The stage door creaks open and you step through it. A rush of frigid air smacks you in the face, but you stride into it, gritting your teeth.
You keep telling yourself, ‘Just get through this. It will all be over soon.’
As you dutifully walk to center stage, a hush falls over the surprisingly large audience. The stage lights momentarily blind you. And when your eyesight returns you immediately lock eyes with your biggest enemy.
Your brain screams, ‘Start playing — then you can go home!’ So you close your eyes and start playing.
Within moments you know this isn’t going to be your best performance.
You start keeping a checklist of things that aren’t working, things that you need to fix, things that audience members are definitely cringing over.
Soon you’re shaking. Every movement is rushed, your brain is fried, and you would give anything just to disappear.
But you can’t.
Mercifully, you reach the end of the performance and you take a tentative bow, forcing a smile for the audience. Surely they are only clapping out of pity.
Just reading that was terrible, right?
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of imagining the worst before a performance. We are surprisingly good at being creative when imagining the bad things that could happen to us.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Visualize your success
Ask professional athletes how they prepare for competition and you’ll start to notice a trend.
Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer of all time:
Before the (Olympic) trials I was doing a lot of relaxing exercises and visualization. And I think that helped me to get a feel of what it was gonna be like when I got there. I knew that I had done everything that I could to get ready for that meet, both physically and mentally.
Hank Aaron, legendary baseball player:
You visualize [pitches]. You see it in your head; you think it…I used to play every pitcher in my mind before I went to the ballpark. I started getting ready for every game the moment I woke up.
Emmitt Smith, three-time Super Bowl Champion with the Dallas Cowboys:
Dreaming means ‘rehearsing’ what you see, playing it over and over in your mind until it becomes as real to you as your life right now.
They aren’t simply imagining winning. They’re visualizing how it’s going to happen.
In a way, they are seeing the future.
Just like professional athletes, musicians can use visualization to build confidence and prime themselves for inspirational performances.
Unlock your potential and start performing like a pro. The following guide walks you through a simple-but-powerful visualization that you can start using today.
In this visualization, you will experience your success in high definition.
You don’t need to visualize every single face in the audience, but the more detail you can visualize now, the more you will already feel like you’ve succeeded when the big moment comes.
1. Pick an upcoming goal performance.
Select a future performance that represents a major goal in your musical life. Maybe it’s a solo recital, a jury, an orchestra or chamber music concert, a competition, or an audition.
2. Visualize your pre-performance routine.
What do you like to do in the hours leading up to performances? Begin with the moment you wake up the day of a performance. You feel excited and maybe a little nervous. Imagine taking your instrument out of the case. Visualize your warm up routine and any other pre-performance habits.
3. Visualize the space.
What does the performance space look like? If you have been in the venue before, visualize what it looks like from a performer’s standpoint. If you’ve never seen the space, you may be able to find photos online. If not, it can work just as well to make an educated guess on what the performance space will look like. How big is the stage? Does the hall seat 1,000 or 100? You don’t have to get it exactly right for this step to be helpful – just make an educated guess.
4. Visualize taking the stage.
Remember the first visualization at the beginning of this post? Do the opposite of that.
Visualize standing backstage and feeling centered. Excited, but focused.
Imagine taking the stage with confidence. Observe the quality of the bright stage lights, see the audience, hear them applaud you as you walk out. Then hear the hush as they excitedly prepare for you to play.
Visualize feeling centered on stage. Take your time and breathe deeply, focusing your mind on the music you are about to play.
5. Visualize your performance in High Definition.
Take a deep breath and feel yourself preparing to play. Experience how it feels to start performing. Hear the opening of your piece with convincing shape and color, beautiful tone, and excellent intonation.
After visualizing the first minute or two, you may choose to continue visualizing the remainder of the performance, or you may skip to the end.
6. Visualize raucous applause.
Imagine playing the last few measures of your performance. As soon as you stop, the audience erupts with applause.
You can’t help but smile, grateful for your audience’s enthusiasm. You feel content, happy, and thankful to have successfully communicated with your audience.
If you get de-railed by negative thoughts during your visualization, don’t worry. Just rewind your visualization a bit and begin again. With practice, you will be able to navigate away from negative thoughts before they occur.
Add visualization to your daily routine
Like so many things, visualization is most powerful when practiced regularly over a period of time.
Take 5 minutes each day before you practice or teach to visualize a major upcoming event. If your biggest upcoming events are teaching related, you can visualize a successful master class, conference presentation, or rehearsal in the same way that you visualize a performance.
Observe how you adjust your visualization practice to best suit your needs and goals. By the time your big performance comes, you will have experienced an optimal version of that performance so many times that giving a successful performance will feel like a habit.
What’s your biggest upcoming performance? Let’s chat about it in the comments!
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