People who perform in front of audiences can have very special challenges. For some, it’s just a few jitters but for others, stage fright can be debilitating – or at least harrowing.

There is plenty to worry about: dry mouth and shaking hands to begin with. And what about that difficult passage, what about forgetting entire passages, what about hitting the high notes? And what happens if we have to deal with all of these worries in the context of an important audition or if we’re playing or singing before musicians with intimidating credentials?

When stage fright hits, fear grips our muscles, tendons and ligaments – and music cannot flow when the body tightens. What’s driving that physical response and fueling that fear are our anxious thoughts and inner beliefs, many of which we don’t even know we have, since over 95 percent of our thoughts are unconscious.

We remember past failures (“I know I’ll blow this again”) and wonder about our talents and capabilities; in the middle of a song or a sonata, we realize that we may be rejected; or we may never get to the stage because we believe we have to be flawless and impress others in order to even perform.

And have I mentioned the fear of success?

All in all, this can be a lot to deal with.

Music teachers carefully prepare their students musically. Most have heard their students perform seamlessly in practice sessions, yet continue to watch some of them botch their performances because of anxieties they feel powerless to conquer.

A number of the most gifted musicians in the world regularly experience bouts of stage fright but this is little comfort to students who doubt their own abilities. Some stop giving recitals and some quit because the anxiety has gotten the best of them. The instructor’s job is to help them learn the music, but how do they help them with their nerves?

One remedy that is becoming widely used among performers is EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique. EFT was introduced in 1995 by Gary Craig, a Stanford engineering graduate who was struck by psychological research showing that, despite treatment, people with performance anxiety did not show significant improvement.

Based on the ancient principles of acupuncture, EFT is a simple tapping procedure that gently realigns the body’s energy system. The process is easy to learn, can be used over a limitless array of situations and can be done anywhere.

Conventional approaches tend to focus on one’s memories or other mental processes only, ignoring the body’s energy system. The premise behind EFT is that the cause of all negative emotions is a disruption in the body’s energy system. When a pianist, for example, entertains thoughts such as “I don’t know this song well enough” or “I never do well in the recitals that really count” – these negative thoughts start a series of reactions. Chemicals from the hypothalamus flood into the cells and are experienced as emotions- fear, anxiety, and the like. The emotions create systemic muscular tension that interferes with the pianist’s ability to smoothly control the ebb and flow of his fingerings, or the singer to produce optimal sound. Our conscious and unconscious thoughts create a powerful biological dynamic, determining whether a performance soars, is “good enough” or just plain goes south. This is easy to see in symptoms like “butterflies” in the stomach, sweaty palms, the throat becoming dry, fingers getting tense and anxiety creating memory lapses. There are a myriad of physical results from limiting beliefs that powerfully affect the beauty and strength of one’s sound.

With EFT treatment, we pair focusing on the negative thought while tapping on basic acupuncture points on the face, collarbone, under arm, and wrists. The stimulation is paired with having the client mentally engage a troubling feeling, thought, or image. When a person thinks about a troubling situation (“I don’t know this song well enough”) brain-imaging techniques reveal that signals are sent to various regions of the brain. The signals sent by tapping energy points on the skin, and the signals generated by engaging a mental problem, interact in a manner that reduces and eliminates symptoms.

Client “Sally” had debilitating performance anxiety as a vocalist. She had a beautiful instrument, but was too nervous to use it joyfully in front of others. Often when performing her knees shook, and her voice and pitch followed. Music teachers see this all too many times. Often the most talented students are the ones who will not perform in recitals, or if they do, hours are spent just trying to deal with their anxiety, rather than focusing on developing the beauty, strength and control of their voice.

Here’s an example to illustrate some of the aspects a performer can tap on using Emotional Freedom Technique weeks ahead and/or right before a performance:
I have my clients tell me the various and many fears that immediately surface, along with any concerns that could possibly arise, when they think of their upcoming performance and the preparation for it. We make a thorough list and stay open to whatever else arises as we do the EFT. Sally’s particular performance was singing The Star Spangled Banner at an NBA exhibition game in a large sports arena.

“What if . . .”

1. I forget the words

2. The microphone malfunctions

3. I get anxious because I’m all alone in the middle of a huge event center

4. I get anxious because this will be my biggest “audience” ever

5. I go sharp on the high notes

6. It’s not beautiful

We proceeded to use the EFT tapping method on each individual aspect. When the worry about forgetting the words subsided, we moved on to clear the next worry. With the combination of acknowledging these fears exist, acceptance of herself having them, along with the stimulation of the various acupuncture points, each fear rapidly was eliminated from the body and mind. Even when the microphone didn’t work at the beginning, her nervous system remained calm and she started again, not missing a beat.

In preparation for her New York City audition, another client, a very talented opera singer, used EFT to clear the paralysis that had always kept her from practicing before important auditions. After applying EFT she awoke to a day of easy and productive practicing. “I wanted to sing! … The act of practicing felt natural and easy.”

A little tweaking of our thought processes makes a vast difference in how we bring our music out into the world. Stage fright can be overcome, and done so effectively with Emotional Freedom Technique. Let the music begin!

Author's Bio: 

Bernadette Hunter, MS, LPC, is owner of Powerful Performance: Master the Inner Game. She works with athletes, performing artists, and business professionals, helping them clear hidden blocking beliefs that prevent them from reaching their highest and most powerful performances. Bernadette utilizes advanced levels of EFT ( Emotional Freedom Technique) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to allow successful people to optimize their potential. She is a licensed professional counselor, performance specialist, experienced vocalist and former competitive athlete. Bernadette has maintained a private practice for 22 years and works with clients in her office, on site, and by phone in the United States and Europe. For more information on learning how to use the EFT process to reduce performance anxiety, please visit Bernadette also offers other classes on weight loss and stress reduction which can be found on her website. If your group would like a free demonstration of the EFT method, please call 303-300-6733.