By Jack Singer, Ph.D.
Certified Sport Psychologist
The effects of anxiety on performance (both harmful and beneficial) have been well documented in such diverse areas as athletics, public speaking, test-taking and acting. A relatively new area of research studies the impact of anxiety in the realm of music.
“Music performance anxiety” (MPA) is characterized as “the experience of persisting, distressful apprehension about and/or actual impairment of, performance skills in a public context, to a degree unwarranted, given the individual’s musical aptitude, training and level of preparation.” Phew…what a mouthful that is! What this boils down to is debilitating anxiety during auditions or performances. MPA affects musicians of all ages and abilities, just as performance anxiety affects athletes of all ages, from amateur to professional.
As with anxiety with athletes, all anxiety is not bad. In fact, you may be surprised to know that being too relaxed can negatively impact performance as much as too much anxiety. The key is to determine where the cutoff point is, so that one can prepare for a performance by allowing the development of just the right amount of anxiety to motivate and pump up (the singer or musician), but not so much that she/he will begin to worry about failing or disappointing, which will quickly lead to full-blown stage fright.
In a new study reported in Sport, Exercise & Performance Psychology, thirty-three musicians (including singers, pianists, string, bass and woodwind musicians) were put through a training program very similar to the work I do with elite athletes. Half the participants were put in the “treatment group” and were taught how thoughts (e.g., “what if I stink up the place”), behaviors (e.g., breathing incorrectly) and feelings (e.g., fear of failure) interact. The other half of the participants were considered the control group and had not formal training of the above.
The treatment group participated in four short training workshops, aimed at learning how to recognize negative self-talk, how to stop it immediately and how to use visualization (imagery) to maintain concentration, decrease anxiety, and improve concentration.
The results showed that the treatment group musicians had less anxiety and had significantly higher quality in their performances, than did the group that received no treatment. I can substantiate these results, as I have used imagery and hypnosis to help musicians overcome pre-performance jitters and improve the quality of their performances. Like athletes, if musicians visualize the ideal performance they wish to accomplish, as if they have just completed it and the audience is applauding, etc., they will be conditioning their subconscious minds to follow that lead. Amazing you say? It really works…just practice as hard as you do your music.
The more knowledge musicians have about what contributes to their MPA and how to reduce that anxiety to manageable levels, the more enjoyable and rich their careers will most likely be!
Dr. Jack Singer is a Certified Sport Psychologist and a Professional Speaker. Contact Dr. Jack at: 1-800-497-9880 or by using the form below.