah Adams, who camp to Sonata Piano Camp back in the 90’s, really struggled with nerves at the piano yet can speak to millions on the radio). Thanks for chiming in.

  • I never step up on stage stairs because of stage anxiety. I wasn’t even able to convey my opinion in front of my family when I find them looking on me. Since I’m following instructions I find I’m improving, nobody said that but I feel. Thank you. Sir please share lots of your experience to help out people

  • >