Psychological Inquisition

by Ashley Pelton

We often talk about performance anxiety and what mechanisms we can use to cope with it; breathing, feeling grounded, using natural weight to release into the string, etc. However, I would like to propose that instead of trying to mask the symptoms and considering techniques that don’t often work, we need to attack this problem from the other side. WHY are we feeling this way, and what thoughts are holding us back from playing to our true potential?

About a week ago, I gave my last recital at Rice. As for many people, the preparation was stressful, my nerves would kick in randomly, and I generally felt anxious in the week leading up to it. For myself, I find that there is only so much I can do to fight back against these natural reactions. Instead, I have to search deeper for why I am anxious and approach it from the place in which the anxiety is rooted.

If you feel that purely masking the anxiety symptoms (whether with beta blockers or different coping techniques) isn’t working for you or only helps temporarily, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions and dig a little deeper into your thoughts:

(In no specific order)
• What does this performance mean in the scheme of life? Am I worried this performance will define my playing for the rest of my life?
• Who am I looking for validation and assurance from, and why? (Professor, friends, peers, colleagues, etc.)
• Who am I trying to impress or prove something to, and why?
• What is the worst thing that will happen if I make mistakes or if everything doesn’t go as planned?
• What do I want to get out of the recital? What will make me feel accomplished?
• What are my goals for this specific performance and this preparation process?
• Are there specific people who make me nervous, and why?
• Who can I trust and confide in when I have these thoughts that hold me back from playing my best?
• Who can I trust to advocate for me and comfort me, but also give me constructive feedback for improvement?

The truth is that we are our own worst critics. The people who come to our recitals and performances want to support us, want to enjoy the music. We will always strive for more and keep trying to improve ourselves, but it is so important to only compare us to ourselves and evaluate our performances in the context of our own personal growth.

Focus on the celebration of your hard work and know that it is only just another stepping-stone to what is to come.

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