How to take the Nerves out of Nervous
You’re sat in the waiting room. Your mouth’s gone dry. Legs are shaking. Palms are sweating. You feel sick and dizzy, your mind has gone blank. It can only be… time for your next music exam.
But it doesn’t have to be a horrible experience.
It can be easier said than done *but* nerves can be overcome… or at least they can become less of an issue.
No matter your age or level experience, nerves can really turn an exam into a really terrifying experience. But they don’t need to ruin it completely. I’m not saying you’ll ever really love your exams, and indeed if you really hate them I would ask whether they’re worth putting yourself through the stress. For why you shouldn’t do an exam maybe read this post
But if you’re determined to do exams but the nerves are something you want to tackle then read on!
There’s three things you need to remember about nerves:
Everyone feels nervous (yes they do – it’s not just you!)
Examiners know the difference between nervous mistakes and what’s just wrong
The worst thing that will happen is that you’ll feel nervous
For me I find exams a really nervous time – even when I’m just accompanying. But I do have quite a nervous disposition, so I find supermarkets at Christmas a stressful situation!
Being prepared can really help anxiety on the day. Don’t leave your scales to the last minute. Don’t just practice the aural with your teacher (find extra examples on youtube etc) and don’t neglect your sight-reading practice either.
Also embrace the fact that it won’t be perfect. You won’t get full marks in everything – it’s just not possible. There will always be more you could do on dynamics and articulation, the intonation can often be stronger… so don’t put the pressure on doing amazingly well. Just do your best – and that will be more than good enough.
There will always be an annoying bar or phrase, or even piece, that’s not quite as good as the rest. That’s fine. Over prepare on everything else and relax on the bit you’re not sure about – you might just surprise yourself.
Deep breaths. Slow and steady. Breathing really can help calm nerves, or at least help your body regain a bit of control. Breathing too fast will only raise your level of anxiety, so do try slower breaths and take a moment before you start to play your first piece and in between the sections on your exam.
Embrace the nervous feeling.
The worst that will happen is that you will feel nervous.
You might feel sick, but you won’t be. You might be dizzy, but you won’t faint. Small sips of water will help your dry mouth, your hands won’t slip off the keys – but maybe just wipe them before you go in.
It’s all just part of a performance. I would be more nervous if I wasn’t nervous (as weird as that sounds).
And you know what – the exam will be over in the blink of an eye and you will be wondering what you were so nervous about in the first place.