Home Media News & Blog Controlling Performance Anxiety With Visualization—Part 2
Controlling Performance Anxiety With Visualization—Part 2

Controlling Performance Anxiety With Visualization—Part 2


Your heart races, your palms sweat. Your arms are shaking as you try to calm yourself. A few quick breaths, and you strike in. You are on the boards for an important competition. Familiar?

Stage fright, stress, nerves, adrenalin…performance anxiety is known under many names.

“Nerves are part of what we do,” according the noted violinist Itzhak Perlman, “and the thing is to be familiar with them. It’s not about getting rid of them.”

In the previous post, we discussed using visualization to combat the mental and emotional effects of performance anxiety. In this post we discuss visualizing your performance.

In the practice room, we tend to focus on identifying and fixing problems. We miss the grip from B to C, so we practice it again. We crush our doubling in the first bar (crush, in the sense that the second grace note was not even in comparison to the first, rather than "crush," as my sons would say, as in "nailed it!"). You may hear your instructor say "you need to go for it!" I'm surprised that the piping community has not copyrighted that phrase. It may be, though, that I am the only one who hears it since I tend to be overly deliberate. But, I digress.

When we practice, we focus on details. When we perform, we want to be "dynamic, inspired, and artistic." The two ends are almost at odds with one another. We probably spend more of our time practicing slowly and deliberately, the minority of our time is spent on the boards or performing those moments where we need to "go for it."

It is important to be able to visualize your piece as it should be performed. You want to be able to perform your piece artistically. It should inspire. You should be visualizing your ALAPs as strong pulses, but, when going for it, you aren't visualizing them as ALAPs, you are visualizing the notes as they ebb and pulse into phrases and endings that compel. Visualize the piece as you want it to sound. If you make a mistake during your visualization, it sounds silly but it does happen, press on. Treat your performance visualization as if it were a real performance. By doing so, you avoid crowding your mind with details. If your mind is focused on details, your experience tends to take over. "Will I hit that grip from B to C?" Or, "will I crush that doubling?" If we focus on those details when we are warming up on the boards, we run the risk of exacerbating the physical, mental, and emotional effects of performance anxiety. Treat your performance visualization just as you would treat a taping session. Give yourself one take. Visualize giving the judge a crisp salute at the conclusion of your "performance," and visualize yourself walking off the boards having played well.

If you visualize a performance twice a week, you will have about 48 "performances" under you belt after six months (as you would be doing in the Next Level BluePrint). Note that this does not including your actual taping sessions where you are performing for your instructor. In reality, you would have more performances in your hip pocket. If you visualize the entire process, walking up to the boards, acknowledging and addressing the judge, striking in, consciously controlling your breathing, warming up your instrument, tuning, performing, cutting off, saluting or nodding to the judge, and walking off (with an air of satisfaction), you will familiarize yourself with the physical, mental, and emotional effects of performance anxiety. You will have dealt with performance anxiety many times over. While, as Ithzak Perlman notes, you can't get rid of it, but you can "know your enemy," and practice dealing with it through visualization.

Take Action

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Mark Olson Mark Olson is a software engineer in Omaha, NE. Over the years, he has played numerous musical instruments including the bagpipes, guitar, piano, flute, and saxophone. As a young man, Mark competed as a solo piper. Due to the demands of raising a family, Mark had to forgo his musical pursuits. While he regrets the fact he gave up the bagpipes, he is proud of the fact that both of his sons have grown to be fine young men. With the nest now empty, he has picked up the pipes once again. If he gets his chops, and his groove, back, he plans to compete again as a solo piper.