Many harpists (and musicians) have performance anxiety or stage fright. In fact, we work with harpists to give them ideas about how to reduce or alleviate their nerves performing in front of others. Of course, playing for hospital and hospice patients is not really a “performance” and is perhaps less stressful than playing in front of a larger group. But, it can still be nerve-wracking because of the uncertainty. One thing that definitely helps is to focus on the healing component, not on the performance or playing everything perfectly.

Before I share several general tips, I want to comment on my personal “performance anxiety” journey. I grew up playing the organ for church so had to perform regularly … and I would get SO nervous! I was miserable every week and honestly, I’d drive my family crazy, too. Then, when I studied music in college, I had to perform regular piano recitals … and I had a similar experience with nerves. So, this issue was something I have had to work on A LOT over the years.

It wasn’t until I started playing the harp that my nerves started to subside. I believe it was two things that helped:  1) the harp itself and a peaceful, soothing instrument, and 2) feeling very passionate about harp therapy and sharing it with others. As my own nerves lessened, I began to make notes about several “tricks” that can be used as tips for other harpists and musicians:

  1. Ground. Center. Move into your core. Breathe.
  2. Especially since CoVid, when many of us haven’t played as much or as regularly, play for one or two people at a time and increase your audience size slowly.
  3. Playing in front of other musicians or harpists is very challenging. It helps to keep in mind what the professors told us in music school:  the most critical audience will be musicians; the most sympathetic audience will be musicians. I prefer to focus on the latter!
  4. Playing every day (or frequently) and “moving deeper” into the instrument helps us know it better/more intimately to help alleviate nerves.
  5. Play! Play around, experiment and explore. This will help give you confidence.
  6. After you’ve learned a song, play it once in public. This helps build confidence, too.
  7. Play from your heart, not your nerves. In other words, focus on your heart and compassion. This is important and helps a lot!
  8. Find your musical style. You are unique; your style of playing is unique. Own it and have fun with your unique musical expression.
  9. If you want to help create peace in the world, take a couple breaths, bring peace into your heart and then play from this peaceful place. (You can substitute whatever feeling you are wishing to contribute – love, joy, etc.)
  10. There are no mistakes. Even if you play a “wrong” note, perhaps someone needed to hear the dissonance. You are also modeling your imperfection and helping your audience realize, “She’s not perfect and neither am I.”

So, hopefully these are some useful ideas for harpists and other musicians to help reduce performance anxiety or stage fright. If you have other thoughts, we’d love to hear from you!