Drums & Drumming
Overcoming Performance Anxiety Part II
- Musicians who suffer exaggerated performance anxiety usually have
certain feelings of inferiority. As a result, they have problems coming
out of their shells- of going for it without the fear of making a
few mistakes. These feelings of inferiority are a direct result of
how we judge ourselves. For drummers, it is usually how we judge
ourselves compared to the drummer in our high school, the player in the next
room at our rehearsal space, the pro in New York City, or the guy
featured on your tape in the stereo.
- We are who we are as individuals. Each of us has a unique personality,
unique preferences, and a unique way of looking at the world. This
individuality applies to how we play and create music. All serious musicians
are on a quest to find their own voice, their own identity on their given
instrument. Donít feel inferior if you canít do something that somebody
else can do. Use their inspiration as an incentive to create your own
personalized lick. Try to understand what the other drummer is trying to
express, and use that as a basis for what comes naturally to your playing
style. Find what you can do, and build on that.
- Physical manifestations of performance anxiety affect even the most
experienced professionals in all fields. Stage fright is a manifestation of
the fight or flight instinct we as animals are endowed with. When a person
sees performance as a threat, the physiological equilibrium of his or her body
is dramatically disturbed. Feeling frightened of performance triggers the
instinctual ĎĎstate of alertíí. This state causes your adrenaline to
surge- with the resulting physical symptoms of performance anxiety, tense
muscles, sweaty palms, increased heart beat, and nausea. Sensitive individuals
who are aware of the instinctual reactions that performing might have on them
are in a position to exert their own power over the situation. By realizing
that performing is nothing to be afraid of, we too can exert our own power
over the situation- and can minimize our stage fright anxiety.
- Another line of attack is trying to influence the physical aspects of our
bodies. It is necessary to combat physical tension by staying calm and
relaxed. One of the easiest ways to do this is to give yourself plenty of time
to set up. Donít become frazzled by breaking down the drum kit at the
rehersal space, rushing to the club at the last minute, setting up, and then
going through a sound check. This lack of preparation only compounded my
performance anxiety. Arriving early will give you the amount of time needed to
get your act together so that you can work through the following relaxation
suggestions ( and whatever drum technique warm up you go through).
- Breathing is an effective way of calming your system. By regulating
your breathing, you can influence your heart rate. Slowing down your
heart rate will relax the rest of your body. As you breathe in deeply
through your nose, (exhaling through your mouth), try to concentrate
on the act of relaxed breathing. When properly concentrating on this
task, you are putting all the negative thoughts of performance outside
your mind. I consider this a type of meditation exercise. As a variation,
I sometimes try to visualize the graceful movements of playing the
drumset. This visualization is done in slow motion, which reinforces
the calm, relaxed state I want to achieve. Another suggestion is to
run through rudiments on a pad while doing your relaxed breathing.
All drummers should warm up on a pad in order to get their hands loose,
and this is a great opportunity to get your playing technique prepared
while calming yourself down.
- Athletes stretch before competition. Performing on drums, being a
physical activity, should be afforded the same type of preparation.
Stretching your muscles is a perfect way to prepare yourself for playing.
It also contributes to keeping your muscles from tensing up as a result
- I canít stress enough how important it is to not get involved with your
own form of drug therapy in an effort to alleviate your anxiety. A few beers
might calm you down, but they can have a devastating effect on your
coordination. More importantly, alcohol affects your intellectual capacity to
offer the music the total expression of who you are. Drugs take you down the
long unsuccessful road of mediocrity. Sobriety increases your chances in an
already tough business where you need to use every advantage available to you.
- I hope that every drummer out there can come to terms with his or
her performance problems, no matter how serious or subtle. By overcoming
personal barriers, we all get that much closer to reaching our highest
potential. Good luck, have fun, and drum on!