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How to Fight Audition Nerves

Auditions! They’re scary.

That deserved a line break. Maybe a crash of thunder or something. Ominous music. That kind of thing.

This drama is because auditions are basically the boogeyman of the music world – to quote Eric Whitacre, the rockstar of the choral world, “The terror of performing never goes away. Instead, you get very, very comfortable being terrified.” It’s true, honestly.

I still get butterflies in my stomach before most performances. I used to brag that I didn’t get stage fright, that I was over it, that the last time I had been afraid before a performance was my junior year of high school. But the thing is, stage fright is just adrenalin. It’s your fight-or-flight response, getting triggered in a big way. I still get nerves. Before my last recital, I cried when my teacher asked me how my day was going, and between every set I literally jumped up and down for about ten seconds to burn off excess energy. It’s all adrenalin – I’ve just mostly gotten used to how it feels. So with that in mind, let’s talk about:

Dealing with Nerves

Nerves! Stage fright! Fear of public speaking! Butterflies in the stomach! There are a thousand more ways to deal with stage fright than there are terms for it. However, there’s a threefold method I really like for when my own pre-performance nerves get bad.


Take a minute, wherever you are where your panic is getting to you, and focus as much as you can on your breath. You want to breathe in one long, slow breath. Focus on how you lungs and ribs expand as you bring in the air. Feel the stretch as it affects your abdominal muscles. Hold the breath for eight seconds, then slowly release the air on a hiss. Again, focus on your ribs contracting and the release of tension in your lungs. Let your own tension go with it.


Tense every muscle in your body. Every single one. Toes and stomach included. Then slowly, relax your muscles, starting at the top of your head and moving downward. Relax your eyes, your mouth, your neck. Keep going, unclench your hands and drop your shoulders. Relax all the way down to your toes – everything should be loose. A good shove would tip you over easily. Let your fear release with your muscles.

Follow through.

What are you afraid of? What is the worst thing that could happen if you bomb this performance? If you fail a jury, what’s the worst that can happen? You have to take an extra semester? You can handle that. You have to take a break from school? You can handle that. If you bomb an audition, you might have to go to a different school. You can handle that. Keep going, keep thinking of what might actually happen if the worst case scenario comes to pass, and pretty quickly you’ll realize that it’s not the monster apocalypse scenario you’ve built up in your head. You can handle it. You’re gonna be okay.

Other assorted tips:

  1. Lavender or chamomile tea are both good at calming nerves, plus having something warm in your system can help with the shakes. Lavender scents in general will calm you down as well. Avoid anything caffeinated, however – caffeine can make you jittery on a normal day, so it will only make things worse if you’re nervous.

  2. Breathing exercises can help you focus on your own body and calm the fight-or-flight response currently hijacking everything. Something simple, like breathing in for an eight count, holding for an eight count, then exhaling for a sixteen count, works for me really well. If you focus on the tension in your muscles, you can usually feel yourself relaxing after you’ve done this a couple times.

  3. Pacing is good for people who fidget. The disclaimers here are twofold though: one, don’t do this somewhere where it will drive people crazy or be noticed by the audience, and two, you have to be deliberate about it. Count out step, pay attention to how each step feels, and avoid erratic zig-zags and side-steps. The goal is to focus your mind on something other than the performance, which leads us too…

  4. Distracting yourself. You can bring a video game along, play some sudoku on your phone, or just talk quietly with someone who doesn’t mind. Again, the goal is to not be thinking about your performance. If that just isn’t working, try:

  5. Talking through the worst case scenario. So say you’re on stage – what’s the worst that can happen? Imagine the worst case possible situation (realistically!), then go to its logical conclusion. If you knock something over, oh well, lean over and pick it up and just keep going. If you crack or are out of tune, correct it, and keep going. People might talk about it for oh, three minutes, then they’ll get distracted. As much as it feels like the end of the world, most people have either A) seen someone do much, much worse, or B) weren’t really paying attention.

  6. Remembering performances of others piggybacks off the last point, actually. Think back to the performances you’ve seen. Now try to figure out why the moments you remembered stuck with you. Sure, there’s one or two mistakes, but I know my first memories were of someone being an incredible musician, and of being completely distracted. People are listening to you, sure, but most of the time, they aren’t really paying too much attention. It’s human nature.

  7. Reverse your thoughts. Okay, this one seems a little silly, but hear me out. If you’re thinking “holy crap I’m gonna suck so bad,” try telling yourself “holy crap I’m gonna do so well.” Whatever you’re most afraid of going wrong, reverse it – imagine what would happen if that thing went really really well! It’s a way to encourage yourself while pointing out how rarely you notice what you do well. You’d never think ‘I’m totally going to remember all of the second section!’ If you know it, you just find something else to be nervous about. That leads me to my final point, which is just:

  8. Be prepared. Nerves are, 80% of the time, just a sign that you don’t feel prepared enough. Are you confident in your memorization? In your musicianship? In your skill? If you’re performing, someone, somewhere, some time, decided that you were good enough to do this. They believe in you, and you went and practiced for this, presumably. As long as you’re prepared, you will do fine, I promise.

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