Robert Estrin - piano expert

The Psychology of Performing - Part 3: How to Cope With Stress

Learn how to deal with the stress that a performance can cause.

In this video, Robert tackles relaxation in performing, and how you can literally "build" your performance without stress by starting from your most comfortable passage.

Released on December 10, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hello and welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin and today's subject is how to avoid stress in your playing.

Well, there are basically two components for avoiding stress, and we're going to talk about that today. And this is applicable to all instruments. Well, there are ways of practicing relaxation. That's right! And the ways to do that is to take some very, very small sections that you can play comfortably and build that way. Being aware of how you sit and how you breathe on a wind instrument. So that you can really consciously add relaxation to your routine, in your practicing.

And you can get remarkable results just by paying attention. Like, how you sit. Sometimes, I'll look at students and their shoulders are up and you can tell they're uncomfortable. And just putting your hands on their shoulders for a moment and say, "Relax," can make a huge difference for a singer or for a pianist, for a violinist, for any instrument. Being aware of how your body feels. How you're sitting or standing, all of this.

What's the other component then? Well, there's only so much you can relax on an instrument, depending on how much technical proficiency you have. How much strength you have. That's right! With strength can come relaxation. On the piano, for example, or the violin the sheer amount of time you spend. Same with a wind instrument. If you're only practicing, let's say, 30 minutes a day on any instrument, it might be difficult to be relaxed in some virtuoso music. So you have to build up your strength over time with exercises, scales, arpeggios, etudes, all sorts of repertoire. Just simply playing hours and hours a day, you'll build enough strength and comfort in your instrument that with that can aid playing in a more relaxed manner.

So to recap today, there are two ways to aid in the relaxation and avoiding tension in your instrument. One is simply being aware and practicing small enough segments that you don't introduce any tension in your playing to begin with. The second is to grow what you can do by building your strength over time by challenging yourself with repertoire, amount of practice that you do, the amount of time you spend with your instrument, and exercises, repertoire, all of that. Building strength over time is going to aid you in relaxing just as much as paying attention to how you sit, stand, and approach your instrument and never introducing tension in the first place. Work on both of these, and you can avoid tension in your playing too.

Thanks so much for joining me! Robert Estrin, here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on December 10, 2014 @10:01 am PST
As you say, proper preparation (physically, mentally, and practice wise) for the performance is key to avoiding stress. I would add however, if the occasion makes it appropriate or allows it, the performer can also further help reduce the stress of performing: a. by rehearsing in the actual venue for the performance, becoming familiar with the venue; and b. at the performance, giving some introductory remarks before playing each piece, which is helpful for the audience, and which gives the performer a bit of a breather, a chance to relax, between pieces (instead of moving quickly from one piece to the next).
Robert - host, on December 10, 2014 @6:35 pm PST
You are absolutely right! It is incredibly important to have several try-out performances starting with family and good friends just to get a feel for how things go. If you can get an opportunity in the hall, even better!

Here is a video that confirms your idea of talking to the audience:
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on December 12, 2014 @12:02 pm PST
Thanks for the link to your video...very true and very helpful....missed it when it first came around.
The whole subject of stress and stage fright etc. is so all important, when it comes to the issue of publicly performing to the best of your ability. As you indicate, the audience doesn't want to see the performer tighten up and fail, make mistakes, etc...that's painful not only to the musician, but also to the audience.
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