All performers, no matter how long they have been playing the flute, occasionally suffer from a case of nerves. Some musicians encounter this feeling more often than others, while some exude calm (actually, they sometimes are nervous -- they are just good actors!).
A lot of very good material has been written about how to deal with this sensation in your body, both from a physical and mental standpoint. Many of these articles discuss long-term solutions and long-term processes of how maintain your focus. But more often than not, my students need quick solutions, as their audition or performance is TOMORROW! (or maybe next week). Perhaps they should plan ahead better, but everyone is busy nowadays. So along with the long-term guide, I offer them practical solutions they can implement easily and immediately.
1)Eat a banana about 30 minutes before you have to play. The potassium helps your body remain calm.
2)Pick a slightly slower tempo to play than you think is ideal. Usually, when we are nervous, we play faster (and then things can get out of control). If you choose a slightly slower tempo, you will likely have chosen the exact one you have been practicing at. And if it really is too slow, it is much easier to speed up than to slow down.
1)Don’t eat anything sugary, sticky or greasy that day before you play. Coupled with the stress, these types of food will likely make your stomach upset.
2)Do eat something with protein in it, like nuts or sliced turkey, an hour or two before you perform. The protein will help you focus.
3)If you eat milk products, try to do this at least 3 hours or more ahead of your performance. Dairy foods tend to create phlegm, and any sensation outside of the ideal will distract you.
Shortness of Breath
1)Before you start to play anything, take at least one slow, deep, breath. Stretch this breath over the amount of time it takes to play an entire measure of your piece.
2)Repeat this breath before your next piece!
3)Take time in between your pieces! I know that ten or fifteen seconds feels like an eternity to you, but to those listening it is a comfortable break.
1)Keep hydrated! Be sure to have a bottle of water with you.
2)Sit down while you play. If this is impossible, instead try standing up on your toes while you play .
Dry Mouth or Cotton Mouth
1)Keep a bottle of water nearby. You can take sips from it in between your pieces.
2)If this is a severe problem and you are playing a lengthy piece, find a small, flat candy that you can stick to one of the upper molars that is the farthest back in your mouth. This will make you salivate. However, your flute repairman will not be happy (this will make the keys sticky).
1)For hands and fingers that sweat and get slippery, wipe your hands/fingertips with rubbing alcohol, or just rub in an alcohol-based hand santizer gel.
1)Shakiness is just excess energy, and you need to channel it to somewhere in your body that you do not need when you play the flute (I usually choose my big toe).
There are two options here: a) you can find a small, sharp stone and place it in the toe of your shoe; or b) you can just scrunch your toes up tight. When you feel that shakiness approaching, lean on the stone (or scrunched toes). It will hurt!
But this minor pain also brings you back to the present very quickly, and all the shakiness in your arms/hands/lips will quickly melt away. Then you can remove the pressure from the stone or your toes and just play!
1)Be INCREDIBLY prepared! Try to memorize your excerpts or solo or whatever it is – at least the most difficult parts. Even if you don’t totally succeed in the memorization, the work you have done will stay with you, and your fingers/lips will do what they have been programmed to do even if your mind goes somewhere else.