This article is written by Virtual Piano Academy Founder + Head Teacher, Amy Jørgensen. July 2020.

Do AMEB piano exams and receive premium piano lessons online at Virtual Piano Academy

Do you freak-out when performing in front of an audience?

Most people (including myself) are not naturally comfortable performing in front of people. If you fly like a bird when on stage, then lucky you!

Performance Nerves on Piano

I've always struggled with nerves when on stage. I can remember cold winter days sitting backstage, waiting for my turn to play my Beethoven Sonata in front of the audience and all the judges at the annual Eisteddfods. My guts would twist and turn and I can remember feeling like I'd rather be anywhere else. I'd look over at my fellow competitors and they seemed totally cool, calm and collected. But were they? Most musicians struggle with nerves at some point. Here are our top 5 tips for helping you feel more comfortable when on stage.

1. Make Friends With Your Nerves

Many years after my cold winter Eisteddfod days (when studying piano at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music), I spoke with my piano teacher about my nerves. He said, "Amy, your nerves are always going to be there, so make friends with them". This changed everything. Instead of trying to get rid of my nerves, I simply had to acknowledge them, and let them know I was boss. Don't freak out when your nerves suddenly arrive at your gig and you feel that horrible twist in your guts. Simply tell them "Oh hey...thanks for coming friends. You guys can sit right up the back. Thanks".

Performance nerves and anxiety - piano performance

2. Practice Being On Stage

Whether you sing or play an instrument, practice is the key to being relaxed when on stage. The more familiar you are with what you are performing, the less anxiety you will have about messing up.

This is why it's so important to set goals in your practice. You should always walk away from a practice session feeling like you can do something you couldn't do before.

I make all my piano students perform their music in front of an audience as regularly as they can, even if this is a virtual audience. If someone comes to the house (except for maybe the postman, unless he's keen) play for them. Set up some empty chairs and perform your setlist to this imaginary audience. Force yourself to get nervous and to play with adrenalin running through your veins. Hit record on your smartphone and play through your pieces. Knowing that something is capturing your performance is often enough to get me nervous...and knowing it might be posted to Instagram or YouTube is enough to get most people feeling those nerves!

Performance nerves

Do AMEB piano exams and receive premium piano lessons online at Virtual Piano Academy

Want to learn piano with us? Our students participate in quarterly virtual concerts and ongoing Piano Parades to ensure they get HEAPS of practice performing!

3. Don't Go Back to the Start When You Make a Mistake

Piano teachers go on about this on all the time, and for good reason. I've lost track of how many times I've told my piano students to keep going if they make a mistake.

If you mess up in the middle, or any place in your piece, don't back up and repeat the offending passage. Keep going. Chances are your audience didn't even notice. I'd bet my last dollar on the fact that every artist you go to see play live, stuffs up at some point in their show. You just don't know about it, because they kept going.

It's a great idea to practice your pieces, or your songs, from random spots. We often get used to only performing it through from start to finish. Try picking it up from bar 15, then bar 23, then bar 39....right in the middle of a random section. This way, if you do mess up, you'll feel more comfortable being able to pick it up from anywhere, without the need for going right back to the start!

performance nerves

4. See the Big Picture

Try not to be critical of your technical skill when you're up on stage. This is not the time to nit-pick your abilities or critique how well you played that fast staccato passage. That's for the practice room.

When you're up on stage, focus more on your overall performance. How does it sound as a whole? Is the emotion coming through? If you're a pianist and you're worried about your fingering, your attention is far too focused on something that should have been sorted in your practice. If you have to focus on something, I find it useful to concentrate on dynamics. These are the louds and softs. Focusing on dynamics will automatically make your music more expressive, it takes your focus off something that is technical, and gives your nerves a distraction.

overcoming performance nerves on piano

5. Have Fun

No one wants to see a stressed-out performer on stage. No matter how much you've prepared for this moment on stage, or what's happened in your day...when you step up onto the stage, you need to let go. Be in the moment. Have fun. Enjoy it.

Take 10 really deep breaths before you start playing and tell yourself that no matter what happens up there on stage - you, your audience and your nerves are going to have a great time!

piano performance nerves


Getting Used to Playing With Nerves

1. Set up your smartphone camera and record yourself playing one of your pieces. Do it in one take, with no editing. Our students at Virtual Piano Academy do this ALL the time, and it helps enormously!

2. Write down the things that went well, and the things that suffered under nerves.

3. The moments that suffered under nerves are the bits that need more practice!

4. Repeat this process until you can play through your piece confidently, despite feeling nervous!

Do AMEB piano exams and receive premium piano lessons online at Virtual Piano Academy

Want to learn piano with us? Our students participate in quarterly virtual concerts and ongoing Piano Parades to ensure they get HEAPS of practice performing!

Want to Stay in Touch With Virtual Piano Academy?

We send out a monthly newsletter full of piano tips, helpful articles and updates.

Simply send us a quick message using the pop-up chat window in the bottom right corner of your screen, letting us know you'd like to be added to our mailing list. Remember to include your name and email address, and we'll then personally add you to our list 😀

Connect With Us On Social Media

Did this answer your question?