Play Your Best Under Pressure

Learn how to beat performance anxiety and perform your very best on stage.

This is the tagline for Dr. Noa Kageyama’s Beyond Practicing course. The class delivers on this promise and is unequivocally the most powerful music performance class I have taken. (FYI, this article is not a paid endorsement or advertisement.)

I read Kenny Werner’s Effortless Mastery when I was eighteen, and was enchanted with the idea of being “in the zone,” a deep meditative state where music effortlessly flows. Strategies from this class have helped me tap into this elusive zone on a more consistent basis, which has been a game changer for my life and career.

Dr. Kageyama teaches performance psychology at Juilliard and is the author of The Bulletproof Musician blog. “Beyond Practicing” is the online version of his Juilliard course, which draws from scholarly research on sports and peak performance psychology. The course is designed for classical musicians who are preparing for auditions and competitions, but the skills are equally effective for improvisers.

In the course description, Dr. Kageyama writes,

Simply practicing more only gets us to a certain point. There comes a time when natural ability and practice are no longer enough if we wish to access our full potential on stage. Elite athletes know that performing effectively under pressure is a skill, and for decades, have been learning specific mental skills and adopting unique practice methods that are geared towards maximizing performance under stress.

If you’ve been frustrated with nerves and subpar performances, I’d like to help you learn these skills too.

The course flows much like his blog—easy to digest but never over-simplified. Dr. Kageyama masterfully draws actionable strategies out of decades of scholarly research.

The course gives you a mental skills assessment before diving into seven skills:

  • Activation Strategies
  • Effective Practice
  • True Confidence
  • Becoming Fearless
  • Mental Quiet
  • Mental Focus
  • Mental Resilience

Each module features several video presentations, a workbook, and many supplemental resources.

This class has TONS of effective strategies, but I want to discuss the areas that made the biggest impact on me. I don’t suffer from many physical symptoms of “stage fright,” but mentally, I’m easily distracted by worrying about what the audience thinks, negative self-talk, imposter complex, etc. This doesn’t completely sabotage my performances, but I don’t play at my best and the experience of performing suffers severely.

Pre-performance Centering

Dr. Kageyama outlines deep breathing, relaxation, and visualization exercises that help us mentally prepare for performance. These practices help us focus, and are scientifically proven to deactivate our “flight or flight” response. One of my favorite components is a “highlight reel”: deeply imagining our best performances and recalling exactly how they felt. Crafting a personal centering ritual has helped me enormously.

Attention Targets

While performing, thoughts that pop-up in our head are rarely helpful. The Mental Focus chapter helps us identify where to direct our focus to play at our best. When distractions, anxieties, or mistakes come up, we have the training to redirect our focus. Powerful stuff.

Effective Practice

Talent is a choice, not a magical gift encoded in our genes. Most technical and musical struggles are all solvable, and our practice is most effective when we are focused, mindful, and obsessively solution-oriented. (See Carol Dweck’s research on Growth Mindset.) This may sound obvious, but it’s easy to slip into the trap of comparing ourselves to others, negative self-talk, and believing we don’t have what it takes.

One of my favorite graphics in the course distills decades of research on peak performance practice into a practical formula:


If you’re anything like me, your inner critic is not always kind (to put it gently). Dr. Kageyama presents a brilliant exercise for “flipping the script” on your inner Woody Allen. He also encourages us to recall the encouragement and compassion from most inspirational teachers and mentors and to speak to ourselves in the same way.

It’s Worth It!

The course costs $229 (or $244 with lifetime updates and forum). This may seem pricy, but compared to college tuition, it’s a drop in the bucket. The value far exceeds what I paid. This class is essential for any serious performer or music performance major.

My “highlight” reel is quickly filling up with some of my most recent performances, I have embraced more consistent, centered, and effective practicing habits (without exerting extraordinary amount of willpower), and performing has been much more gratifying. Life changing!

Wonderful Interview with Dr. Kageyama on The Unmistakeable Creative Podcast
Beyond Practicing Course
The Bulletproof Musician blog

– ST

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