Mastering the Mind: Overcoming Performance Anxiety One Note at a Time

Performance anxiety is a common phenomenon that can hinder sublime artistry. From concert halls to living rooms, every pianist has wrestled with the crippling fear of making a mistake, forgetting the music, or not living up to expectations. Whether an amateur pianist or a seasoned professional, performance anxiety or stage fright can be debilitating, transforming the boundless joy of creating music into sheer torment. This article presents strategies from both esteemed pianists and psychologists to help you unshackle your mind, embrace the spotlight, and deliver an enchanting performance.

Understanding Performance Anxiety

The first step in overcoming performance anxiety is understanding its root causes. According to world-renowned psychologists, performance anxiety generally stems from an irrational fear of judgement or failure. This often results in physical manifestations such as heart palpitations, sweaty palms, and trembling hands – all of which can significantly hinder a pianist’s performance. Understanding that these fears are unfounded is the first step towards overcoming them.

Controlling the Breath

Deep, conscious breathing is an effective tool in combating anxiety. It is a technique often employed by yogis and meditation practitioners, but it's equally beneficial for musicians. In the moments before and during your performance, deliberately slow your breathing and focus on the sensation of the air filling your lungs and leaving your body. This technique has been used by many pianists like renowned pianist Glenn Gould who was known for his deep, almost meditative stage presence.


Visualization is another effective technique advocated by psychologists and virtuoso pianists alike. This involves envisioning yourself playing the piece flawlessly from start to finish, inducing a feeling of calmness and confidence. Pianist Lang Lang, who is known for his emotive playing, is a strong proponent of "visual practice".

A world-class pianist isn't just one who can play all the right notes, but who can use the piano as a conduit to express emotion and tell a story. - Lang Lang

Practical Techniques for Mastering the Mind

Learning a difficult piece or preparing for a big performance can be daunting. However, breaking down the task into manageable sections is a tried-and-tested strategy. Tackling the piece one bar at a time, or even note by note, can make the task far less overwhelming. It's not about rushing to the end, but understanding and mastering each and every moment.

  • Practice slowly: The adage 'slowly but surely' rings especially true in this case.
  • Gradually increase tempo: Once you have a firm grasp of the piece at a slow pace, gradually increase the tempo, maintaining control and accuracy.
  • Isolate difficult passages: Identify challenging sections and break them down, practice them repeatedly until you're comfortable.

By implementing these strategies, you can enjoy a feeling of empowerment and growth as a pianist. Performance anxiety is a natural part of the human experience, and even the most seasoned pianists occasionally experience jitters. However, acknowledging, understanding, and using tools to manage it can help any performer deliver an inspiring, captivating performance.

Publication date: 23. 08. 2023