Examining Fear and Anxiety at Auditions

Fear is a powerful emotion. It can be crippling. Our body is literally programmed to protect us from what we fear. “Fight or flight” anyone? Auditions, sadly, can elicit fear and anxiety. We have all felt that feeling of wishing we could get off the stage and hide as fast as possible. There are many things one can fear. Things that are very serious like death or serious injury, to the not so serious like spiders or public speaking. While the conscious brain recognizes that taking an audition is not as life threatening as falling from a 4 story window, don’t even bother trying to explain that to the subconscious brain! I have heard from many of you that the fear you feel at auditions can be debilitating. This is also common for performances. Dealing with this emotion is vital to any form of success.

Today’s post will examine what exactly we are afraid of and why. Next week I will look at how we deal with that fear and how we can manage it. I broke this discussion into two halves for a couple reasons. I want to really dive into what makes us anxious and try to figure out why. Really understanding the why will help us know where to look to try and deal with this fear. Trying to examine why we have anxiety as well as solving those issues would also make this post quite long and I want to have plenty of dedicated space for a discussion on dealing with fear. Lastly, I want to give you a chance to weigh in, in case I’ve missed something that sends you over the edge. Leave a comment below or send me an email at william.j.james@gmail.com.


So…. What exactly are we afraid of?

Not all fear is the same. Unfortunately there are many things that can cause fear and performance anxiety. Here is what I think most people are afraid of:

  • being unprepared
  • failure
  • success
  • personalizing fear
  • not meeting expectations

Let’s look at them one at a time.

Are you prepared?

I believe this is the main catalyst for fear at auditions. Who has thought “Am I really ready for this?” right before an audition? I know I have! And I’m guessing most of you have as well. I think this is for two reasons, that aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

  1. You know deep down, you aren’t prepared and you are dreading when someone will figure it out.
  2. You genuinely aren’t sure if you are prepared or if you prepared correctly.

#1 highlights the physical preparation. #2 highlights the mental preparation. Any performance needs both physical and mental preparation. If you have the confidence and mental toughness of a professional but don’t have the hands, guess what? The result is going to be poor. If you have hands better than anyone, but have no confidence, you are going to crumble as well. This is why I think this is the biggest cause of fear. You have to have both. In many ways our mental preparation is more important than the physical. Our focus and mental state is so fragile, we have to be in a good place in order to play well. We will look more into how to do that next time.

Fear of Failure

Fear of failure is something we can all relate to. No one likes to fail. This was ingrained in our memory from elementary school when the teacher would ask you a question. If you got it right you were praised. If you got it wrong you experienced negative consequences like lower grades, disapproval from teachers, friends and parents, not to mention embarrassment. This doesn’t need a ton of explanation as we all hate to fail.


I have asked this question in multiple masterclasses and it says a lot about the mental state of those taking the audition. What is your reaction when the proctor walks in the room and says you have advanced to the finals? Is it “oh boy..” and your nerves get jacked up? Or is it “bring it on, let’s go!”? It is easy to understand each emotion. It is also pretty easy to tell which one is better… Sure you might be anxious about failing but it very well could be that you are afraid of succeeding! I have met many young percussionists who are clearly not ready mentally to succeed yet. They will get there but this also harkens back to being prepared. If you are not sure if you are prepared, then you may worry about sneaking through the audition and then not succeeding at the job. It is also entirely possible that in one’s mind they would love the chance to win an audition. However, once the spotlight gets hot and the chance to win is there, they panic and no longer feel as comfortable as they thought they would. This situation isn’t always easy to recognize, and many don’t want to recognize it, but being afraid of success is common.

Personalizing Fear

It is very easy to take failure personally. We are afraid that being cut at an audition is a reflection of who we are personally and everything we have ever done. While logically we may know this is not true, in the moment it is pretty hard to convince yourself otherwise. I don’t need to tell you that there are a lot of egos at an audition and those egos can really get in the way! Everyone has an ego and fear of hurting that ego can have a real negative effect at an audition.

Not meeting expectations

Not meeting your own or someone’s expectations for you can cause severe anxiety. Big expectations can cause serious pressure! You may feel like you have to win an audition. You may be a sophomore and feel like you have to get out of the lower level ensemble at your university. That sort of expectation can be frightening and cause severe anxiety. Managing these expectations is very important. Expectations are good in theory because that means you expect good things, but keeping them appropriate is important. More on that next week!

So these are the main scenarios I have experienced or heard of causing fear and anxiety. Not fun!! I still experience these symptoms by the way! When I play solos I still get quite anxious because I am so used to playing with an ensemble. When it is just me it can feel quite lonely and intimidating. Challenging myself in that environment and forcing myself to face those fears helps me grow as a musician. Learning to cope and deal with these fears is very important, although not easy. I’m looking forward to hearing from you and commiserating over shared stories, but I am even more looking forward to next week and discussing how we deal with fear and conquer it!!


One thought on “Examining Fear and Anxiety at Auditions

  1. […] Last week we examined fear and what makes the audition an anxious experience. This week let’s look at how we can deal with the anxiety and perhaps even eliminate it. I’ve received several emails this week from those of you who have had audition nightmare stories. Take some solace in knowing you are not alone!! Thanks for sharing your stories and I hope our email correspondence and this post help reduce your anxiety. […]

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