6 ways to deal with music exam nerves

Posted: 23 April 2018
  • The unexpected is a big cause of nervousness for most of us. Of course, there’s always going to be an element of it in an exam setting – you don’t know which scales or sight reading the examiner might ask you to play, for example – but you can prepare for the format of the exam, so you know what’s coming
  • What are they going to ask you to do first? 
  • What speed should you play your scales at? 
  • Do you know what your aural tests will involve?

It’s worth asking your teacher, friends or the exam board if you are unsure what the exam may involve other than your set pieces. 

  • Most examiners won’t give much away in the exam room – their body language may seem quite closed and they might not smile too much – but this is part of their job, and is in no way a reflection of your performance.
  • In reality, the examiner wants you to feel comfortable and to do well. No examiner wants to see you slip up and have to give out a poor mark, just as much as you don’t want to receive one. Try to remember that the examiner is not working against you; they are simply helping you to get to the next level.
  • Write a checklist of what you need on exam day and get everything ready the night before.
  • Pack plenty of spare instrument accessories if you use anything that might break, and lots of water too.
  • Arrive early and allow extra time for traffic or delays on public transport. 

Most exam centre will have a waiting area where you can get your music ready, assemble and warm up your instrument, and have time to sit quietly and think calmly through the music. 


  • If the examiner asks you something you don’t understand, or phrases something in a way you haven’t heard before, ask them to repeat it or to explain what they’re asking you to do in a different way.
  • There’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking for clarification, and it can buy you a little extra time to prepare yourself too. 
  • It’s incredibly easy to rush through things when you’re nervous which can throw off your timing and cause you to make mistakes you wouldn’t otherwise make.
  • Try to take a few deep breaths before beginning your pieces or exercises
  • Concentrate on keeping an even tempo
  • Take your time on any sight reading
  • Try not to blurt out the answers to aural or theory questions immediately, take a few more moments to think
  • Now is not the time to show off a new outfit you’ve never worn before. Wear something that you know is comfortable and doesn’t restrict the movements you need to make in order to play.