[Originally Posted on December 4, 2010 by Richard Matteson]
Today we’re going to look briefly at performance excitement.
There are two main types of performance excitement: positive and negative.
Positive excitement is excitement that sharpens your focus allowing you to fully concentrate on the music and the task at hand. You feel stronger and your fingers have more vitality. You can bring out subtle nuances in the phrasing. You can use expressive devices like playing sections with different tone color (timbre) and dynamics. You feel the energy from the audience and it lifts you to a new level of execution that you can’t reach in your practice room. You can play faster and more accurately than during practices.
Negative excitement and concerns make you feel uneasy, nervous or sick. Negative excitement is also called “performance anxiety.” Negative excitement causes the hands, arms and sometimes legs to shake and twitch. The performer may sweat and their hands and touch become slippery. It becomes impossible to concentrate and the mind reaches a panic state where memorization is faulty and focusing on the music is impossible. The performer is now focused entirely on negative concerns and making it through the piece is the only hope.
Let’s look at what happens to the body during a performance. Being the center of attention and other concerns cause the mind to send messages to the body. The body prepares for a “flight or fight” situation and pumps additional adrenaline and other hormones. This is the body’s primitive inborn response system.
This is what happens:
1) Our breathing rate increases.
2) Our heart rate increases. Blood is also directed away from our digestive tract and into our muscles and limbs, which are used for running and fighting. Because of the additional blood flow to the muscles, our body temperature rises and in order to control our temperature, we may start to sweat.
3) Our pupils dilate.
4) Our awareness and concentration intensify.
5) Our sight sharpens.
6) Our impulses quicken and our reaction time is quicker.
7) Our perception of touch and pain diminishes.
You can see that many of the physical changes can be beneficial to a performance. Understanding what happens to your body and harnessing the excitement so the results are positive is our goal.
This requires practice in a controlled performance environment like a performance development class or a group of performers trying to improve their skills.
The key is letting the body pump additional adrenaline and other hormones and using the excitement to perform better. Your mind can’t tell your body, “Don’t pump in any more adrenaline my hands are beginning to shake!” It won’t help.
You need to become aware of what’s happening to you and learn how to use it to your advantage. The role of the conscious mind is to objectively notice what changes are happening. It’s the negative concerns of the mind about the physical changes that often create performance anxiety. Negative thoughts lead to a panic state and make performing very difficult. The mind needs to assist the body and notice the changes while focusing on the music and positive concerns.
Positive performance excitement can take the performance and music to a new level that isn’t obtainable in the practice room.
We’ll look at how to do this in another blog,
More to come—-