Stage Fright

Many a musician is acquainted with stage fright, amateurs and professionals alike. You feel a thumping heartbeat, your ears become red for excitement and you feel drops of sweat trickle down on your back. It looks like that you are clawing with your fingers in syrup and that the correct chord transitions are just beyond reach. You get the impression that your guitar stubbornly refuses to produce a nice and pleasant sound. Or you get the paralyzing idea that the piece you used to play at home with closed eyes becomes completely unfamiliar material on stage.

Many books and treatises have been written on the subject of various forms of negative performance stress,. The musician has no exclusive rights for this phenomenon. In my experience performance stress forms the conflict between what you think you can do and the eventual result with your common man looking at and listening to your performance. Public performance causes a deduction with reference to the situation that you are safely locked up in your study while no one can hear you.

Actually, there is positive performance stress too! You can be inspired by the fact that people are listening to you. Gradually I am experiencing both forms, yet at this moment the negative variant is predominant. Maybe my exercises in recording will improve this balance.

Performance in front of an audience or a jury definitely is not the only occasion for performance stress. Recording yourself suffers from the same effect. When I first started recording, my performance stress at home was just as severe as on stage. Gradually, however, this improved, both for the stage and the recording. I could play better and better with a (listening!) microphone in front of me.

Side effect became, that I grew more and more critical towards the end result. I used to be pleased that I recorded the piece with only a few mistakes, but now I notice that I reject recordings based on tiny details that I never used to consider.

That is quite counterproductive and I still have to find out how to cope with that. Stage fright or performance stress is one side, perfectionism appears to be likewise harmful. The burdening effect is still there, afterwards you find out that the result was not perfect and somehow that affects the next take of the same piece. To my surprise, I found out that some pieces become more and more difficult to record, even relatively easy ones. It appears that I must find ways to cope with the destructive effects of my self-criticism. Sometimes this criticism motivates me, at times it frustrates me too!

I guess that this causes the clear difference between a relaxed va banque play and a performance while you spot the red Record light in the corner of your eye. My heart rate increases in that case. That has the weird consequence that I must deliberately decrease (my impression of) the tempo. It even becomes worse, because my heart rate gradually increases and gets an extra boost with tricky passages.

My accuracy decreases a bit as well. Every note has a specific tolerance for inaccuracy or concentration loss, but if you pass these boundaries, in the piece all of a sudden, slips emerge that you considered being outgrown after your rehearsals.

As a consequence, recording becomes a measure for your actual progress with the piece as well. That is interesting and useful, yet frustrating, because suddenly a fingering that you used for years appears not the best solution under stress conditions. Correction is the only solution, so you can activate the Stop button of the recorder until you solved the problem.

I have been wondering about the cause of this recording performance stress. Maybe it is the sense of perpetuation. If you perform in front of an audience, your slips and loss of concentration are volatile, after the performance they are gone. If, however, there is no nasty DOS Amigos reporter in the hall that reflects them in his report mercilessly. With recording, however, slips and inaccuracies are kept until you delete the files from your hard disk. All aspects of recordings are kept, both positive and negative ones.

I found out that I have to listen to the recordings afterwards more than twice in order to get a well-founded and also more clement assessment. The first time I merely hear my failures and stress. The second time I succeed in recognizing the musical aspects. It is not before the third time and beyond that I give myself the opportunity to judge the quality. Unfortunately, in quite a number of cases I never get further than the first listening. Sometimes I even reject the recording when I am only half-way! So, I do use the Delete button often! Anyway, working on the negative effects of my self-judgement is part of this adventure too!

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