How to be confident in a crowd – Part 3

Published by Music in Offices on

When you see a professional singer like MIO teacher Eleanor Rastall singing her heart out on stage you’d be forgiven for thinking that performance nerves are the last thing on her mind. But what is happening behind that confident facade?

In the third of her three-part series, Eleanor delves deeper into why self-awareness is key and how being aware of one’s thought processes and the physical symptoms of anxiety can help reduce nerves.

To reduce the impact of nerves and make each performance part of a progressive journey, observe your anxiety with interest:

What are your physical symptoms? I get a dry mouth and throat, increased heart rate and breathing, shaking legs… And a tendency towards my brain going completely blank if I think I’ve forgotten what comes next. All of which are extremely unhelpful to a singer!

What are your thought processes? My inner critic frequently tells me that I am not good enough and never will be, that I’m not ready for the upcoming performance because I haven’t worked hard enough, and therefore I don’t deserve it to go well, and sometimes that I’m making an idiot of myself even trying. That I will forget the words and stand looking stupid on stage, completely unable to continue, while the accompanist continues his part, glaring at me, and the audience wriggle uncomfortably avoiding all eye contact…

The most efficient and effective ways to reduce the impact of nerves on your performance will come from understanding what effect they have on you; the greater your awareness of nervous habits and tensions, the more you will become able to spot these effects during a performance and change them.

And if you use every performance-type scenario to assess what happens to you physically and mentally under pressure then you can start to explore ways to deal with physical symptoms and mental thought-processes, and each performance becomes more enjoyable and part of an ongoing journey of improvement rather than a stand-alone success or failure.

Example from my performance history

Last Christmas I performed in a series of 12 seasonal concerts over a month, all basically the same music and set up, in the same venue. One day, for no obvious reason, I realised that my left arm was rigid with tension. I released it and 10 seconds later it was tense again! I spent the whole concert letting go of the tension in my arm.

This might sound like a disaster, but in fact it was a huge win:

a) I noticed the problem early on
b) I was able to multitask and do something about that in the middle of a song, without detriment to the performance (actually the opposite, as freeing my arm tension also freed my voice)
c) the audience would never have known and
d) being aware and able to make changes while singing gave the control to me, not my anxiety.

I could not have kept relaxed and multi-tasked like that a couple of years previously and it was a clear indication that my journey exploring performance anxiety is a positive one, for me personally as well as myself as a performer.

Big thanks to Eleanor for sharing these personal experiences – we hope that reading this will help some of you who may feel nervous in front of a crowd. You’re certainly not alone!

As part of MIO’s wider offering, we now run classes on how to deal with performance anxiety so that our musicians can get on with enjoying their playing, and we’ve found that the skills participants have learned are benefiting them beyond the concert hall and into the workplace.

If you would like to explore this further with Eleanor, please contact about our next Performance Confidence Classes.