Eliminating Anxiety And Promoting Adaptability In Shifting And Intonation

Molly Wise
March 24, 2023
min read
Playing Violin

Anxiety in performance is often our greatest enemy, even if our only audience member

is our teacher. Have you ever felt able to nail a difficult shift at home, but the next day in

your lesson you completely missed?

This is called “choking,” and it happens when our preparation fails us. In some cases,

we may not have prepared enough, but typically it is our anxious thoughts that get in the

way of our ability to focus and let our muscle memory do its thing. Our hard work spent

on proper posture, playing with a metronome, and drawing a straight bow may seem to

disappear under pressure, and this may be due to not properly preparing mentally.

Performances are stressful situations—we have to play pieces ali the way through,

without stopping, in front of people! Imagine your ideal state of mind when you're

performing: is your brain turned off, avoiding anxious thoughts, and hoping muscle

memory will carry you through? Or would you rather strive to feel mentally present, in

control, and able to express musically?

Remember, your brain is WAY smarter than your muscles! The following

exercises will help train your brain to be ready for a performance.

Warm Ups

Many of us play a scale and/or arpeggio to warm up, and then move on to our etudes or solo repertoire. What function does a warm up routine serve?

o Gently wake up the arms, hands, and fingers

o Make our brains more alert

o Provide a routine that gets us in the zone to focus

o Activate the ears to hear ourselves in detail

We often miss out on the components of warm-ups that awaken us mentally, but these

can be good things to focus on not only to be able to hear our mistakes and successes

more accurately in real time, but also to train our brains to be present and have agency

over the sounds that come out of our instruments.

Think of it this way: instead of wondering what sort of sound will come out of our

instruments when we play in our lesson, | believe we can train ourselves to have

agency and determine what we will sound like. And that begins with our warm-up


The attached exercises warm up the fingers and the ears at the same time, by forcing

us to hear the notes we are shifting to in our heads in order to play them in tune. The moment your brain and ears disengage, the intonation gets worse.


As previously stated, performances are stressful events. When we are practicing, we

are free to make mistakes, lose focus, repeat things over and over, take a bathroom

break, etc. But on stage, all of those luxuries more or less disappear. If our minds aren't

ready for that transition, then our muscles won't be, either.

In the days leading up to a performance or audition, this is the time to slightly back away

from rigorous physical preparation, and hone in on mental preparation. This can include:

  • Listening to recordings of your repertoire with your sheet music in hand
  • Visualizing yourself walking on stage and bowing before playing
  • Practicing a run-through without your violin/viola (singing the music either out

loud or in your head at performance tempo)

  • Creating a verbal mental script to tell yourself during anxiety-inducing passages
  • Practice in performance mode—no stopping!
  • Record your practice run-throughs and make notes of things to remember for

next time

  • Study your sheet music in the car on the way to the concert or audition

“Ride the Wave”

The act of playing our instrument remains the same whether we are

practicing or performing. Giving our minds the opportunity to take risks and

feel nervous in a safe environment (at home, practicing), will allow us to

utilize nervous energy to seize the moment and perform confidently!


Molly Wise
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