Whitney's Music Studio

in Shallowater, Texas and Lubbock, Texas area

(806) 832-0531




Learning to Cope with Performance

Stress Reduction is a Key Factor in Success

By Sally Bohls

From: Southwestern Musician – Texas Music Educator, September 1992

Handling performance stress is a learned process. This process should start when students are beginners and be nurtured throughout their careers. They start to build confidence in themselves and in their abilities. Students who “feel good” about themselves while playing will not mind putting in the hours of practice required for an exceptional performance. Every opportunity to perform is then viewed from a position of being “in control” of the task at hand. If very clear expectations are established in their minds, they will learn to be as consistently correct in their playing as possible. By striving for their best efforts, students learn the importance of goal setting, adequate preparation, and mental focus/discipline. In essence, they learn what it takes to succeed.

Stress reduction is a key factor in success. Students who demand excellence in their playing learn to cope with stress. They learn to play the necessary mental games to become physically and mentally relaxed and therefore successful in stressful situations. There are as many different relaxation techniques as there are individuals. Students must discover and understand the things that will keep them calm and “in control” of their own situation.

There are three steps to coping with stress. These three steps are goal setting, technical preparation/skills, and mental focus/discipline. The following outlines could be used as a set of guidelines for any student to follow:


a. Seeing clearly where one wants to be or what one wants to do in order to move toward a specific goal and keep success within their control.

b. Deciding not to settle for anything but best efforts.

c. Understanding the amount of time and dedication required to achieve a certain goal.

d. Establishing a realistic attitude toward self-evaluation.


a. Develop solid fundamentals of tone production, counting system, scales, sight reading, phrasing, etc.

b. Find a good private teacher.

c. When initially working on the music, start slowly and steadily in order to form a bond with the notes.

d. Use imagery in preparation – i.e. what is one trying to say or portray through the music.

e. Pace yourself throughout the preparation – do not “peak” too soon.

f. Always come to the performance with the necessary equipment in good working order.

g. Play for other people before any competition.

h. Welcome and elicit opinions from teachers, directors, etc.

i. Always play with confidence.

j. Prepare thoroughly. This thorough preparation results in a calm, positive attitude and a confident performance.


Mental Focus

a. Form a mental picture of yourself being successful.

b. Believe in yourself and your abilities.

c. Appear and feel confident about your playing.

d. Treat each performance as a celebration of the preparation – i.e. play for the joy of the music.

e. Focus on “how” to play, not “what” one is doing, “where” one is, or for “whom” one is playing.

f. Play for the enjoyment of playing, not in order to “beat” another competitor.

g. Develop an “aura” to help build confidence – think of yourself as a soloist.

h. Mentally project yourself into a comfortable environment, i.e. home practice area, practice room, etc.

i. Lock into your objective, do not be distracted – play exactly as you practiced, do not let the other players performances alter your thought process.

j. Focus in a positive fashion toward the task at hand.

k. Think the performance through step-by-step.

l. Remember that it is not the winning or losing that really counts, it is the grace with which you do what you do that matters.

m. If you lose, go home, practice, and do the whole process again. If you win, the same rules apply.


n. Seek encouragement from teachers, parents, etc.

o. Get plenty of rest the night before a competition.

p. Eat the right foods before the competition. No sugar, caffeine, etc.

q. Arrive in plenty of time – do not feel hurried or frantic before a performance.

r. Do something to keep yourself from listening to other players – use crayons/coloring book, do word puzzles, listen to calming tapes, etc.

s. Concentrate on relaxing the body.

t. Set the temp before starting and breathe deeply.

u. Do not focus on a mistake – always think forward, not backward.

v. Do not react (positively or negatively) to your performance.

If students want to know their greatest source of strength, they should look into a mirror. What they see there possesses a mind with no limitations. The notes before them on a page are merely ink blots with no brains. The only way those notes can come to life is if the students as musicians choose to give them life. Those notes have no power over them. The individual breathes life into the music. Therefore, when students have the opportunity to share a part of themselves with an audience, they should never be afraid. They should be willing to share their experience and talent. Above all, students will learn to believe in themselves and their ability to make the perceived impossible happen. The ability to attain excellence and cope with stress lies within each individual. “Excellence can be attained if you …. CARE more than others think is wise … RISK … more than others think is safe … DREAM … more than others think is practical …. EXPECT .. more than others think is possible.” Remember, success is only around the corner if one chooses to go in that direction!





"Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song." Psalms 95:2

"Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music." Psalms 98:4