How to Play the Flute on Stage When You’re Nervous and Scared

The tricky part of learning how to play the flute in public is you don’t necessarily know how nervous you’ll be until you actually start performing! Playing with a teacher – or even in a school, community, or concert band – is one thing, but playing any wind instrument on stage can be a terrifying experience.

In 8 Ways to Overcome Anxiety When You’re on Stage, I share tips for getting over stage fright. Since then, I’ve read three additional music books about overcoming performance anxiety. Here in this blog post, I describe why I am so scared on stage – which are probably the same reasons you’re nervous when you play in public, too. More importantly, I share three of my best tips on how to play the flute on stage when you’re scared or nervous.

It doesn’t matter whether you call it stage fright or performance anxiety – what matters is learning how to play the flute comfortably and even joyfully when you’re in public.

Playing a wind instrument when you have stage fright is difficult because fear constricts your throat, restricts your breathing, and increases your heart rate. When I played a concert two weeks ago (I’m in a duet with an organist), I also noticed that my brain shut down and my hands were shaking. I did not play my flute well, and it took me two full days to calm down after my experience.

5 Tips for Playing the Flute on Stage

As you’ve probably already guessed, these aren’t technical tips for playing the flute – or any wind instrument. These tips on how to overcome performance anxiety when you’re on stage are just as important.

After all, it doesn’t matter if you can play the flute like the great flutist and composer Blavet…if you get up on stage and freeze, you can’t share the beautiful music you and your flute can make.

Questions for you:

  • When have you experienced stage fright or performance anxiety?
  • What do you think caused your fear?
  • How does your anxiety hold you back from playing the flute on stage?
  • What would it be like to let go of stage fright?

The root of my stage fright is that I don’t like being the center of attention. I’m an introvert, I don’t like people looking at me, and I’m very self-conscious. Just knowing those things about my personality and temperament is helping me learn how to play the flute on stage.

If you can figure out what’s holding you back from playing your flute joyfully and comfortably on stage, then you’re one step closer to getting out of your own way.

1. Think  of your performance as a fun opportunity

how to play the flute “Do you see high-pressure situations as threatening or challenging?” ask Drs. Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry in Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most.  “Do you embrace such moments, or do you dread them?”

If you’re prone to performance anxiety, learn specific ways that musicians overcome stage fright. Performing Under Pressure is an excellent book that will help you overcome the fears and insecurities of playing any instrument on stage.

Remember that any threatening situation will cause you to choke and stop breathing – and this is bad! Even the perception of a threat will cause you to shut down and even forget how to play the flute on stage. I was in no way threatened when I played my flute in concert two weeks ago, but I choked. I let my anxiety and self-consciousness overcome my ability and knowledge.

To overcome performance anxiety, you need to change how you think about playing the flute on stage. Renew your mind! Not only is this Biblical, it’s practical. Stop thinking “playing the flute on stage is scary, I’m going to choke, everyone will think I’m stupid, the audience is laughing at me.” Instead, focus on this wonderful, fun opportunity to make music and share with people who are positive, supportive, and kind.

“When we perceive a pressure moment as fun, the arousal we experience is enjoyable and exciting, rather than uncomfortable and unsettling,” write Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry. “Positive arousal translates into enthusiasm, a powerful emotion in overcoming anxiety and fear.”

2. Tell yourself this isn’t the only chance you’ll get

This is one of many opportunities to play the flute on stage. Regardless of how you perform, you will learn and grow from this experience. In fact, the worse you play, the more you’ll grow (if you let yourself learn and grow).

Even if you mess up this performance, you will have another chance to play your flute excellently on stage. This is not the one and only performance. Be curious and excited about how you’ll perform…don’t let you fear and anxiety consume you! I followed my self-consciousness, fear, and anxiety into the abyss. Choke.

3. Focus on how your flute responds to your breath and fingers

This is my favorite tip for how to play the flute on stage: BE the music. Really get into the music. When I play Melodia by Denis Bedard with my whole mind, heart, and soul I don’t make mistakes. I can hit the high notes.

When I leave myself behind, I play my flute like a master. When I let go of my self-consciousness (“How do I sound? Look? What does the audience think of me?”), I relax and play well.

“This solution suggests that you stay clear on what you are trying to accomplish – your mission,” write Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry in Performing Under Pressure. “[Focusing on the music] prevents distracting thoughts generated by self-consciousness or external distractions. Focusing on your mission keeps you on track because it cues you to do the things you need to do to achieve the performance you are looking for.”

4. Do not think about the outcome; practice healthy detachment

If you think about the audience’s reaction to you or your flute or the music, then you’ll distract yourself from your performance. The more you focus on them, the less well you’ll play. Don’t think. Just breathe.

How to Play the Flute on Stage When You’re Nervous

when you’re nervous playing the flute on stage

Just play each note or measure deliberately and mindfully. Lose yourself in your music, and don’t worry about anything but your flute and the notes you’re playing.

Stay anchored in this moment. What is the moment about? It’s about playing flute on stage. Period. That’s your job, that’s all you have to think about.

5. Know who you are

This is a spiritual, Jesus-based tip for how to play the flute on stage: hold on to your identity in God. You are worthy, lovable, and valuable no matter how you perform. You were created for a purpose by a loving God who wants you to succeed! He wants you to experience love, peace, freedom, and joy. If you accept the love and salvation of Jesus Christ, you have everything you need for the best life you could imagine. The spiritual and emotional freedom that He offers is awesome and mind-blowing – and all you have to do is accept Him.

Often, stage fright or performance anxiety is about fear of what people think about you. If you can approach the stage with a strong sense of self-worth – and if you know who you are in Christ Jesus – you won’t need to rely on how you play to feel good about yourself.

You were wonderfully and lovingly created by God. You are here for a reason. Your desire to learn how to play the flute was planted by Him. He knows you and loves you deeply, and He will be with you before the concert, on stage while you’re playing, and when the music fades.

Know who you are, and you won’t need an excellent performance to help you Blossom.

What to Do Next

Learn tips for introverts on how to get over stage fright. There are so many excellent strategies to help you overcome performance anxiety – but you have to experiment until you find what works for you. In that article, I also included a link to my Introvert Personality Test.

Tell me what you think! Have you choked while playing flute on stage – or do you love the thrill of performing in front of an audience? What advice would you give other musicians about overcoming performance anxiety?

While I can’t offer advice, I do read every comment. I encourage you to respond to other readers’ comments if you feel led, and to share your experience of learning how to play the flute and performing on stage.

May you find peace and healing from anxiety. May you learn how to play the flute on stage with joy and reckless abandon, skill and the confidence that can only come from standing firmly in the love of Jesus! May you breathe deeply and freely, and may you be filled with the peace that surpasses all understanding.


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3 thoughts on “How to Play the Flute on Stage When You’re Nervous and Scared”

  1. Dear Kim,

    I feel for you! Every time I practice my flute at home, I remember how nervous and scared I was when I botched my performance in front of an audience. It still stings – and it was a year ago.

    The way you described your physical reaction is just like what I experienced, so I know how you feel. Isn’t it terrible? I felt helpless, out of control, anxious — I couldn’t even think straight. I was also blindsided because I had no idea how nervous I’d be playing the flute on stage.

    You’re not alone, my friend. I’m not 15 either; I’m 47 years old! I don’t think age has anything to do with it, especially since so many little 7 year olds can perform and dance and sing and play music on stage without any fear or nervousness at all 🙂

    From what I’ve read, musicians experience varying levels of performance anxiety or stage fright — and it doesn’t matter how many years they’ve played or how famous they are! I wish I could remember the name of an amazing book I read about performance anxiety, it was a compilation of about 30 different musicians’ and comedians’ experiences with stage fright.

    That book was so good because it helped me see that stage fright and performance anxiety is not only NORMAL, it can actually make your flute playing better if it’s channeled the right way.

    If you want to keep moving forward — don’t give up! don’t let this experience send you fleeing! — read Performance Strategies for Musicians by David Buswell

    Don’t give up, Kim. You didn’t let your fellow band members or director down. You were brave to play your flute solo — not many community band members will play solos! I know, because I was part of a Community Band for a couple of years. Fellow musicians know how difficult and scary it is, and I bet they were supportive and kind.

    Take a deep breath. Accept that your performance unfolded the way it did. My botched performance was incredibly humbling and wisdom-giving, so I am grateful for it! Though I’d rather have played perfectly 🙂

    Your experience feels painful and embarrassing, but you are an inspiration. You stepped out on stage to play your flute! Amazing! It didn’t turn out the way you hoped, and that’s okay. Next time will be different.

    Don’t give up. Use this experience to become stronger, healthier, and wiser. You might even try lifting your heart and spirit to God — give Him your broken heart and wounded spirit. Let Him console and heal you, and fill your soul with joy, peace, life, and light. Let Him love you. He created you, He not only knows you play the flute but He put your flute skills in your fingers, brain, breathing! Rest in His love and grace.

    How are you doing today?

  2. I had a very rough performance tonight. A very simple solo in our Community Band performance at our local music festival. I can play this like no body else when I know I’m not being adjudicated. I am an introvert so this made it hard, but my lip was shaking, my chest was heaving and my hands were shaking. Even with my deep breathing and being well practiced. I got through it, but not as beautifully as I know I can play it. Now I feel awful, like I let my director and and the band down. I want to never play again. I liked your words and will have to reframe I guess. BTW I’m 51 not 15 any more. Will this ever go away?