8 Steps to Anxiety and Stage Fright Free Cello Playing

The Dounis “Science of String Playing” is all about being loose and gaining confidence to play even the most technically demanding works. 

Recently, I read a post on violinist.com which touched on the stresses of different playing situations. I thought I would share the Dounis cure for “stage fright”. 

What causes performance anxiety or stage fright?

Dounis said the cause of performance anxiety is negative thoughts, usually about yourself. So he gave the following formula.  


Remember this formula as you read his remedy for performance anxiety.

The 8 Steps to Anxiety Free Cello Playing.

1) Develop a strong performance attitude when you practice.

 This means that you practice performing. Otherwise you are only reinforcing a practice mentality.

2) “Practice perform” under difficult circumstances every day.

Performances are rarely under ideal circumstances, therefore, play a performance first thing every morning, without any warmup or thought to correct anything.

3) Follow your mental singing like a conductor.

As I said before, all performance anxiety stems from negative thoughts. By focusing on all the details of your mental singing instead, there is no room for negative thoughts.

4) Study your “inner voice” or mental singing which is your musical mind.

Develop a detailed awareness of your singing. Since these are your musical impulses, everything will be positive and natural.

5) Visualize the motions of playing.

Practicing the fundamentals naturally develops a mental picture (or visualization) and sense memory of natural playing motions like gliding on the string, pulling in the curve,feeling the fingertips and so on (if you would like more information on the fundamentals you can read about some of them in free downloadable ebook, Ten of Greatest Secrets of String Playing or take our Easy Virtuoso Courses 1 and 2).

6) If you memorize your interpretation and have a clear mental picture and sense memory of all the natural movements, then the piece should just play itself.

You have loaded the gun, now pull the trigger.

7) Forgetting the audience.

Following your inner voice coupled with mastery of the fundamentals focuses only on positives. There is literally no room for negative thoughts to arise! No negative thoughts equals no anxiety. You may finish a performance, look up, only to be surprised an audience was there!

8) Deep Breathing to control Adrenaline surge and 'Cold Hands' syndrome.

Deep breathing exercises, commonly used in meditation will alleviate overly elevated stress levels caused by the "adrenaline surge" prior to performance. This "adrenaline surge", although uncomfortable doesn't have to hurt your performance. Studies in athletes have shown the best performances occur with elevated levels of stress, as long as the stress does not get beyond controllable levels. Deep breathing exercises can be a very effective means of control. 

A) "Bring in the good stuff, and breathe out the bad stuff!" Take deep slow breaths. Inhale feeling a positive, blissful energy descending from above the head, down the front of the body all the way to the toes. Then exhale from the heart in all directions to infinity. You can feel as though the exhaled breath is releasing all negativity and sense of limitation. It can also feel as though the entire surface of the skin.

B) A breathing exercise for the "Cure of Cold Hands" is after an deep inhalation, exhale as if there was a resistance like blowing up a tight balloon or exhaling into a garden hose. Then during the exhale imagine the veins and arteries of the hands and fingers opening up and the blood is flowing freely. Generally after 3 or so of these breaths the hands and fingers will feel warm again.

So to sum it up…

Negative thoughts cause performance anxiety. No negative thoughts = no anxiety.

The trick is to become completely concentrated in positive actions.

Following your own mental singing and triggering the visualization of your natural movements is completely positive. Since you are utterly absorbed in this, there is no room for negative thoughts. Then keep your stress levels controlled and eliminate "cold hands" syndrome via breathing exercises. 

You literally forget your anxiety and become an effective performer.