William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Dealing with Stage Fright on the Violin

Approach and solutions for getting rid of stage fright

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick talks about stage fright, and how to tackle it with success.

Released on June 3, 2015

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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

So you're playing in front of your teacher and it doesn't go as well as you planned. You look at your teacher and you say, "But I just played it a while ago in the practice room, and it was so much better. I don't understand why I have such a hard time playing when in front of you. Just why do I play so much better in the practice room?"

So with that, welcome to VirtualSheetMusic.com's Meet the Expert. My name is William Fitzpatrick, and I am the Temianka Professor of Violin, at the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music, which is located on the campus of Chapman University, in Orange, California. I am as well, Director of MusiShare, in Irvine, California.

Well, first of all, what one has to understand is that playing in front of your teacher or playing in a concert or even just the little performances are very stressful and can lead to anxiety. This anxiety is a part of performing, and needs to be practiced in just like a shift, or any other part of performing. Years ago I read an article, in the magazine, Psychology Today, which said that the conditions in which we learn something have to be identical to the environment of the performance, if we expect to obtain the same results.

When one comes in to play in front of people, what suddenly happens is we are really aware of what we are doing. And if we did not have the same awareness during our practicing, we simply can freak out, see white, have a memory slip. We might even want to just leave the stage. I remember when I was just 17, at the then Memphis State University, and preparing to walk onto the stage to perform Beethoven's F Major Romance. The person at the entry to the stage looked at me and asked, "So you're not nervous?" and I replied, "No, why should I be?"

Since I had never been nervous, I didn't see why I should now. And then they said, "Well, you're going out to play for the professors and your student colleagues and friends. And you're not nervous? Good for you." Well, the door opened and I walked onto the stage. I glanced into the audience, and as they had said, I saw professors and student colleagues, etc. I then started to play.

And you know what happened? My bow shook from the first note to the last note. I was totally mortified. I went into a dance studio, took my rosin, and just slung it at the wall. Completely shattered it. I was so, so, so just amazed by what had just happened. It took years for me to overcome this nervousness, but finally I remember walking onto the stage of George Peabody College for teachers to play a recital. And finally, I started with Mozart's E Minor Sonata.

And you know what? I had no shakes in my right hand. So here are some of the ideas that I tried in my journey and found very useful. There are, of course, others, but at least this can start the discussion. One way would be to practice and imagine yourself in the space that you perform in. Visually create the space in your mind, and record yourself while you're doing it, and find out what worked and what didn't. Another would be to put chairs up in the room and put very important people in them. My favorites were Stern, Miss DeLay, Pearlman. And now play it. I would not allow myself to stop as I would say to myself, "That you can't stop in front of them."

Yet another would be to ask someone to spare a moment and just play a specific passage for them, to see if you can perform it, if you can make it happen under stress. There is as well, the stress of recording yourself, either audio or with a camera. Yes, do use your smartphone, as it's a perfect companion for this venture. Diana Kenny, in her book, "The Psychology of Music Performance Anxiety," says that performance preparation, such as visiting the venue and practicing in the performance setting, may be helpful to anxious performers. She says that integrating performance setting cues into performance preparation reduces the demands on the attention on the day of the performance. That this may improve confidence, lower anxiety, and enhance your performance.

For myself, I like to think of performing for others as a challenge. When I practice, I am constantly asking myself if I will be able to do this in a performance. So with that I hope that I have opened the door to a deeper discussion about performance anxiety. If you have a comment or question or special request, please post it below. I look forward to hearing from you about this very important topic.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Moe on December 21, 2018 @12:41 pm PST
Thank you , thank you ,moe
Marianne Henry * VSM MEMBER * on April 6, 2016 @3:43 pm PST
I find that your comment of being "really aware of what we are doing and if we did not have the same awareness during our practicing we can simply freakout, see white and have a memory slip..."
Practicing being really aware or practicing heighten awareness when practicing is intrigueing to me. Great food for thought and practice!
Thank you for this video.
William - host, on July 14, 2016 @11:38 pm PST
Thanks you!
eric shumsky on January 9, 2016 @7:25 pm PST
Bravo Bill!

You have put together wonderful responses and solutions for many of the problems we face. In a very human manner you remind us we are not alone in these often fearful moments. There is indeed a way out. Very positive instruction here!
All best, Eric Shumksy
William - host, on July 14, 2016 @11:38 pm PST
Thanks Eric!!!!!
Kate on June 12, 2015 @11:41 pm PST
Very helpful advice, especially the ways to imagine (or create!) an audience. Thank you for this post!
William - host, on June 14, 2015 @5:05 pm PST
Thank you Kate!
paul plak * VSM MEMBER * on June 4, 2015 @4:21 pm PST
I remember at age 11 or so having to play the violin on stage for the first time in front of the whole music school. Oh boy was I frightened. Could never have done it properly. My teacher was not there in person, and an older student had to tune my violin for me. During that process, the head of the violin (old instrument lent to me by the school) suddenly broke off. What a relief ! Yet it took me years to be able to recover from anxiety emotions when playing music. I'm just still so afraid to fail. Now I can perform on the piano, and have also had some very successful exams in public audience with the viola. I even remember failing a difficult phrase during execution, and as I did no longer want to feel that failure anxiety, I felt some contempt about myself and just played that phrase immediately again, withjout failing. I think that eventually helped somewhat. Playing the violin or the viola in public is much more difficuilt than the piano, beacuse when only a tiny part of your body is shaking, you'll immeditely get to hear it. So yes, stage fright is a really important subject, the good news is that it can evnetually be solved. I've even played next to professional musicians in an orchestra, and it can be an enjoyable moment if you feel enough confidence.
William - host, on June 5, 2015 @1:58 pm PST
Understanding and developing ways to build on that understanding are so important! Thank you for your comment!
Callie Johnson on June 3, 2015 @7:59 pm PST
Thank you for this tip. I actually have had issues with this. I would respond the same way you said that you did....I grab the rosin, wonder if my violin is out of tune and I don't know it....anything to explain. I finally figured out that it is just when I play in front of my teacher. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one. Your tips are encouraging!
William - host, on June 4, 2015 @10:02 am PST
Thank you!
Heidrun Kath * VSM MEMBER * on June 3, 2015 @3:52 pm PST
I find it is important for the teacher to tell the student "Of course you are nervous in front of an audience, everyone is".That may stop him/her feeling special about it, also encourage the student to have two levels of performance readiness: One so good that you can play the piece in your dreams, the other one good enough to get away with it That creates another level of importance of practising.
William - host, on June 4, 2015 @10:02 am PST
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