No Stress for Strings – 4 Tips


“If there´s anything strings players don´t need at all, it´s stress.”

Regine Brunke

I attended an enchanting concert at the “Bremer amateur music week” on Saturday. The impression it made lasted the whole day – so that I decided to share my thoughts with you.

Guitar students, amateur cellists and their teachers presented their music, passion and the results of their classes. And at the same time they presented so much more: their pride and their shame, their nervousness and their self-assuredness.

On stage one becomes visible.

And this implies a huge ambiguity – what do I really want to show of myself? And what would I prefer to hide? The whole person enters the stage – their history, their experiences. The whole lot has to come along. The attempt to fade out or cover some of them (the shaking bow hand…) add another tension to the already existing one: the requirement to be different than I am right now.

Suddenly I realize how little control I have over the moment, my body functions, over the opinions of others about me. My self-perception doesn´t work as before. I thought I was so confident. I thought I didn´t care so much…

I thought…


Amateur-string recitals can sound can sound pretty awful – if measured with the average standards of all the acoustically perfect recordings. Good intonation is so damn hard under pressure.

And sometimes I find it also hard to witness these efforts in the audience. I am also sweating and I sometimes experience the phenomenon of „substitutional embarrassment” (sorry for that, my English native friends). But in this concert nothing like that happened.

There were also “mistakes” and “blackouts” both along the guitar players and cellists. But the musical expression didn´t suffered from this. The intonation of the group of eleven cellists was really good (mostly adults who started to learn to play the cello as adults). There was a sense of friendly seriousness in the air which still resonates inside of me.

What was so special in this little concert?

In my impression the two teachers managed to create a wonderfully relaxed setting – besides good teaching. And I guess that this needed dedication and mindfulness.

Here I want to recall some of the heart-warming moments:

  • The guitarists sat in groups of five on stage in a half circle. They played one piece together, then each played his piece alone and then again they played together. So nobody had to sit on stage all alone. The support, solidarity, focus and the backing of the peers was palpable. Fingers trembled – but never a sense of embarrassment occurred.
  • The teachers expressed a great calmness as they led through the program (at least that´s what it appeared from the outside). The concert started on time. There was no feeling of haste and time-pressure. And this continued as the program was lean enough.
  • Before each piece the cello teacher gave his group the chance to find the first notes on the fingerboard and play them together to tune in – completely calm. This is very unusual but very helpful. Because when the first note is not in tune the anxiety builds up and continues to become worse over the course of the piece.

    But the true highlight was the man sitting in the row behind me who sais after this first preparing sounds: „Ahhh, it just sounds so nice.“. Then the piece began.

Why do I give these little events so much attention?

“If there´s anything strings players don´t need at all, it´s stress.” Regine Brunke

Encountering oneself on stage, surrendering to the present moment – and being witnessed at the same time by an audience – is an inner tension. It´s stress – in a positive sense. The stress gives us the alertness which we need in this situation. And maybe this is also why some are consciously revisit this moment of self-encounter over and over again.

The more supportive the field in which this encounter takes place the more empowering the experience can become.

In my work I am constantly questioning: „What does it need right now for a good experience? What is unnecessary? How can we use the support that is already present? “

To experience of support reduces stress. Support is always useful. Always.

Sometimes support just comes to us: as mindful, competent teachers, understanding parents and respectful colleagues. Sometimes we have to ask for it or request it: a stable chare, time to tune up or someone driving us to the venue. And sometimes we have to learn to recognize and consciously appreciate the support which is always present: the supporting force of the ground, the stability of our bones, the relationships with dear friends.

Here is some inspiration for you how to organise support for yourself and how to support others.

  1. Are you currently preparing for auditions or recitals?
    Shoot your own movie about “the perfect audition“ in your imagination. What appears in this daydream? What could be supportive?
  2. Your worst cause of stress is the musician sitting next to you or the conductor?
    This is a really tough case and there is no easy answer. My inner guideline is this wise advise of my coach Bärbel Lonczyk: „Whatever I wish from others I will primarily give to myself.“.
  3. You are excited and also scared?
    Search the company of supportive people and avoid the others. This is not rude. It is sensible. You really don´t need criticism and incompetent advice before or after the concert unless you ask for it. Someone thinks your sound is squeaky? DON´t invite that person! He or she can come to the after show party…
  4. Your child makes music and you want to support it?
    „Time“ is the magic word.I know – it easy for me to say that: But could calmness and time have priority on the day of the important musical event of your child? Enough time to pack everything and be at the venue early enough. Time to eat beforehand and time to visit the bathroom.  Time after the recital to pack again – because it will take longer than before. Maybe you´ll miss your favorite TV show or the news – but in return you receive real „high quality time“ with your loved ones. And – very important – time and space to listen to the whole story of your child’s adventure. Your child has encountered inner fears and had the courage to face them. There´s a lot to tell afterwards! Celebrate the happy return of the hero whatever accidents he/she had on the trip.

I can tell from experience: school recitals, auditions and public concerts leave traces. As teacher, parent or colleague – and especially as an adult for yourself – you can create a field in which this can become good memories – not scars.

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