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Performance Anxiety: Is it a Bad Thing?

Short answer: No.

That’s all folks, thanks for reading!

It can be unpleasant and extreme cases can be debilitating, but like most things in life, performance anxiety in moderation can actually be a good thing.

Now, this is where I’m going to get on my soapbox, because some views of ‘nerves’ or performance anxiety, quite frankly, annoy me more than Donald Trump’s hair. I mean have you seen it? It looks like a strawberry-blonde dollop of candy-floss! The man is the head of a country and richer than Midas, yet can’t afford a decent hair cut? Outrageous!

I digress…

In some people’s minds, there seems to be a correlation between suffering with nerves and competence as a player, i.e those of us who suffer with nerves are not as good as players who don’t. I have actually heard the phrase ‘yeah, they’re decent but they can’t hold their bottle on stage’. Do you want to know what really annoys me about these types of comments.? They are based on a few or sometimes even one performance they’ve seen from a player! One or two performances formed the basis of an entire assumption about the calibre of that player!

Banding view on people who ‘can handle nerves’ :

Banding view on people who have had a nervy performance:

Furthermore, as a person who suffers with nerves, hearing other people dismiss the potential of another player, purely on this basis , puts the pressure on me to ensure they don’t feel the same way about me. This outlook also made me think that if I don’t ‘get rid’ of my nerves, I can’t be a ‘good player’ and therefore they’re going to ‘get rid’ of me.

I’m here to tell you (because I wish someone told me) that this is utter rubbish and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Suffering with nerves has nothing to do with how good a player you are. It is a biological reaction. It would be just as stupid to say that you’re a rubbish player because you have hay-fever. Barbra Streisand suffers with performance anxiety, is she incompetent? Absolutely not. 10 out of 10 people, would agree she doesn’t let performance anxiety rain on her parade. See what I did there? I’m a funny girl, I know…


Putting pressure on players to perform ‘without nerves’ is not only stupid, it’s most likely to have the opposite effect. We’re not robots, some days we just perform better than others and if you make people frightened of making mistakes, that in itself is going to cause nerves. However making rehearsals and performances encouraging and open-minded environments might just help players who do suffer with performance anxiety to deal with it better.

Scientifically speaking, it’s been proven that a small amount of performance anxiety can help facilitate performance. Seems bizarre, doesn’t it? A fear of performing can cause a better performance? Don’t worry I’m not losing the plot, this is a genuine fact. When we’re in a restful state, we tend to go into autopilot, especially with things we’re familiar with, like a test piece you’ve been playing for three weeks. Autopilot can cause complacency and complacency causes mistakes. Performance anxiety gives us that slight edge that makes us present in the moment and helps focus our mind.

On a more personal level, we tend not to get nervous about things we don’t care about. For example, the average person won’t get nervous about doing the weekly shop.

There is technically an audience. We have to be around other people who will probably look at us because we’re humans and we’re nosey. Yet (providing you don’t have any other kind of social or supermarket related, anxiety) we don’t stand outside Sainsbury’s (other supermarkets are available) panicking about forgetting the milk or that packet of Doritos. We don’t have racing heartbeats or clammy hands as we choose if we want a Kingsmill or a Warburton’s loaf this week.


Because we don’t care! You haven’t invested weeks of rehearsals leading up to your supermarket shop (I would have thought anyway…if you rehearse your weekly shop who am I to judge? You do you). There’s no adjudicator sitting there, judging you in the fridge aisle. The cashier doesn’t hand out trophies at the check-out for the most efficient shop. I definitely wouldn’t win any prizes for my weekly shop. Nowadays, I just get the judgemental stare from the cashier at Aldi as she scans my bottle of gin, 6 cans of tonic and a loaf of bread…

In contrast, when we stand on stage, there are weeks of rehearsals, sectionals, open rehearsals and personal practise behind us. Ok, trophies and winning aren’t everything, but there is a part of us that wants them. Personally, we want to do well. We want to come off stage knowing that we did our best. We care. Feeling nervous, means that we care and that isn’t a bad thing.

I would much rather play in a band with some nerves than a band of people who didn’t care. If we don’t care, why are we doing this?

Where do we go from here?

So, now we’ve reached the end of this series the question is: where do we go from here? Put simply: look after yourself, be kind to yourself. Look after others. Make your band room an open, encouraging and safe environment. A band is made up of twenty plus people, who come from twenty plus backgrounds, who have twenty plus life experiences. Get to know each other. If someone is struggling, ask if they are ok. Help each other. If you’re struggling, let someone know.

Conductors, get to know your band members. If you have a break in your rehearsal, go and speak to your band. Speak to your band in the warm up room before you go on stage, especially to those who you know get nervous. Make encouragement the main tool in your rehearsals. Go for a drink after the contest. Get involved in the social events. Get to know who is sitting around your stand. The more you know, the more you can help and the stronger the relationship between band and conductor will be.

No, performance anxiety isn’t a bad thing, but struggling with it alone can be detrimental. We’re a team. Win as a team, lose as a team, play as a team. Don’t leave anyone behind.

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