“Performance Anxiety Cure” by Larry Underhill

Today, I would like to discuss the following book written by Larry Underhill: Performance Anxiety Cure: How to Overcome Performance Anxiety and Stage Fright in All Aspects of Life Forever. This book is available through Amazon for $2.99 and is actually free to read if you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. The “book” is 26 pages in length and very easy to read through in one sitting. I have yet to find much information on Larry Underhill, so his credentials and expertise on the subject matter are a little suspect at the moment. If anyone knows anything about the author, please let me know. He does have another book about anxiety and panic attacks, but I haven’t read it yet. This other book is also available through Amazon. I guess this means that anyone can write a book and have it published/sold through Amazon? Anyway…

First off, the title is just a little presumptuous. I mean, it would be great if it were true, but I think the book would probably cost a little bit more if the ideas inside actually worked. Also, this topic is so personal for each individual that it’s very hard to believe that one text or collection of ideas can cure anyone, which is why I’m attempting to read as much material as possible…good and bad.

The book is divided into seven chapters, and the first gives the reader a brief overview of the cause and effects of performance anxiety/stage fright. In this first chapter, Underhill writes that “performance anxiety is the fear of speaking or doing a task before a group of people.” He then proceeds to discuss the two types or categories of performance anxiety, cognitive and somatic. Cognitive deals with our mental response to anxiety, while somatic is the physical. Side effects of cognitive anxiety are a lack of condfidence and an inability to concentrate. Somatic anxiety can manifest in a multitude of ways, but the most common effects are shortness of breath, muscle tension, shaking, dry mouth, sweating, and frequent trips to the bathroom. I don’t think I have ever felt cognitive anxiety without also having to deal with the somatic side effects.

Underhill then discusses the “fight or flight” response and writes about how our body is naturally wired to defend against our anxious feelings. Our anxiety leads the body to believe that we are in physical danger, hence all of those wonderful somatic side effects discussed above. The choice is to either use that extra energy and adrenaline in a positive way, or give in and admit defeat, which will ultimately lead to a bad performance.

There are quite a few errors in this book, but there is one section in this first chapter that just doesn’t make any sense when taken word for word. I do think that I understand what Underhill meant when he wrote this section, but it is very misleading. The portion in question is the part that discusses the four ways in which performance anxiety manifests: Anticipation, Avoidance, Experiencing of panic and anxiety, and Appraisal. Anticipation and Appraisal are easy. We think about negative things happening so much that the nightmare becomes reality. We also care a little too much about what other people think, which can sabotage a performance. Avoidance…sure, I’m afraid to play in front of a large group of people, so I’m going to avoid that. The third is rather redundant, because we’re going to experience the physical side effects in all of these scenarios. Underhill really needed a good editor for this portion of the book.

Moving forward, the next chapter presents basic concepts for dealing with anxiety in any type of situation. The first is to be prepared, which in our case, means to practice. If you’re going to perform a recital, then start practicing for it well in advance. Starting a month or two out from your performance date, or earlier, set aside an hour or so a day to play straight through your music. Give yourself time in between pieces to simulate walking on and off the stage, and also take an intermission during practice if you’ll do the same in the actual performance. This strategy served me well during my DMA, and I always felt very confident about the music when I stepped on stage. It just makes sense and gives you one less thing to stress over.

“Do not take a lot of caffeine or sugar on the day of the performance.” I would go so far as to recommend that you don’t drink anything but water for a few days leading up to the performance. This allows your body to be fully hydrated, and it will hopefully keep you from succumbing to dry mouth. Sugar is in pretty much everything that we consume, so it’s difficult to stay away from it; however, do try to be aware of what you are putting into your body. Healthy decisions will make for a healthier performance. Underhill also mentions that drinking milk will help calm the nerves…I’ve heard of eating bananas, but never milk.

When you start to feel nervous, maybe try focusing a little bit more on your breathing. Our breath gets shallow when we are nervous, and it is proven that taking deeper, slower breaths will help release tension and calm the nerves. Also, taking deeper breaths will help you play that long phrase.

Lastly, Underhill recommends that you not focus too much on negative aspects. This means don’t constantly think about notes that you’re going to miss, or how this person isn’t going to talk to you anymore if you don’t play well. It’s all a mind game. Instead of focusing on the negative, try to picture yourself playing flawlessly. Don’t worry about other people, go out there and have fun and enjoy the music.

In the last few chapters, Underhill tries to discuss more specific techniques to use in different types of anxious situations: Presenting, Public Speaking, Athletic Performance, Music Performance, and Acting. I’ll just focus on the music part, but I’ve basically covered most of the helpful techniques that he talks about in this section. Something that hasn’t been mentioned yet is that you should always practice how you are going to perform. If you’re going to stand during the performance, then practice standing, and vice versa with sitting. Also, make sure that you either choose comfortable shoes for your performance, or if not, at least practice while wearing the uncomfortable ones. Make sure you choose a comfortable chair if you’re going to sit. Keep the clothes comfortable as well.

The rest mainly reiterates the point that you should try to be as positive as possible. You will never completely get rid of that anxious feeling, but the difference between a good and a bad performance is taking that anxiousness and channeling it into something positive. Jump and down, laugh, get excited about your performance. Don’t think, “Man, I hope this doesn’t suck,” but say to yourself, “I’m excited and I’m going to enjoy myself no matter what happens.” I think it’s good to be a little selfish sometimes, especially when we perform, because we, the performers, have put forth a lot of time and effort, and it is only natural that we should enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Final Verdict: If you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, then go ahead and read the book, because it’s free. If not, don’t waste your $3. I feel like I just did a better job of explaining his ideas…albeit, I must give Underhill some credit. He puts forth a lot of good ideas, but I just feel like the writing and execution is sub-par.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s