Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to deal with Stage Fright

An approach and some solutions to the most common of musicians' problems

In this video, Robert tackles the common problem of Stage Fright which frequently affects musicians of all levels. If you have ever experienced the "fear of playing before an audience," this video is definitely for you.

Released on July 3, 2013

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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

Hi, I'm Robert Estrin. Welcome. This is and with a viewer question. Nadia asks, "How do you deal with stage fright?" Oh, boy. This is a great question.

And you know, all performers face this. In fact, that's how you know you're alive. You have a pulse. And boy, the pulse gets faster, and your whole metabolism speeds up if you're a normal person, when you're in front of a whole crowd staring at you. It's normal behavior.

But how do you deal with that? We'll we're going to address that today. Give you some pointers.

All right. So first of all, you should know that this a normal physiological response. It comes from fight or flight, from prehistoric times. When indeed when there was a challenging situation, the metabolism had to speed up to deal with the dangers that were around.

Well, we're in a modern society now and these same reaction are not necessarily appropriate in a musical or other performance. But you have to deal with it. The key is to be able to use that energy positively. How is this possible? Well there are a few very important things.

First of all, preparation. Yes, one of the recurring dreams that I have, by the way, is being on stage playing the piece knowing while I'm playing that piece that I have not finished memorizing it. And there I am without the score and I'm playing this piece not knowing what I'm going to do when I get to the end of the piece. It's an absolutely terrorizing thought, to be in front of an audience and know that there's no way out.

Well, you don't want to ever face that in real life. That is truly a nightmare. So prepare, prepare like crazy. The more prepared you are, the more you can relax and enjoy the performance. If you're worried about something because you get it sometimes and other times, you don't get it, of course, you're going to be nervous. You'll be crazy not to be nervous. You're playing Russian roulette with your performance. Prepare as much as you possible can.

But that's not all, you must prepare by practicing performing. That's right, you can spend all the time that you want practicing by yourself, lock yourself in a practice room hours and hours a day. And still, if it's the first time you've gotten in from an audience, in front of the formal setting, you're going to face a lot of things that you have not faced before.

So start off with small groups, even one good friend or family member say, "You know, I've got this performance coming up. Could you listen to this piece or this program?" Then as you get comfortable playing for one or two people, then expand it. Invite a bunch of friends. Have a piano party or a cello party, whatever instrument you play.

And then go through the program in a formal kind of way so that it's just like the real thing except you don't have the pressure of having a bunch of people you don't know there. Make it people you're comfortable around.

You'll learn so much by this, you have no idea. It also hones in your practicing. So your practice becomes more effective, places that you've worked on time and time again, you realize, "Hey those are easy." But other parts, you didn't even realize are problem parts. You will discover things. Not only that, but the whole pacing of the program, or the pacing of the pieces you're playing. You'll get a sense of that as well.

Now there are other things you could do to prepare both physically and emotionally. Let's start with physically. You want to make sure you are well rested on the day of the performance. Try to keep it very much like you're normal routine as much as possible. But there's some sensible things you can do.

One of the things that Nadia asked was suggestion of having tea. Would that be calming? Well, if it's decaffeinated tea or herbal tea, sure. But you know caffeine, you want to not have too much caffeine one day of your performance if you're concerned about nervousness because caffeine naturally makes you excited. You don't need that. You've already got a lot of energy, nervous energy working for you.

How do you make that nervous energy work for you? Before I get into that, let me mention a couple of other things in the physiological department. Sure, eating balanced meals. You don't want to have a bunch of sugar before you go on either. Things like bananas, rice, calming foods. You don't want to eat a whole big meal just before you go on, but you don't want to be hungry right in the middle of your performance. Time it so you're physically feeling good on stage.

Now, the all-important mental attitude and mental preparations, and emotional preparation. This is vital, and if you have the right mental preparation, you'd be surprised what you can overcome. I've had sometimes where my schedules gotten so intensely busy that I've had to literally go right from working big on the phone, doing emails, correspondence to right there on the concert stage with barely a moment to prepare.

But I was how able to do this effectively? Well, the secret is thinking about the moment of performance well beforehand and think about it a lot. It's not the kind of thing that some people that you should "Oh, put it out of your mind completely. When you go out on stage, pretend the audience isn't there and maybe you won't be nervous." This is a great mistake.

The audience is there, and you will be aware of them, believe me. There's no way to block it out of your mind. Instead, embrace the audience. That's why you want to play concerts, isn't it? To share your music with the audience. All your hard work, and your ideas, and your passion for the music you want to show others what you have discovered and what you believe is important in the music.

So you can even go so far as to do a kind of meditation, kind of a relaxation, really. Think about preforming while you're laying down, breathing slowly with your eyes closed. One thing that I found years ago is incredibly helpful, is think not only of that moment, but if you're a pianist, think . . . or if you're another instrumentalist, think about what you're actually seeing.

So I know I'm playing say a Baldwin, or a Steinweg piano, I'll imagine sitting on the bench seeing that logo, take a deep breath, be very relaxed, feel the sense of the audience being there even before I get out there. So when I get to the actual performance, I sit on the bench take on deep breath, look at the name of the piano. And it puts be back in that relaxed sense, and I'm ready for the concert that I've been thinking about for so long.

You can do that with any instrument, just visualizing the moment that you're going to be performing so you can enjoy it. After all, performing can be an incredibly rich rewarding experience. If you are prepared physiologically, you're prepared musically, and physically, and go out there and give it your best and enjoy your performance.

And you, too, can overcome nerves. You will always have some nervous energy, learn how to use it positively. Sometimes, you could actually have pleasant surprises because of that nervous energy makes your brain go faster, and you'll discover things when you're playing. And if you prepare well enough, you can have a wild ride and bring the audience along with you.

Thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin here at and I'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Kathleen Carroll * VSM MEMBER * on January 29, 2022 @9:39 am PST
I love this guy. He's an incredible find. Everything he said in this video about dealing with performance anxiety is so clear cut and sensible.
Robert - host, on January 29, 2022 @12:09 pm PST
So glad to be of help! We all face "stage fright" even in other life situations. So these tips can apply to everyone!
Joanna Sears * VSM MEMBER * on March 8, 2017 @11:47 am PST
How do you handle being a singer? I get nervous or course, and my singing tends to get weak in areas. Not just an instrument
Robert Estrin - host, on March 8, 2017 @2:48 pm PST
Singing presents unique challenges regarding dealing with nervous energy since you are the instrument! Wind players experience this to a great extent as well. Everything stated above applies. In addition, you must concentrate on actively relaxing and remember to breath!

Here are a couple of articles and videos which relate to this subject:


Linda Ford * VSM MEMBER * on March 8, 2017 @7:22 am PST
Thank you for your video Robert. I'm getting ready for a jury and want to do my best.
Marge * VSM MEMBER * on February 2, 2015 @7:11 pm PST
tape your "practice" performance for yourself and play it back. You're the biggest critic.
Robert - host, on February 3, 2015 @10:09 am PST
There are 2 devices that are indispensable for practice: an audio recorder and a metronome. These both can provide excellent perspective on your playing. Some people even get nervous when recording which can help prepare for performance. You must resist the temptation to stop and start the recording if things don't go well in order to get the most benefit from using recording to emulate live performance.
Celestino Rafael on January 29, 2015 @5:00 am PST
Very usefull tips. I'm a organist at church; I did na experience puting these tips into practice and they resulted positively.
Jim Conlon * VSM MEMBER * on January 28, 2015 @8:33 am PST
Just like you said, when you are called on to play a solo for an audience (like a guitarist in a band), there is no way out of it. You have to perform even if you are a nervous wreck. It can be much worse if you are not great at this type of thing. I recall being called on by the band's mc and being announced on stage as if I was a maestro. It can be terrifying. It was. All of my defects came to mind playing on front of thousands. But, like you said, there was no way out it. I had to perform and perform I did regardless of the outcome. It is part of showbusiness.
Robert - host, on January 28, 2015 @12:36 pm PST
The good news is that the more you perform the better you become at handling the additional energy that comes with the excitement of performance. Eventually you can utilize this energy in a positive manner enhancing your performance.
Karen Wenzel on April 26, 2014 @4:05 pm PST
Very helpful for me to pass on to my 3rd grade violin class for their upcoming 1st performance before the whole school and parents. With these children there are so many firsts that we try to hurdle. Thank you, Karen
Surangika Senanayake on October 28, 2013 @7:55 pm PST
Good useful points; particularly about practising performing. Thank you.
Nadia Bishai (Egyptian) on July 7, 2013 @1:47 pm PST
Dear Robert,
My apologies for not having had the chance to listen to your very helpful guidance sooner. Things here aren't exactly OK and I'm not practising much these days. However, this will helpt me get back to work after I come back from a trip to France and the UK where I can hear some music. None around here these days. All best from Nadia. (Alexandria, Egypt).
Anne Finlay-Brown * VSM MEMBER * on July 3, 2013 @2:15 pm PST
Most helpful. I am a violinist and practise the first three notes of a piece over and over. When this is played to to perfection it takes away the nerves and the rest of the music will follow.
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