How to cope with nerves

2 years ago
Karen Marshall

Karen Marshall

Karen Marshall is a private, peri and classroom music teacher from York. An award winning author she has written 17 publications to date including ABRSM Piano Encores and joint edited Piano Star Grade 1. She is a co-author of the beginner piano method, Get Set! Piano as well as being trained in teaching music to special needs students. She is passionate about all children having access to a good quality music education.

Pre-examination nerves are a natural thing. We all can feel a little jittery before an exam but there are things you can do to help control your nerves, enabling you to meet your full potential in an exam.

Be Prepared
How prepared you are for an exam is fully within your control. It is common for candidates to focus heavily on perfecting their pieces or songs but don’t forget there are several elements to the exam. As well as your three exam pieces you will be examined on: Aural, Sight Reading and Technical Tests.
You can prepare for the exam by:
• Memorising your scales (or your unaccompanied folk melody),
• Becoming fully familiar with the aural tests; you can practice with ABRSM’s Aural Trainer App
• Practising sight reading tests.

Know where you are going
Do you know where and when your examination is taking place? Don’t forget to check transport to the venue or car parking availability. By planning ahead you can remove any logistical issues and leave yourself free to focus solely on your exam performance.

Think positively!
Candidates sometimes crowd their heads with negative thoughts or ideas about examinations which can drain their mental energy. Examiners might seem scary but the truth is your examiner wants you to do your very best. Try to imagine things going well on your big day. Don’t worry about making mistakes. No performance is ever perfect, even among professionals. Your examiner will be focusing as much as possible on the positives, not the negatives, so you should try to do the same. An ability to put mistakes behind you is an important one to gain.

Practice the exam experience
For many candidates, playing to a complete stranger is a new and different experience which can be nerve wracking. Ask if your teacher could arrange a mock examination for you. This will help you mentally prepare for the exam and ensure that you can also feel comfortable with the pace at which an exam actually goes.
Before the exam, try to get as much performance experience as possible. Play in front of friends and family, at school or local festivals – this will be tremendously valuable in building up your confidence.

Focus on the physical things that can help
Nerves often have physical manifestations: butterflies in your tummy, sweaty palms and shaking hands are all symptoms of nervousness. There are some easy physical things you can do that can really help calm nerves:
• Control your breathing
• Sleep well
• Stay hydrated and eat healthily
• Smile with good posture
• Use calming smells
• Do a physical activity to help control the adrenaline rush.

Remember, it’s all about the music
Music is a wonderful thing. Try to communicate how much you enjoy your instrument, or voice, and the music you are making. The examiner loves music too, and your exam is an opportunity for you to perform and share the power of music together. Don’t forget that your examiner is your audience – he or she won’t be able to clap - but the chances are they will be clapping internally if you play really well! Aim to enjoy your exam; that way, you will treasure the memory – and hopefully the result!



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