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Nerves getting the better of Pipers and Drummers?

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  • Nerves getting the better of Pipers and Drummers?

    I recently attended a National Championship where performers battled it out individually to win the adjudicators favour. The pressure was certainly evident at the competition site - a small auditorium with stage lighting, trophies in full view of the competitors, judges sitting very close to the performers and a large audience.

    The possibility of performers letting the performance environment affect their confidence was certainly evident. I sat back and took mental notes on the performers before, during and after their performances. It was certainly interesting to identify the physical reactions to the pressure. Some performers were noticeably flustered, whilst others were fully relaxed and at ease.

    It is important to realise though, that the performance environment was 100% the same for every competitor. The temperature was controlled, the judges were the same, the requirements were the same and the audience didn't change. What was different though, was the perception of the surroundings that each individual created.

    Some of the competitors looked like deer in headlights once they stepped on stage, this came across in their performance with a noticeable lack of composure. The most relaxed competitors were smooth and visibly confident.

    We all create our own pressure through past experiences, the environment around us and our perception of our fellow competitors and adjudicators.

    The most successful performers at the recent contest I attended where those who were extremely well prepared, accepted the competition environment, understood how to overcome their Stage Fright and coped with their adrenalin.

    I hope those competitors that suffered from Stage Fright, Memory Loss or Fright will take the time to reflect on their experience and start to work on overcoming their Performance Anxiety.

    It would be great to hear form other pipers and drummers about their personal experiences under pressure when performing in public.
    James Laughlin
    Author of No More Nerves
    Scottish Drumming Lessons

  • #2
    Re: Nerves getting the better of Pipers and Drummers?

    I've seen pressure in many forms, piping being only one of them.
    Experience is very important. Just playing with the band at practice trough the year, and then go on stage at a competition will not prepare you. That stage fright will set you out completely in most situations. When ever I have a new competition set, I find an audience as soon as I'm confident in playing it. That might be family, friends, pubs, etc. Just get the feeling of playing in front of people.

    Also find that inner peace when up there. If you keep thinking on that big trophy, you will in most situations fail miserably. You relax, have fun and get into the music.

    Still, there is a few rules I always follow when performing:
    *Never look into someones eyes
    *Never look at their feet (they might not be holding the right beat and will set you off)

    I once competed at a local target range, home to a local champion.
    Being very good at shooting air-rifle, he had won so many gold medals that he put them all up side by side along the 10 meter wall at the side. There were no gaps at all between them, and they covered the whole distance.
    No matter how good you are: walking in there, getting ready to shoot and see that impressive view. Everyone will get shaky.
    Never sacrifice clarity for speed


    • #3
      Re: Nerves getting the better of Pipers and Drummers?

      It's all in the mind, of course. A string of early successes on the practice chanter led to the unwarranted attitude that I was not just there to compete, but to show the judges how's it's done. As a result I was usually excited, confident, and relaxed before the events. As soon as I got onto the field, and had a chance to listen to other pipers, I would then realize that I had no chance of winning. In going from supremely confident to alarm, and then complete resignation, my relaxed attitude would resume.

      These days, I have become numb. Over the years, all possible mishaps have been visited upon me, to the point where I simply accept Murphy's Law as a given, and so leave all my worries behind. If the drone reed falls in and get slathered with airtight, so be it.

      Ultimately, what has really helped me, I believe, is that I don't compete to get the trophy, or to play better than other pipers. Rather, I practice against a certain standard - it's all about playing the music well - and I am on the boards to give a good accounting of myself against that standard. And since I am my worst critic, the worst the judges and the audience can do is to reinforce my own verdict. Added to that, I have often felt that I have already been judged before I start playing. I tell myself that the judge, and the whole world, already know how well, or badly, I play from my warming up and tuning (as I do other pipers). The die has been cast before the first note. There is no need to be nervous.


      • #4
        Re: Nerves getting the better of Pipers and Drummers?

        I read this post with interest as I was looking for "playing under pressure" in the search function.

        I play regularly throughout the year at Weddings, birthdays, for friends, with the band etc, although I have never competed on the boards at a highland games or competition, I have watched a few......
        (Maybe a pilgrimage to the College of Piping in Glasgow would help?)

        At Hogmanay this year I buckled under the pressure of the audience and wondered if anyone had any good suggestions for getting over it?

        Playing at a wedding or for friends, the audience is present but not 'in your face'......

        On Monday night i had a dozen iphones and another dozen cameras right in my face at midnight (in full no.1's)......bright lighting, and the heat of the was too much.....the tunes i had rehearsed to play were forgotten, or my fingers didnt work, and i reverted to my dozen or so, old, reliable easy tunes.

        How do I stop this 'buckling' next year? ( I am booked again for the same venue).

        I also have my OWN wedding to play at this summer, where i expect the situation will arise again!

        Any hints or tips?


        • #5
          Re: Nerves getting the better of Pipers and Drummers?

          From my own experience, nerves can occur when you aware of something which has the potential to go wrong, and your' control over it isnt as solid as it should be.

          1. Know the tunes. Inside out. anything less, and don't expect to be placed. This applies to band as well as solo. More so in solo, but in the band, deep down, you know that YOU'RE the guy who made the tiny slip, or maybe just cut out, but hopefully no one noticed.

          2. Instrument must be SOLID. Have confidence in your' tuning, and don't worry about the time you take, unless yer on a light system. Get it right, then play. If it's not right, you know its not right, and you'll never play your best. ( Seem to know a lot about this one eh? This is my personal hell)

          Band - double toning bass is going to cost the comp. Sort it. Don't be sky high in case it happens.

          Nerves for nerves sake - don't have a wee half! Judges genuinely want you to play well. Pointers. write yer tunes down, bad enough playing them without trying to remember the names on the boards.

          Match the names to the tunes. Twice last year I played the wrong bloody tune, one of which I hadnt even submitted.

          Loads of stuff. And maybe a lot of that doesnt deal with nerves by itself. But anything you can do to build confidence should be done.


          • #6
            Re: Nerves getting the better of Pipers and Drummers?

            Originally posted by PiperLongbotham View Post

            On Monday night i had a dozen iphones and another dozen cameras right in my face at midnight (in full no.1's)......bright lighting, and the heat of the was too much.....the tunes i had rehearsed to play were forgotten, or my fingers didnt work, and i reverted to my dozen or so, old, reliable easy tunes.

            How do I stop this 'buckling' next year? ( I am booked again for the same venue).

            Any hints or tips?
            Meant to reply to this in the earlier post.

            You kind of answered yourself there. If you forgot your' rehearsed tunes, then you didnt know them well enough. Simple.

            Please don't view this as an attack, I've done it too. But it should be automatic. If its not, you don't know the tune properly. And presumably be less nervous.


            • #7
              Re: Nerves getting the better of Pipers and Drummers?

              I think Neil has really hit the nail on the head here. I have always told my students to be sure and know your tunes backwards and forwards. Then when the mind wanders the fingers keep on the right track for you. Be confident in your tuning to the best of your ability and the grade you are playing.
              I had a time one full summer years ago I couldn't buy my way through a contest. For whatever reason and to the this day I don't know what it was, I never finished a contest, as I broke down in every single contest I played. I wouldn't do it in the first part of the march or strath or reel but would usually wait unitil the last part of the tune. Then my knees would start to shake and I would instinctively go right off the tune and break down.
              Fortunately I got over it and the next season I was fine. But it was certainly very strange and difficult indeed.
              Practice Hard, win easy!
              Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.
              Vince Lombardi


              • #8
                Re: Nerves getting the better of Pipers and Drummers?

                Also it may help you to find a spot on something an focus in on it. Don't look at anyone, don't let your eyes wonder, don't look a the phones, cameras or flashes. And take a few deep breaths before starting out...

                Start off with some light easy stuff that everyone and your fingers know inside and will help calm you, get you going...then you can switch into your harder stuff once you're under control.


                • #9
                  Re: Nerves getting the better of Pipers and Drummers?

                  In addition to Neil's suggestions, sometimes visualization can help. Just imagine what a venue will be like, what types of things can happen, who can be there, etc. Also imagine yourself remaining calm, performing your tune(s), and everything going well.

                  When you're there, imagine you're alone back at your rehearsal space (home, office, wherever), and you're just having another practice session.

                  That sort of visualization has helped me until I got accustomed to being nervous in front of crowds. I still get nervous, but I try not to let it affect my performance. YMMV.


                  • #10
                    Re: Nerves getting the better of Pipers and Drummers?

                    yip..this topic pops up now and my young days.....we had to play in front off some of the legends in piping.....(the old Eagle Pipers..!!!) was always a stressful ex Scots Guards Pipe Major had a habit off making faces..(not meaning too..)...and if you caught sight of thought...geez he hates my playing and its all going wrong..some guys and gals are just born nervous....others take it in their stride and this is the big difference....when as a young steward at some could see the cool players....then you would see the nervous...players...totally terrified...pointing..phrasing...would just go out the window for these poor unfortunates..!!...breakdown would normally result...At a workshop many moons ago with Robert Mathieson...this topic came up.he mentioned a its not a easy read....but....its contents do make sense.....The Inner Game of Barry Green with Timothy Gallwey................


                    • #11
                      Re: Nerves getting the better of Pipers and Drummers?

                      For my first few competitions, I, having first carefully examined the venue for obstacles, and being almost blind without them, would take my glasses off. This prevented visual matters from effecting my performance.

                      At my very first competition in Victoria, B.C., about half way through my 2/4, I started listening to the music instead of concentrating on my playing: my first reaction was amazement at how good it sounded.

                      My second reaction was to miss part of the tune.

                      In my first year of competition, I broke down at every one. My general reaction to this was myself. My second year of competition, I never broke down even once.

                      As several have said here, as perfect preparation as possible is the rock-bottom solution.


                      • #12
                        Re: Nerves getting the better of Pipers and Drummers?

                        I used to suffer from really serious performance fear. My friends thought I was mad, because in their opinion I was a good player. It was knowing what the standard should be that terrified me. I bought the Inner Game of Music, but it was little help. My solution was to play in front of total strangers, which is commonly called busking. It made a big difference.

                        The second part is to prepare in advance what to play, and stick to it. Thorough preparation is absolutely essential, because the fear is basically a lack of confidence. Confidence comes from proper preparation. Play your tunes every day until you can do them in your sleep. Three weeks should be enough for a performance, provided you play all the tunes every day to a decent standard. Two hours a day should be enough.

                        On Hogmanay I played in two Hotels. I still felt stage-fright, but nothing like the deeply unpleasant sensation of old. The audience just loved the music, and I was full of confidence. I focused on the music, didn't look at anyone directly, and brought my attention back to what I was doing whenever I began drifting.

                        Drifting is easy to do, because your attention is being drawn away by the sounds of the audience loving the sounds, loud singing along to Flower of Scotland etc., and just your own mind thinking. I simply focus on my hands, my blowing, squeezing the bag properly and blowing steadily, and execution.

                        If you make a mistake, carry on as if it was supposed to happen. Always look confident when you mess up. Note the when. No performer is infallible, and even the very best blow it from time to time. Just accept that it was your turn when it happens, and take it like a man.

                        Good performance comes from good preparation, and frequent performances. Constant exposure to danger reduces its terrors.
                        Noble and manly music invigorates the spirit, strengthens the wavering man, and incites him to great and worthy deeds. Homer.


                        • #13
                          Re: Nerves getting the better of Pipers and Drummers?

                          One method I use [though it won't work in a competition] is to
                          count all the people in your audience who could do it better
                          than you.
                          That was a piece of advice my father gave me en route
                          to my first public solo performance. i was going to play
                          for some highland dancers at a local variety show.
                          All well and good until the third guy that I looked at
                          was my instructor and the P/S in the band.
                          I wasn't aware that his daughter was going to be one of the dancers!
                          I made it through all right, but it did kind of make me
                          question my dad's wisdom. But you do that a lot as a teenager anyway.


                          • #14
                            Re: Nerves getting the better of Pipers and Drummers?

                            Feeling secure in your preparations is important.

                            One aspect I rarely see addressed here is simply dealing with the physical consequences of nerves. There is a great deal to be said for putting your pipes down, sprinting 200 yards and back, and immediately picking up your pipes and playing your tunes.
                            -- Formerly known as CalumII