Performance Anxiety / Stage Fright

It’s not a virus! Reconceptualizing and de-pathologizing music performance anxiety

Music Performance Anxiety (MPA) is one of the most widespread and debilitating challenges facing musicians, affecting significant numbers of performers in terms of both their personal and professional functioning. Although numerous interventions exist to target MPA, its prevalence remains unchanged since the first large-scale studies of the 1980s, indicating that available interventions are having limited impact. This review synthesizes and critiques existing literature in order to investigate possible reasons for the limited efficacy of current approaches to managing MPA. Key concepts discussed include conceptual and methodological challenges surrounding defining MPA, theoretical perspectives on MPA’s etiology and manifestation, and the coping strategies and interventions used to manage MPA. MPA has predominantly been investigated pathologically and defined as a negative construct manifesting in unwanted symptoms. Based on this conceptualization, interventions largely seek to manage MPA through ameliorating symptoms. This review discusses possible reasons why this approach has broadly not proved successful, including the issue of relaxation being both unrealistic and counterproductive for peak performance, issues associated with intentionally changing one’s state creating resistance thus exacerbating anxiety, and focusing on the presence of, rather than response to, symptoms. Despite 50 years of research, MPA remains an unsolved enigma and continues to adversely impact musicians both on and off the stage. Reconceptualizing MPA as a normal and adaptive response to the pressures of performance may offer a new perspective on it, in terms of its definition, assessment and management, with practical as well as theoretical implications.

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The effects of anxiety on practice behaviors and performance quality in expert pianists

IntroductionDuring their career, musicians need to undergo intense periods of training to master musical instruments and become accomplished artists. Dysfunctional practice behaviors and anxiety are often mentioned among the possible risk factors for playing-related injuries in musicians. However, the mechanism through which these might lead to the onset of these injuries is still unclear. The present study aims at overcoming this limitation by investigating the relationship between quantitative measurements of anxiety, practice behaviors and music performance quality.MethodsThe experiment consisted in monitoring practice behaviors in 30 pianists practicing a short musical task.ResultsMost self-report anxiety measurements were positively correlated with practice time, especially those collected right before the practice sessions. Similar correlations were identified between anxiety and the number of repetitions of the musical task. Physiological markers of anxiety were only weakly related to practice behaviors. Subsequent analyses showed that high levels of anxiety were associated with poor quality of music performances at baseline. Nevertheless, the interaction between participants’ learning rate and anxiety measures showed no association with performance quality scores. Moreover, anxiety and performance quality co-developed during practice sessions, showing that pianists who improved their playing were also less anxious in the latter part of the experiment.DiscussionThese findings suggest that anxious musicians are likely at higher risk of developing playing-related injuries related to overuse and repetitive strains. Future directions and clinical implications are discussed.

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Repeated stage exposure reduces music performance anxiety

“… We conclude that repeated stage exposure significantly reduces HR as well as restlessness and playing errors linked to MPA. Public performances are still successful when HR is significantly higher than during rest periods. These results underscore the importance of stage training to become accustomed to realistic public self-exposure. Musicians – especially students – should

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