From managing a case of the shakes to improving concentration, flutists spend countless hours learning to perform their best when it really matters. Players on the competition or audition circuit often make major lifestyle changes or take medications to ensure that they can execute passages precisely under stress. While performance anxiety affects players of all levels, not everyone wishes to spend considerable time and resources addressing their nerves. Thankfully, some of the most effective exercises for achieving better performances are easy to do, require no special equipment or training, and can all be done in a few minutes or less.
1. Relax and Center: The increased excitement of a performance can lead to tight muscles and impaired technique. Keep yourself loose with the following exercise. Before a performance, sit in a comfortable upright position, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Begin by tightening all of muscles of the scalp and face for a few seconds. Take a deep breath in, and then exhale and release all of the tension. Continue with the neck and shoulders, the left arm, the right arm, and so on, until you have tensed and released all the muscles of the body. Next, imagine a small, glowing sphere forming inside your body approximately 2 inches below your navel. With each breath, the sphere expands until it fills the entire room. Spend a few minutes breathing deeply in this state. If tension or shaking creeps in during a performance, release your muscles and return your attention to the spot below your navel.
2. Focus: Distractions are around us every day, but once adrenaline kicks in, something as small as a chair creaking can sound like an earthquake. Practicing concentration exercises on a regular basis is an excellent way to ensure that you can remain focused through even the most distracting environments. One wellknown exercise is to choose an object and practice focusing on that object for a set amount of time. As your attention drifts, simply refocus on the object. The most important aspect of this exercise is not to maintain perfect concentration, but to be able to consistently return your concentration to the object without reaction or judgment. Begin with three or four minute sessions and gradually increase until you can focus for the length of the pieces you need to play. Alternately, you can take a more traditional meditative approach and keep your attention on your breath. This exercise is simple, but it can be very difficult, so be patient as you learn.
3. Keep it in Perspective: Finally, remember to keep the importance of a performance in perspective. To remind yourself that you are more than a single performance, try the “five finger exercise.” Press your thumb and index finger together and think of a time when you felt safe and loved. Next, press your thumb and middle finger together and think of a time when you did something good for someone else. Press your thumb and ring finger together and imagine a time when you were successful (it doesn’t have to be musical). Finally, press your thumb and pinky together and imagine a time that you felt happy for any reason. This exercise is as potent as it is easy, particularly when done regularly.
Spending as little as 5 minutes on each of these exercises during your daily practice sessions and before performing can go a long way towards reaching your potential on stage.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2014 edition of the Texas Flute Society Newsletter http://www.texasflutesociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/2014_Winter.pdf