Now is the right time to become an American Federation of Musicians member. From ragtime to rap, from the early phonograph to today's digital recordings, the AFM has been there for its members. And now there are more benefits available to AFM members than ever before, including a multi-million dollar pension fund, excellent contract protection, instrument and travelers insurance, work referral programs and access to licensed booking agents to keep you working.

As an AFM member, you are part of a membership of more than 80,000 musicians. Experience has proven that collective activity on behalf of individuals with similar interests is the most effective way to achieve a goal. The AFM can negotiate agreements and administer contracts, procure valuable benefits and achieve legislative goals. A single musician has no such power.

The AFM has a proud history of managing change rather than being victimized by it. We find strength in adversity, and when the going gets tough, we get creative - all on your behalf.

Like the industry, the AFM is also changing and evolving, and its policies and programs will move in new directions dictated by its members. As a member, you will determine these directions through your interest and involvement. Your membership card will be your key to participation in governing your union, keeping it responsive to your needs and enabling it to serve you better. To become a member now, visit www.afm.org/join.

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Home » Resources » Health » Take the Stage with Confidence: Strategies to Overcome Stage Fright 


Take the Stage with Confidence: Strategies to Overcome Stage Fright 

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It’s a musician’s dream to play to a packed house. Yet for many, it comes with a cost. Paralyzing anxiety, often called stage fright, can derail concentration and sabotage your ability to play well. The autonomic nervous system emits a rush of adrenaline to prepare your body for a perceived threat, called a fight or flight situation. While completely natural—and an essential reaction to an actual physical threat—it’s counterproductive when it comes to performing. 

The most important step to overcoming stage fright is to give yourself a break, which means “don’t be hard on yourself.” It’s not unusual to get preshow jitters. And you’re not alone. Singers, rock stars, soloists, and orchestral musicians all can have anxiety before a performance. Barbra Streisand famously quit touring after a severe episode in which she forgot lyrics. Paul McCartney implements pretour rituals to keep his anxiety at bay.  

It’s normal to feel anxious before a performance, but prolonged stress will make you more anxious. Give yourself a short amount of time to feel nervous—set a timer so you don’t go over—and then move on and do something active like stretching or a warm-up. Take a deep breath and remember how many famous performers go on stage feeling the same self-doubt—and they still crush it. This means you can, too.  

To gain more control over your performance—and be comfortable with your nerves, try these strategies.  

Get a Handle on Nutrition 

Limit caffeine and sugar intake on the day of the performance. Eat a sensible meal a few hours beforehand so that you have energy and you are not hungry during a show. Low-fat meals that include complex carbohydrates, like whole grain pasta, lentil soup, and yogurt, are good options.  

Exercise to Release Endorphins 

Take a walk, shake out your muscles, or do some stretches—whatever it takes to ease tension before the performance. Don’t let your routine slip on the day of a concert. Exercise is one of the best anxiety management tools out there. Just don’t overdo it.   

Quiet the Critic in Your Head 

Don’t focus on what could go wrong. Instead, focus on the positive. Visualize your success. 

Avoid thoughts that produce self-doubt. Shift the focus from fear to the enjoyment you are providing the audience members. Practice controlled breathing, meditation, biofeedback, and other strategies to help you relax and redirect your thoughts when they turn negative. It is best to practice some type of relaxation technique every day so that the skill is available when you need it. 

If you arrive before the audience, you will feel more like you “own” the venue. View the audience as friendly and supportive. Remember, they want to be there. They paid an admission fee to get in and have dedicated their evening to listening to your music. 

Visualize Your Ideal Performance 

Close your eyes and imagine yourself performing. You’re hitting every note, and connecting with every audience member. These kinds of positive visualizations not only help you feel calm but also set you up for success.  

Take deep breaths. This is a simple technique that helps lower your blood pressure and your heart rate. Whether it’s physical activity or something more meditative, do what works for you.  

Once you feel calm, close your eyes and empty your mind. Visualize your flawless performance, including a standing ovation and looking out at a sea of smiling faces. Give yourself a mental pep talk, recalling performances where you have excelled. 

Become Comfortable Being Uncomfortable 

Medications, like beta blockers, can lower stress on the heart and help manage migraine, anxiety, tremor, and other conditions. These work for severe cases of stage fright. However, seasoned musicians often say that being nervous and excited is part of the process. World-renowned concert pianist Steven Osborne describes the agonizing moment that he began to experience memory lapses due to anxiety while performing. But he flipped the script and came to see it as a gift to be explored. Being too calm and relaxed may result in a less dynamic delivery. A few nerves can serve a meaningful and passionate presentation. There is a way to achieve balance and convert anxiety into passion; use that excitement to project what you want to say musically. 

The best approach is to learn to play under pressure, rather than taking away the pressure altogether. World-renowned violinist and distinguished professor Midori Goto (USC Thornton School of Music) encourages her students to do practice performances in front of peers and friends. She explains that playing for other musicians, especially those who know you well and obviously know the music, is a much more intense experience—which can make the actual performance that much easier.  

Make Dress Rehearsals Count 

Close to performance night, put yourself through several “dress rehearsals.” Visualize the audience. If you make a mistake, power through it. Knowing that you can carry on and improvise a solution will make you worry less on performance day. There’s a difference between your daily practice and practice that is geared towards performing better under pressure. Incorporate everything into these practice sessions. Gaze control isn’t something one would generally think about in the practice room, but it suddenly becomes relevant when performing on stage. 

Consult a Professional 

If you are unable to get your performance anxiety under control, don’t be shy about contacting a professional who can provide strategies tailored for your particular situation. Contact your primary care physician to talk about options and recommendations. 







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