Practically everyone will have to deal with performance anxiety, some more than others. I remember Christopher Parkening share how Segovia remarked that before a concert he is just about ready to cancel it due to anxiety, but by the end of the concert he wants to do it all over again. There was an instance where Segovia started a concert playing absolutely terribly, causing him to lose the attention of the audience, but by the end he was getting standing ovations and cheers for encores. Even the pros have to deal with performance anxiety, so don't feel too bad about it.
In the past year I've been playing more and more in front of a live audience both big and small. I haven't overcome performance anxiety, nor do I ever expect to fully get rid of it, but I've brought the stress down to a healthy amount - just enough to push me while still having steady enough hands to play with accuracy and musicality. Here are some key lessons I've learned:
1. When I've learned a new piece and polished it, I play it several times for my wife with her full attention. Utilize these simple opportunities to play in front of people and incorporate it as part of your practice. It's also great to have someone else you love take part in your joy.
2. The first 5 seconds are crucial. Don't just jump into the piece. Pause, take a deep breath, and mentally prepare yourself to play with good technique and musicality. It helps to practice the very beginning of the piece several times with this mindset. How you play the piece in the first few seconds could determine how you play the rest of the piece.
3. Several long and deep breaths can go a long way. I start doing this 30 minutes before going on stage
4. Be sure to iron out the parts of a piece that brings you the most confusion and anxiety. There is the right and wrong way to practice the tricky spots of a song.
5. I look back and remember all the other times I performed successfully in front of people without excessive anxiety
6. Make a conscious effort to relieve excess tension just before playing. I find that I make a lot more mistakes when my anxiety causes me to put a death grip on my fingerboard.
7. Most importantly, I've learned to analyze my thoughts and understand the reasons behind my anxiety. Through self introspection I discovered that the reason I am nervous is because I am terrified to make mistakes and embarrass myself. I entertained the false thought that it would be a tragedy to make a mistake in front of people, as if they will look down upon me. I also realized that I am afraid of tarnishing my reputation, as if people will think less of me. Since I discovered these thoughts, I realized, ITS OKAY to make mistakes, it is not in the end of the world, and life will move on and nobody will care 10 minutes after the performance, and if they do, what's the big deal? I've also shifted my focus of playing away from seeking to puff myself up, to my real reason for playing which is to bless others and glorify God. You may have a different reason to play in front of others, but I think it's really important to understand what really motivates you to play for other people.
"Success grants its rewards to a few, but is the dream of the multitudes.
Excellence is available to all, but is accepted only by a few." - Christopher Parkening