Feeling nervous before or during your graded exam is never a nice feeling. But what should be of some comfort to all that experience performance anxiety is that it is both common and completely normal.

It can make you feel tense and uneasy which can then impede your ability to focus, costing you precious exam marks in the process.

Whether you feel a little nervous, or are suddenly overwhelmed, there are a few things you can do ahead of your exam and during the session itself to help you cope with the nerves that you might encounter. If you think you might be getting nervous or anxious, here are some symptoms to watch out for:

  • Shallow, rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shaking in your hands/body
  • Feeling emotional or tearful
  • Dry mouth or increased sweating

The natural reaction would be to feel like you want to avoid the situation, withdraw into yourself and go quiet (again, this is perfectly normal). To help yourself through these situations, here are some great exercises to use that negative energy to switch your mindset to a positive one:

7:11 Breathing – Inhale through your nose for 7 seconds and exhale through your mouth for 11. The counting part of this exercise will engage your brains logical pathway whilst the deep breathing will increase your bodies oxygen intake, having a calming effect.

Posture – If you sit or stand in a strong, confident position, you will feel more empowered.

Smile – When you smile, your brain releases Oxytocin which naturally makes you feel better.

Reframe – Tell yourself you’re excited not scared. You’re in control of your own feelings, use them to your advantage.

Rehearsal – It should be a given that before you enter for your exam that you feel totally prepared. If you cover the content of your exam in advance you will feel more prepared on the day. Go over everything that you might be asked to a point where you can’t possibly get it wrong. This feeling of self-certainty will give you a much-needed confidence boost. Practice your weaknesses, not your strengths.

If you’d like to read more on the topic, check out this article written by life coach and psychotherapist, James Banfield. The 5 tips above are explored further in his article, which will help you feel even more confident before your session.

These tips do not just apply to music exams, and be commandeered any time or place you find yourself under stress. Don’t let the nerves stop you from achieving your goals. You’re in control if you decide to be.

About the Author:

This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MGR Music by Leigh Fuge, a professional guitarist, tutor and journalist from Wales in the UK. He has been working in the music industry for over 10 years as a touring and studio musician with various artists, guitar tutor and writer for many high profile guitar publications. Read more of Leigh's pieces relating to Rockschool here...