How to get better results in concerts, auditions and other high-pressure performing situations
“Just another day at the office…” was originally written for classical musicians as an aid in preparing for auditions and other solo performances. However, the information in this article can be applied to anyone in a ‘high-pressure’ performance situation.
Concerts, auditions, and solo performances – these are generally considered ‘under the spotlight’ events and can be experienced by many student performers, adult beginners, and even professionals, with high levels of performance arousal.
“Performance arousal? What’s that?”
You’ve no doubt heard about or even experienced feelings of anxiety before or during performances. This anxiety, stage fright, or performance anxiety as it is commonly referred to, is a negative form of performance arousal, and can affect you negatively in performing situations.
Excitement on the other hand, or the feeling of looking forward to a performance, is a positive form of performance arousal, and can have a positive effect on your ability to perform, if the level of excitement you experience is appropriate for your particular performing situation.
However if the level of excitement you experience is inappropriate (i.e. too much or too little) for your performing situation, then this excitement will have a negative effect on your ability to perform.
So in short, the term “performance arousal” describes the excitement or anxiety you may feel before or during performances. It can be a hindrance, or a help, and can be felt particularly strongly in ‘under the spotlight’ events, or other performing situations that you perceive as ‘high-pressure’.
“Ok. So how much positive performance arousal (excitement) do I need to get the best results when I’m performing?”
As a musician performing in a concert, recital, or audition situation, high levels of excitement may make you feel like you are shaky and out of control. Likewise, performance anxiety can also make you feel out of control, and in addition may be accompanied by unpleasant physical sensations such as muscular tension, hyperventilation, sweaty palms, nausea, and so on.
So, in traditional concert, recital, or audition situations, a moderately low level of positive performance arousal (excitement) will in most cases allow you to achieve your best possible results.
“That sounds like it should work in theory. But how do I actually make it happen?”
In this article you’ll be shown the simple yet powerful technique of Intense Positive Visualisation. This technique has been specifically designed to help you obtain an ideal state of mind for your performing situations, regardless of your field of performance. Using Intense Positive Visualisation, you can achieve better results in concerts and auditions, and see how other ‘high-pressure’ performance situations may be perceived as easy, comfortable, and dare I say, even a joy to experience!
To begin with, let’s take a situation quite apart from a musical one. Let’s imagine for a minute that you are an office worker beginning your first day at a new job. As with a recital or audition, this is a situation that can put you in the stressful position of not knowing exactly what will happen throughout the course of the experience. You might have a certain amount of information, but there are still many variables and details that are either unfamiliar, or completely unknown. You are also quite naturally aware that the outcome of the actual event is significant, especially given the importance placed on first impressions.
What are some of the physical and mental responses that you might experience before and/or during your ‘ever-important’ first day at the office?
Perhaps you might have sweaty palms, shallow breathing, a churning stomach, or possibly mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety.
However, after experiencing your new environment for a few days, you begin to perceive being at the office as no big deal. When this happens, the heightened excitement or anxiety (performance arousal) you experienced on your first day starts to disappear.
Now, compare the number of times you’ve heard of the phrase:
“I’m starting my new job today. Wish me luck!”
with the phrase:
“It’s my 30th day at the office today. Wish me luck!”
and not to mention:
“It’s my 2,623rd day at the office today. Wish me luck!”
It starts to sound ridiculous, doesn’t it?
So therefore, and this really is the crux of the matter, what is the difference between the ever so slightly ridiculous sounding 2,623rd day at the office and the 1st day at the office?
The answer is familiarity! And it is a special sort of familiarity that helps us feel at ease, calm, confident and in control. This sort of familiarity can be referred to as positive conditioning.
Riding the Roller Coaster
To explain positive conditioning in plain English, picture this… You are at a theme park and are very nervous or anxious about riding that big, scary roller coaster for the first time. Even thinking about taking the plunge starts you off on a serious emotional roller coaster!
“Should I? Shouldn’t I? I don’t really want to after all. But I do want to try it, and all my friends are doing it. I can do it. I can’t do it. It might be fun!? But what happens if we crash? Maybe I should have just stayed in bed this morning!”
Eventually you decide to board the roller coaster, and experience the ride. Riding the roller coaster turns out to be a positive experience – you survived and even enjoyed it in some weird way! This makes your brain suddenly say, “Hey! That wasn’t so bad after all!” The next time you think about riding the roller coaster, you are perhaps only a little nervous or anxious.
You make the decision to ride the roller coaster again, and again it turns out to be a positive experience – you even had your eyes open this time! Your brain now says to you, “Hey! That was actually kinda fun! I wanna do it again!” And so the next time you think about riding the roller coaster, you are looking forward to it, because you know it will be a fun, enjoyable experience! This is how positive conditioning works.
However, what if your experiences are negative? For example, what happens if the first time you ride the roller coaster you get stuck at the top of the ride and are forced to dangle upside-down for 6 hours because of a technical problem? If this happens, your brain is probably going to say to you the next time you think about riding a roller coaster, “Oi! Remember that last roller coaster experience?? It was horrible! I don’t ever want to go through that again – get me outta here!” This is negative conditioning in action.
The Routine – Part 1
So, how do we ensure your brain tells you that auditions, recitals, and other ‘high-pressure’ performing situations are easy and fun? How do you achieve positive conditioning when you only get one shot at something??? We’ll answer these questions very soon! But for now, it’s back to the office! After 30 days at the office, you know the routine…
- Wake up with the alarm clock, hit the ‘snooze’ button, and sleep for an extra 10 minutes
- Get out of bed when the alarm rings for the second time
- Eat breakfast
- Have a shower and get dressed
- Brush teeth
- Shoes on
- Leave the house after locking the door
- Walk to the bus stop. Aim to arrive there in time to get on the number 85 bus that you know always leaves 2 or 3 minutes earlier than it’s supposed to
- Board the bus
- Get off the bus at the appropriate stop
- Walk up to the building and in through the main entrance
The Routine – Part 2A
- Greet the receptionist
- Sign in
- Walk up the stairs, bidding a fellow colleague a good day on the way
- Greet the other office workers as you pass them on your way to your desk
- Arrive at your desk, sit down, and start the day’s work
- Lunch break for 45 minutes
- Work through to the late afternoon
- When it’s time to leave, walk back down the stairs, out of the office, and out of the building
All of these small but necessary actions are completed each day as part of your routine.
Thinking back to your first day at the office, you didn’t have this routine – your first day was completely unfamiliar! This is the reason why you may have been feeling anxious or even over-excited (high performance arousal level), and the reason why you asked your partner, flatmate, friends, or family to “wish you luck.”
Now, if it feels like we have wandered from the path of an ‘under the spotlight’ performance situation, read the bullet points in “The Routine” – Part 1 again, and then skip directly to “The Routine” – Part 2 B below.
The Routine – Part 2B
- Walk around to the stage door of the venue
- Greet the receptionist at the desk
- Sign in
- Walk up the stairs and along the corridor to warm-up room marked ‘Soloist 1’
- Take out your instrument, and begin your warm-up routine
- After some time, your accompanist enters the warm-up room
- With 15 minutes until your audition is scheduled to start, you rehearse entries and certain problem passages
- The stage manager knocks on the door, and asks if you are both ready
- You follow the stage manager to the wings in the off-stage area
- You walk confidently on stage, with your accompanist following closely behind
- You acknowledge the audition jury
- You begin the audition calmly, and confidently
- The performance begins, and continues in the most musical way you can possibly imagine
- You finish the last audition piece, acknowledge the jury, and finally walk off stage
So, if you’re a performer, and get the chance to be ‘at the office’ for 30 days (performing in recitals or auditions every day for 30 days) you can get to know the routine, and become quite comfortable and familiar with it.
But wait a second! You might be thinking:
“Ok, but the office worker has the opportunity to learn the routine and get familiar with it as they are in reality at the office every weekday. I’m not doing a recital or audition everyday. I only get one shot at this!”
What? You’re right! You’re not performing in a recital or audition everyday, but you should be!
“What? Auditions and recitals don’t come along everyday!”
In reality, no they don’t! But in your mind, you can perform auditions and recitals as often as you wish!
“What do you mean?!? How does this work?”
By using specially designed visualisation techniques, you can use your mind to rehearse any ‘one-shot’ performance as many times as you wish! Therefore, you can become familiar with your ‘one-shot’ performing situation, well before it even happens!
So, if you practise visualisation techniques, when you walk into your performing situation in reality, you’re just like the office worker going to work on their 30th or even 2,623rd day at the office!
In other words, you can feel, calm, confident, and in control in any performance situation!
“But wait just another second! Surely there is a vast difference between experiencing an event in reality and experiencing the same event in your imagination? After all, the office worker actually is at the office every day, and if I use visualisation, I’m only going to imagine myself being at ‘the office’. Can this really be the same thing?”
The short answer to this question is YES!
According to many studies on visualisation in the field of sports psychology, the subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between actually experiencing an event, and simply imagining an event in vivid detail!
Look at this example:
One study on visualisation in sports psychology involved the members of three basketball teams of approximately equal skill level, practising shooting ‘3-pointers’, for a period of 30 days.
One of the teams practised neither physically on the court, nor in their minds during the duration of the study. Their improvement at the end of the study was not surprisingly 0%.
Another team practised physically – that is, on the basketball court – for a period of one hour each day. After 30 days, their improvement was measured at 24%.
The third team did not practise physically at all but was told to mentally visualise the game for one hour each day. At the end of the thirty day period, their improvement was a remarkable 23%.
What was the reason for this?
The sports scientists concluded that the subconscious mind cannot differentiate between what is real and what is imagined. Therefore, since the subconscious mind has a large influence on how you perform, positively conditioning your subconscious mind using Intense Positive Visualisation can have a huge effect on your success as a performer!
Visualization techniques can help you positively condition yourself to achieve an ideal state of mind, helping you to gain optimal results in your performing situations. In short, when visualising, you train your mind by entering a relaxed state and imagining the exact results you would like to achieve. By regularly practising visualisation techniques, you can condition yourself for success!
In the book “Performing in The Zone”, three different types of visualisation techniques are explained:
- Snap Shot
- Intense Positive Visualization
- The 5 Sense Visualization Method
Here in “Just Another Day at the Office…” you’re going to see exactly how the simple yet powerful technique of Intense Positive Visualization can help you in your performing situations! Read on!
Different points of view
Intense Positive Visualization can be carried out in the 1st person or 3rd person perspective.
Using the 1st person perspective, you put yourself in the centre of the visualization. For example, if you are a concert pianist, you would imagine yourself performing on stage from your own eyes, seeing your hands and the piano keyboard in front of you, taking in the experience as if you were actually carrying it out in reality.
In the 3rd person perspective, you would see yourself from a distance, possibly from a seat in the audience, the back of the room, or even a position up in the ceiling somewhere above, behind, or beside you.
Some performers find a 1st person visualization to be more powerful and real, whereas others may find a 3rd person visualisation to be most effective. Experiment using both viewpoints, and discover which one works best for you.
Intense Positive Visualization explained:
To practise Intense Positive Visualisation, you will need to be undisturbed for a period of anywhere from ten minutes to an hour, depending on the length of the performance you are about to visualise.
Intense Positive Visualization is best carried out lying down on your back with your hands resting gently on your solar-plexus. You may choose to lie flat on the floor or on a yoga mattress. Lying down on a bed can be an acceptable alternative, and is at times preferable if practising this exercise just before sleeping. It’s important to keep the body at a comfortable temperature throughout the duration of the visualization, and therefore covering yourself with a blanket might be necessary.
To begin Intense Positive Visualization, gently close your eyes, and lightly touch your tongue to the front part of the roof of your mouth, just behind the teeth. This is a Qi Gong technique which forms an ‘energy bridge’ to allow freer flow of energy in the human energy system. Try to keep the root of your tongue relaxed at all times. If you have trouble with this, simply let your tongue sit in its natural position and come back to this Qi Gong energy bridge technique at a later stage. Whilst in a horizontal position, allow the floor to take your weight. Feel your limbs becoming heavier the more relaxed they feel.
Trust the floor – it will hold you. Give in to the support from underneath. Trust, relax, and let go. Breathe gently through your nose. Allow your body to breathe as it needs to.
Jon Gorrie is a professional trumpet player, performance coach, and author of the #1 Best Selling New Release “Performing in The Zone – Unleash your true performing potential!” available at amazon.com
Jon is originally from New Zealand but is now based in Scandinavia. He is fluent in English, Swedish, Norwegian, and reads Danish.
Further biographical information about Jon is available at: www.thezonebook.com