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Is it true in your experience that performance anxiety can be mitigated when pieces are memorized and no score reading is involved? I found that having to look at a score makes me more inclined to escape from my bubble, become aware of the audience, and stumble. I also get the impression that an anonymous audience is less bothering than acquaintances, whose reactions to my playing is a lingering subconscious concern. Any advice?


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For me it was the opposite. Reading from the score helped. I was focused on reading music, as opposed to thinking about how everything might fall apart ;0


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For me a piece is not really memorized until I can close my eyes and visualize playing it in my mind starting anywhere. When a piece is that secure then nothing can make it fall apart. Most of my pieces are not that solid but I don't perform very often.

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I think almost all pianists find playing with the score far less stressful than playing from memory. Isn't one of the biggest factors in performance anxiety the fear of a memory lapse? Using the score eliminates this problem.

Of course, one must be reasonably adept at looking back and forth between the score and the keyboard, but this can usually be learned with practice and time. When playing with the score one also must become adept at page turning, use a page turner, or use one of those Ipads(?) that allows one to turn the page with just the touch of a finger.

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This is definitely very individual.

For me, playing from the score helps my performance anxiety, because like bSharp, I can focus on the score, which distracts me from the audience, and also knowing I have the score there, I don't have to worry about memory wobbles.

As for anonymous audiences versus known ones, it's been a long time since I played with anyone I didn't know present (thanks, covid).

I used to be more nervous playing for other musicians, but I've since come to feel that my fellow musicians are actually the most friendly audience, because they can empathize with me.

But again, not everyone feels the same way.

Vikendios, are you looking for ways to overcome performance anxiety?

I would recommend these books:

The Inner Game of Music

The Art of Practicing

A Soprano On Her Head

I had a very bad experience with performance anxiety many years ago, at a recital which several teachers organized together, so there were many more performers and a much larger audience. In a word, I crashed and burned most horribly.

The three books above helped me a great deal, and while the degree to which I feel nervous when playing still rises and falls, I am, if nothing else, always able to enjoy playing, which is wonderful.

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I generally play with the score open on the music desk, but I can’t really say I am still reading from it. It is just there as a crutch. The only thing that helps my performance anxiety is to really think about the music: what do I love? What do I want the audience to love? If I focus on the sound and the message, the harmonies, etc. the performance is no longer about me and my foibles— it is about a wonderful piece of music I want to share.

Am I always successful in diverting my attention away from me to only the music? No, but I’m working on it and getting better at it. I wish I had more opportunities to perform.


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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Isn't one of the biggest factors in performance anxiety the fear of a memory lapse?
To reformulate: in my case, I know for sure that memory necessarily makes lapses; and relying on it means playing roulette. So the solution is very easy; just have to face the truth!

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Originally Posted by Vikendios
Is it true in your experience that performance anxiety can be mitigated when pieces are memorized and no score reading is involved? I found that having to look at a score makes me more inclined to escape from my bubble, become aware of the audience, and stumble.

My experience - as well as that of all other performers I know - is that performing from memory is much more stressful, especially if you are already prone to stage fright. In fact, this is one of the reasons why some concert pianists only play chamber music - because everyone expects chamber musicians to play from the score.

For me too, the score is like a 'security blanket' (à la Linus wink ), shielding me from something possibly frightful. I gave a few lecture-recitals some years ago, and felt the 'comfort' of the stack of music scores and scripts on the table by my side, as well as the score I'm reading from on the music rest......and of course no fear of memory lapses. (Actually, at that time, there was no way I could have performed from memory in front of an audience.)

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I also get the impression that an anonymous audience is less bothering than acquaintances, whose reactions to my playing is a lingering subconscious concern.
I personally haven't noticed much difference - more like I'm not so prone to it if I'm not the centre of attention, e.g. if I was playing on a public piano in a train station or airport (which I've done quite a few times), and people were either walking past or sitting down or stopping to listen - which doesn't bother me much, because I must be playing OK (or they wouldn't stop or sit down to listen, right? wink ).


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Thanks for the tips. I kind of figure out that when reading from the score I am probably guilty of trying to expose audiences to new pieces that I have not polished well enough. The pieces that I am really comfortable with I tend to have memorized, hence the added confidence. But I will keep the score on the pulpit as a memory crutch!


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Originally Posted by Nahum
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Isn't one of the biggest factors in performance anxiety the fear of a memory lapse?
To reformulate: in my case, I know for sure that memory necessarily makes lapses; and relying on it means playing roulette. So the solution is very easy; just have to face the truth!
Why not just use the score and not play roulette?

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I can definitely see why having the sheet music in front of you can be more stressful. If you have a piece securely memorized, then it creates an additional temptation and can make you second guess your memory while you are playing. I suppose it depends on the kind of memory you have for the pieces. I also think playing from memory can free up your cognitive resources, to be able to listen to the sound better or think more about the structure of the piece.

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Originally Posted by Vikendios
Thanks for the tips. I kind of figure out that when reading from the score I am probably guilty of trying to expose audiences to new pieces that I have not polished well enough. The pieces that I am really comfortable with I tend to have memorized, hence the added confidence. But I will keep the score on the pulpit as a memory crutch!
Do professional orchestra players, chamber musicians, and those playing piano duets/4 hand music routinely play pieces they have not learned very well? They all play from the score as did all pianists before Liszt and a few others popularized playing without the score.

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Originally Posted by dogperson
I generally play with the score open on the music desk, but I can’t really say I am still reading from it. It is just there as a crutch. The only thing that helps my performance anxiety is to really think about the music: what do I love? What do I want the audience to love? If I focus on the sound and the message, the harmonies, etc. the performance is no longer about me and my foibles— it is about a wonderful piece of music I want to share.
Good advice.

When I play from the score(100% of the time for the last 60+ years) I am not reading every note either. The idea of making the performance about wanting the audience to love the music and not about oneself is an important one which is one reason why it's best to play music one really loves.

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I find memorisation difficult - it seems a more worthwhile use of my time to get the score into my fingers, rather than into my brain. Therefore, I do not have this dilemma!

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In certain situations you're require to play from memory but in my case have less to do with stage fright. In my school days I learned violin and the teacher would organize 2 end-of semester concerts. We played all sorts of orchestral arrangements that span 2 or more pages. In between there may be 10 or more bars of rests before the violin comes in again. And there are notes that repeat over & over for many bars. I'm not going to memorize playing 10 As in repetition followed by 15 bars of rests. I'd memorize the technical (fast) sections that are not easy to read 1 note at a time.

The last time I played anything from memory was with a student Strings ensemble with 2 violins, viola & cello playing a Trio on 3 pages by James Hook. That was 3 years ago and don't think stage freight was an issue after playing for a few decades. I practiced the piece every week for a month so I could do away with the music. I had the music on the stand for security but ended up playing 3/4 of the piece to the end from memory because my eyes wondered off the page and got lost. Instead of trying to find my spot, I did the rest from memory. Another occasion I was playing a movement of the Bizet Camen Suite and the stand got knocked over. I kept on playing to the end of the movement before picking up the music as if nothing had happened. Accidents do happen.

If you're in Suzuki, you're required to learn pieces by ear (memorize) in Y1 before learning to read. As a beginner you learn "Twinkle Variations", " Light Row" and other easy pieces in 1 page so shouldn't be an issue to memorize. In the 1980s there was a violin teacher in Harlem NYC who got her students to memorize the Bach Double Concerto in Dm for the fundraising concert at Carnegie Hall with famous violinists including Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman & Mark O'Connor. They're not playing in a school auditorium but in a famous concert hall so there was the added pressure to play well.


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