In high school, my Math grades were the WORST. I could barely pass my classes. I can’t explain why, but for some reason I panicked every time I had to do my Math homework. Of course, that didn’t help things. If someone tried to help me understand something I couldn’t really listen. It was like they were speaking a foreign language and I all I could think of was “OMG OMG OMG. I don’t get it and I will never go to college and no one will ever love me and I’m going to die alone.” Ok, that last part is a bit of an exaggeration, but I wanted you to know how extreme my feelings were.
Call it projecting, but sometimes I see this kind of anxiety in my students. They sit in front of the sheet music and panic so much that they can’t really see the notes. And the panic makes them want to quit. But I don’t want them to quit. And I don’t want YOU to quit if you know what this feels like. If you can relate, here are my tips for you.
Take it VERY slowly. Ain’t no shame in going slow! Focus on one concept and don’t move on until you master it. Work on playing scales with both hands. Or if that’s too tricky, focus on sight reading easy sheet music that utilizes only one hand at a time. If you’re higher than beginner’s level (and yes, you can still have piano anxiety at the intermediate levels), then just focus on one song at a time or one difficult section at a time. The point is to take it S L O W.
Play Familiar Pieces. When you successfully learn a song, relish in it. Play it often, even when you’re working on new stuff. Memorize them and play them for others. Hearing what you are able to play can remind you that you eventually get it!
Practice Everyday. This is obvious, yes, but it’s good to remember this. If you work toward something every single day, you will eventually get it!
Speak Kindly to yourself. Try to become your own cheerleader. I know it sounds silly, but most of the time, the critical voices in our heads actually belong to other people. You make speak harsh internal words because your mom used to nag you a lot or a grumpy kid at school used to pick on you. Sometime those people stay inside our heads until we replace them with kinder voices. When your hands shake at a performance, tell yourself to relax and focus. Cheer yourself on and keep a mental list of all the times you overcame nervousness and did something challenging.
When I got to college (yes I did get there, despite my high school fears), I had to take 2 remedial Math classes before being allowed into College Algebra. The anxiety was still there every time I opened my Math book, but I told myself if I worked on it every day, I would eventually get it. And I did! I made A’s and B’s in all of my Math classes (a total of 4). I still get a little anxious when I have to calculate something in front of others, but deep down inside, I know I am capable. And so are you. If anxiety or nervousness or perfectionism keeps you from making piano a part of your life, just sit down, take a deep breath, and follow the advice above.
Questions? Ask them in the comments section below. If you know anyone else who worries at the piano, please share this post with them.
Now stop freaking out and GO PLAY PIANO!