Everyone already knows that the best way to prepare for a gig would be to practice as much as possible, until you are able to perform without much conscious thought. Although this is essential to giving a good performance, it’s actually not the determining factor for how well you’re going to perform. At the moment of truth when you’re under the spotlight, it’s all about how well you can handle pressure. Pressure is so powerful that it can alter our behavior in ways we may not even be aware of. It can sabotage our best intentions for a good show.
Pressure is more than stress. When performing in front of people, the outcome is often important to us. This is because we may feel we are being judged based on our performance. A bad performance may also threaten our success. For example, the venue owner may decide they no longer wish to make use of our services after viewing a poor performance. In addition to that, we are faced with the pressure of remembering our (possibly complex) parts, and the possibility of missing a queue.
We’ve all watched musicians or bands that seem to thrive under pressure. A classical guitarist that never misses a note, or a powerful rock band that performs flawlessly in front of half a million people. It’s very easy to succumb to the myth that performing well in these conditions is the norm, and you too should be able to rise to the occasion. Although these performers may appear to be pressure proof, in reality they are far from it.
A vast amount of research has been conducted, particularly in the sporting field, proving that people frequently perform far below average during pressure moments. Pressure compromises our psychomotor performance skills, which is an important ingredient to performing well on any given instrument. It also impacts our memory, decision-making, judgement and attention. These are all important tools that make us successful during a performance. Pressure is not only detrimental to the way we behave on stage. This particular study found that when people are faced with the pressure of a deadline, they work quicker at the expense of sacrificing quality.
If you are unable to perform to your expectations, negative feelings like shame and embarrassment may follow. This is purely a result of holding on to the myth that performing well under pressure is the norm, which in reality is completely unrealistic. Holding on to this belief actually impairs your ability to perform live, and makes your next encounter with pressure even more difficult.
Those that appear to thrive under pressure are in no way superhuman. They are just (or have become) very efficient at managing pressure. There are a number of natural tools at our disposal to counteract the many negative effects of pressure, which include your physiological responses, thoughts, body movements, voice and senses. People who appear less susceptible to pressure are just very effective at leveraging these tools.
In future posts we will be exploring different ways to manage pressure and ensure optimal performance. Make sure you’re subscribed so that you don’t miss out!