Performance Anxiety

17 Must-See Resources if You're Preparing for an Audition

In the spirit of audition preparation, I've been collecting various resources on auditions, effective practice, mental skills, mock auditions, and more. There are countless resources available, but here are a few that I've found bookmark-worthy. Many of these resources contain further articles and links to even more resources that you may find useful in your own audition preparation.

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UNDERSTANDING + RE-FRAMING PERFORMANCE STRESS

 

Why I Don't Talk about "Stage Fright" and "Performance Anxiety" by Kate Conklin

  • "They’ve got the idea...that to perform, one should be “calm” or “relaxed.” And so when they experience *excitement, they re-interpret it as “stress” or “anxiety.”

 

Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement by A.W. Brooks

  • "Compared to those who attempt to calm down, individuals who reappraise their anxious arousal as excitement feel more excited and perform better. Individuals can reappraise anxiety as excitement using minimal strategies such as self-talk (e.g., saying "I am excited" out loud) or simple messages (e.g., "get excited"), which lead them to feel more excited, adopt an opportunity mindset (as opposed to a threat mindset), and improve their subsequent performance."

 

Go Ahead and Sweat It! A Flutist's Unconventional Guide to Handling Performance Anxiety by The Self-Inspired Flutist

  • "When you fight your performance anxiety, you actually give it strength." 

 

What To Do About Performance Anxiety by Barbara Conable

  • "There are four distinct phenomena that go by the name performance anxiety. Each requires a different response, so it is important to name all four and distinguish them from each other so that the appropriate response may be chosen."

 

A Few Things Every Musician Ought to Know About Stage Fright

  • "Have you ever had a performance when everything just “clicked?" ...You may have heard of this referred to as “the zone.” Well, this magical state pretty much requires that you experience some degree of anxiety. No anxiety, no zone."

 

Helen’s Highly Recommended Books for Confident Performance via The Flute Examiner

  • Fourteen resources compiled by Helen Spielman, Performance Anxiety Coach

 

Douglas Yeo, Trombone, on Performance Anxiety

  • "Think about all of this in a different way. Instead of trying to solve the problem of performance anxiety, think a little deeper and work toward putting your performance in context with your broader life. Performance anxiety may not really be a problem, but rather may be a symptom of other issues (such as insecurity, or emotional hurt, lack of preparation and dedication, etc.) which, once addressed in a straightforward, direct way, can lead to a healthier life in all areas."

PREPARING TO PERFORM UNDER PRESSURE + STRATEGIES FOR EFFECTIVE MOCK AUDITIONS

 

Bulletproof Musician: How Can You Create the Feeling of Real Pressure in Practice Situations?

  • "Being clutch under pressure is a skill we can get better at – by practicing under pressure...What are the most effective ways of manufacturing pressure training situations in advance of a big performance or audition?"

 

How Juilliard Teaches Musicians to Handle Stress by Daniel McGinn with Noa Kageyama

  • "In another class, he makes them do burpees until they’re sweaty and breathing hard — then asks them to play for the group. “It’s distracting when your heart is pounding,” he says, but if you practice playing while feeling that sensation, it can become a little less unnerving."

 

Rob Knopper: How to Stop Shaking Snare Drum [Video] + Stress-Inducing Exercises Download

  • "Going through a realistic mock audition forces you to experience the full range of things that you're going to have to get used to and get comfortable with at an actual audition. If you're not practicing like this, then you're not really practicing for an audition."

 

Four Alternative Methods to Make Sure Your Practice Efforts Survive the Pressures of Performance - The Strad

  • "A violist with a background in neuroscience, Molly Gebrian shares some alternative practice methods informed by studies on how our brain processes learning."

 

Audition Practice - Mock Auditions by Toby Oft, Trombone

  • "I want you to consider one thing: The better you get, the less often you perform for just trombonists."

 

MockAuditions.com - An Online Platform to Help You Win Your Next Audition

  • "Mockauditions.com is an online platform that connects and enables users to play for professional coaches and receive valuable feedback." 

ADVICE for Advancing in Auditions + REAL AUDITION STORIES

 

Rob Knopper's Free Mini-Course: How to Advance in an Audition 101

  • A free, 3-video course: 4 Reasons Why Anyone Can Win an Audition, The 3 Vital Phases of Audition Preparation, & What a Winning Audition Sounds Like

 

How to Win an Audition: Advice and Strategies from 3 Renowned Performer/Teachers by The Bulletproof Musician

  • "We all know that success requires talent and hard work, but on some level, we’re also deeply curious about the “secret sauce,” or those tiny, but significant little details that can be the difference between advancing and going home, or winning and being runner-up."

 

New World Symphony Audition Panel Discussion [Video]

  • "NWS Coaches on Auditioning with Craig Morris (trumpet), Marianne Gedegian (flute), David Allen Moore (bass), William VerMeulen (horn), Daniel Matsukawa (bassoon), Jonathan Vinocour (viola), Mark Kellogg (trombone), Robert Davidovici (violin)."

 

Doug Rosenthal's A Tale of Two Auditions

  • "This is an account of a specific time in my specific life.  What I did for these specific auditions worked well enough specifically for me at these specific moments. I hope you find it helpful, insightful, or at the very least, entertaining."

Have you utilized any of the above resources? Share your favorite resources in the comments!

#PRACTICEROOMREVELATIONS

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A Simple Trick for Better Breathing

Have you ever stopped to notice whether your breathing experience is different when your instrument is in playing position versus when you're not about to play?

The key physical difference for me is a tighter feeling in my chest and abdomen when my flute is on my face.

When I'm not about to play and my flute is down, my breathing goes back to being natural and automatic. 

Why do I experience these symptoms when I'm about to play?

Fear, expectations, perfectionism...

The feeling of tension comes and goes in varying degrees depending on how I'm feeling, what's on my stand, or whether or not I'm about to play on camera or for another person. 

I've also noticed that visually, having a flute up seems to block my view of anything below my chin, and this has a way of clouding my awareness of anything below my chin.

Suddenly, the easy, whole-body feeling becomes restricted, and I'm hyper aware of my upper body when the fear that I may not get enough air takes over.


The Quest for a Natural Breath

In order to translate naturally free breathing to my ready-to-play position, I've utilized a variety of poses while practicing to find comfortable, free breathing:

  • A generous bend in the knees
  • Bent over at the hip joints to free the abdomen
  • Standing on one leg, bent forward
  • Laying on the floor
  • Squat or Dugout Position

All of these encourage my abdominal muscles, back muscles, and arms to feel free, allowing efficient breathing, open sound, and the ability to play longer phrases with ease.

However, they aren't necessarily something I can call upon in a performance when I'm likely to need them the most.

(But if I could lay on the floor in the middle of an orchestra for the Afternoon of a Faun solo, I probably would!)


The Simple Trick

In order to translate the naturally free breathing that occurs when the flute is down, I decided to simply breathe while lifting the flute to my face, and once it was there, just start playing. 

I am certain this idea has been shared with me before, but I just recently realized how significant this is for maintaining a more naturally free experience.

I didn't need to actively free my chest and abdomen, they were simply free to begin with and stayed that way as I began playing!

Inhaling felt like no work at all.

I was no longer doing, taking, sucking in air. It was naturally a full-body experience, and I had plenty of air and great sound while playing.


Give it a Try!

Have you noticed a difference in how it feels to breathe? 

  • Take a breath without your instrument in playing position.

Notice the chest, the arms, the neck, the jaw, the abdomen, and so forth.

  • Next, bring the instrument up as normal, and take a breath as though you're about to begin playing. 

Is there a difference? What do you notice in comparison to the first breath?

  • Finally, bring your instrument back down, then inhale while lifting to playing position.

Is this a different experience? Has your awareness shifted? Does the length of you inhalation increase? 


Share your own experience in the comments below or on social media!

#PracticeRoomRevelations / @joleneflute


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5 Ways To Reset During Rests

If you haven't already noticed, my intentions while practicing always involve awareness, efficiency, and freedom in the body. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it is that these things are always at their best at the beginning, but can fade while moving through a piece - especially during performances when anxious thoughts can take over!

Intentions are wonderful because they can always come back into our awareness while playing, and one of the best times to check in is during a rest. (Encouraging positive action during rests can ease anxiety, as well!)

Here are my favorite ways to re-set during rests:

1. Renew a Grounded Relationship with the Floor

Notice whether your feet have shifted, and use the opportunity to re-establish a grounded, supportive relationship with the floor. If you are sitting, notice your feet on the floor, as well as your sit bones in the chair.

2. Release The Abdominal Muscles

Freeing the abdominal muscles can allow more efficient inhalations and make exhalations easier to regulate. As a result, the sound is often more free and phrasing is easier. I find that tensing here can be a deeply rooted habit, and one of the more difficult muscles to maintain freedom in for an extended period of time. As a result, I'm reminding myself to release quite often!

3. Allow the Jaw to Release

The space within my mouth tends to feel more closed as time goes on, and I especially notice this happening when playing fast or at soft dynamics. Allow the jaw to hang off the skull and notice the soft palate and space between the teeth at moments of rest.

4. Associate the Exhale with Letting Go

If your rest is long enough to allow multiple breaths before coming back in, use the opportunity to notice areas of tension that you can release upon exhalation. Maybe you notice your shoulders or the back of your neck releasing. If you begin re-associating exhalations with releasing while you're resting, you'll have the opportunity to continue the idea while playing. (If you study meditation or yoga, this association may come more naturally to you!)

5. Remember Musical Intentions

If you find yourself getting caught up in thoughts or feeling disconnected, bring your thoughts back to musical intentions and focus on listening and enjoying. 

What do you focus on during rests?

How I Learned to Enjoy Festival Auditions + Improved My Scores

My favorite memories of middle and high school were all related to band. Hands down, the best experiences were performing in festival bands and orchestras - and not just because I got to miss a day of school! The pinnacle was performing in the Massachusetts All State Orchestra at Symphony Hall. I cried tears of joy while playing piccolo on Saint-Saëns' Bacchanale from Samson & Delilah. We also played Debussy's Fêtes from Trois Nocturnes, and it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard, and is still one of my favorites.

My auditioning career did not start off with a bang, however. It was pretty dreadful. 

My first audition was for the regional band festival at the middle school level. Here are all the things I did not know going in:

  • I knew I would be warming up in a room with other people, but didn't know I'd be hearing them flawlessly play everything I had to play.
  • I didn't know that the girl who nailed her chromatic scale in one breath while warming up would be first chair. (I assumed everyone was as good as her - they weren't.)
  • I didn't know that I should not be wearing jeans, a hoodie from PacSun, and bright red Vans sneakers on my feet. (After this, I found a pair of black dress pants, and decided to always wear a nice green top for auditions, because I heard that green makes people happy.)
  • I didn't know about rhythm. I later went back to the piece I had learned after a few years of lessons, and when I played it while actually reading the rhythms, I realized that I had been playing the main theme all wrong. 
  • I knew I would get to choose one scale, and the judge would choose the other, but I didn't know she would choose one of the hardest ones.

I ended up getting the second-to-last chair in band, and the only thing I remember about the festival rehearsals was hearing the first flutist playing beautiful solos. (I'm pretty sure I just pretended to play at the entire festival, because I was so nervous.)

Thinking about it now, it is hilarious that I was intimidated to play in a middle school group. I was picked for a reason, even despite my terrible rhythms! They wanted me there, and it was okay to play. 

After this, I gained confidence from my flute teacher and learned how to enjoy festival auditions. My scores improved each time I did it, and I enjoyed the festivals more and more.

 

FEELING NERVOUS?

If you ever feel nervous, someone will be there to tell you, "stop worrying, you'll be fine!" They'll probably also tell you to "just take some deep breaths." While this is well-meaning advice, it's not always intentional or specific enough to help. 

I learned to play well under pressure once I replaced nervous thoughts with excitement and curiosity. Treat the entire experience as an opportunity to learn something. Curiosity asks questions like this:

  • "I wonder if I can miss notes but still enjoy performing."
  • "I wonder what it is like to play in a really hot/cold room!"
  • "I wonder if I can enjoy each moment, including the mistakes."

Also say affirmative things to yourself, even if you don't believe it at first. It can be very effective in replacing nervous or negative thoughts:

  • "They're going to be so impressed!"
  • "I can't wait to show them how much I love this piece!"
  • "I can't wait to play just like (insert favorite musician)!"
  • "I hope I get to play after the best flutist here!"

Find freedom from nervous thoughts by twisting whatever you're nervous about into something that you hope will happen. You're outsmarting the nervous thoughts and staying one step ahead! (It sounds CRAZY to hope for all the things you don't want to happen, but this really works! It's all about perspective. Hoping for them will NOT make them happen. It WILL relieve you from feeling like you have no control over anxiety.)

 

Preparation Tips

  • Don't repeat quick-read mode: When you first get the piece, avoid the temptation to read through at tempo over and over. Eventually, whatever we thought the first time, we end up repeating over and over until it is a habit, meaning we're ingraining our first impression of what the piece should sound like. Always learn first, then practice!
  • Learn the rhythms first: Take the time to study the rhythms, saying or clapping with a metronome on. From my own experience, bad rhythms become a habit very quickly. Even if there is guidance to correct them, it can be difficult to hear the difference with less experience. Before you've heard the incorrect rhythms too many times, be sure to learn them.
  • Practice the audition day: Ask older students and your band director for as many specifics as possible to envision what the day will be like. Not only is it necessary to practice the music and scales, it is immensely helpful to envision the audition day environment as well. Take yourself through a mock audition day at home, practicing how you'll warm up, then walking to the audition room, etc. Also, play for as many people as possible, especially people who make you feel nervous! 

 

Final Thoughts

When looking back on my first audition, I can say now that it was okay to get it wrong. It was okay to be scared, but it wasn't necessary. I wasn't in danger. It takes courage to allow yourself to enjoy an experience despite feeling pressured and nervous, but it is a skill that translates to any other experience in life. Give yourself permission to enjoy - the judges will enjoy too!