Everyone has experienced putting themself out there in front of a group, whether that was a book report due in middle school or, currently, performing at the local jazz club every Friday. Fear of presenting yourself is common and nothing to be embarrassed by. For musicians, it’s a daily event. We who perform onstage have plenty of tricks to relax and present our best selves to the audience; here are some of our greatest tips/tricks!
- Square Breathing
Musicians love breathing exercises because they both calm your heart rate and improve your lung capacity. A popular technique is square breathing. All you need is a timing device that lets you count seconds. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold that air for 4, breathe out for 4, then hold your breath at empty for 4. Continue this 4x4x4x4 process until the rhythm feels natural, then add another second so that you’re now breathing in 5. A professional musician will aim for 9 seconds per motion, but there is no need to push yourself that far! Consider your max wherever you begin to feel uncomfortable. After this exercise, you should feel focused and calm.
- The Ragdoll
The position of your shoulders sends major emotional signals to both your brain and your audience. Tight shoulders will make you look and act jittery. In order to relax your shoulders, stand firmly without locking your knees, and fold forward. Let your arms hang towards the floor and hold your elbows to form a sort of cradle. Allow your head and spine to go limp and follow with gravity. Sway, back and forth, with your cradle if you wish. After thirty seconds to a minute, methodically roll yourself back up, feeling each vertebra fold from your hips. As you return to full standing, gently roll your shoulders back. You now have perfect posture!
- The Micro Rehearsal
It’s predicted that trying to run through your entire presentation immediately before you do it, often makes things worse. Every mistake feels much more real, and you’ll be thinking of those mistakes while you present. Typically, a musician will run through an abridged version of their concert. They may play the first and last 10 measures of every song, or the easiest phrases of each tune. The same thing works well for speaking presentations; just recite the opening and closing of each paragraph. This gets your brain used to the feeling of presenting without errors, and it will hold that feeling throughout your presentation!
- The 7-Count Shake
This one is for shaking out nervous tics. If you feel bottled up with restless energy, stand up and get ready to look a bit silly. Shake your left hand as quickly as you can seven times, counting aloud. Then switch to your right hand and repeat. Do the same with each foot. Once all four limbs have been shaken seven times, repeat the pattern with six times, then five, then on and on until you reach number one. Now you are loose and energized for your presentation!
- Dress Nice (or Don’t!)
The way you dress will affect your performance, and a little can go a long way. Many performers who have all-black outfits like to wear crazy socks or earrings as a reminder to not take themselves too seriously. Musicians who can choose their attire prefer clothes that match the mood of their music, or they will color-coordinate with their band! Picking even one article of clothing that either makes you happy or reminds you of your intended mood will provide a major confidence boost.
- Remember Your Past Accomplishments
A lot of people’s brains, or mine at the least, tend to overthink and gripe about the future as if it is the ‘scariest thing’. It does make sense in some way; the future is the one thing we have not lived through. I find that having some perspective is very helpful when I begin to panic. Whether you write out a list of accomplishments DAYS early, or you talk to yourself to calm down while waiting to do a presentation, reminding yourself of past achievements helps a lot. They can range anywhere from ‘being accepted to X University’ to ‘ I killed that really big spider last week.’ Anything that makes you feel pride is worth remembering, especially when you’re about to do something that scares you!
You do not need to (and probably should not) attempt all six of these tricks before your next time in the spotlight. Different actions and exercises work for different people. The Ragdoll might do nothing but make you dizzy, and thinking of past accomplishments could make you feel guilt. What matters is that you discover what works for you. So take a deep breath, roll back your shoulders, and break a leg!