Managing Performance Anxiety
Most musicians choose their line of work based on a love of music and a desire to share it with others. Considering only this, one might believe that musicians enthusiastically welcome all opportunities to perform for people. Alas, this is not always the case. Being a performing musician involves pressures of different kinds. Often the greatest stress is felt when musicians take the stage to perform. Instead of sensing excitement in sharing their music with an audience, they feel apprehension and distress. This anxiety, commonly called “stage fright,” is a serious and debilitating performance problem for many musicians.
Unfortunately, performance anxiety may start early in the lives of musicians. Although parents and teachers provide children with the encouragement and assistance they need to develop as music students, they can also place such an emphasis on achievement that their young musicians feel pressured. Research has shown that adolescent musicians share the same experiences of performance anxiety as older performers (LeBlanc, Jin, Obert & Siivola, 1997), and we can assume that even younger musicians are susceptible to it when thrust into adult-like performing situations. In a survey of junior high and high school music students, roughly 55% of them reported having suffered from performance anxiety (Shoup, 1995).
Similar incidence is found in adult populations. Based on research, we estimate that around half of all performing musicians are affected to some degree by performance anxiety. Wesner, Noyes, and Davis (1990) found that 61% of students and faculty at an American school of music reported either “marked” or “moderate” distress when performing and that 47% blamed anxiety for their impaired performances. A survey of professional orchestra members showed 59% reporting past incidents of performance anxiety (Van Kemanade, Van Son, & Van Heesch, 1995). Other research has suggested that this problem is prevalent