The Mind-Body Connection Stress Reduction for Musicians

By McBrien, Robert | American Music Teacher, October-November 2005 | Go to article overview

The Mind-Body Connection Stress Reduction for Musicians


McBrien, Robert, American Music Teacher


Performing music is very similar to competitive sports. The long hours of practice, the physical and mental preparation, the nutrition discipline, rest and skill development, all come together on the day of the performance.

Stress is an integral part of the experience. For some, stress equals challenge, but for others it generates fear, tensions and even illness. The bad news is that stress can have a negative impact on the quality of the performance, often creating feelings of anxiety, doubt and despair in the musician.

For those who experience high stress when performing, I have good news: reducing stress to manageable levels and mentally preparing for a peak performance involve simple body-mind skills that most motivated musicians can learn. In this program, participants first receive information, learn basic stress releasing and imagery skills, followed by brief experiences with the four key steps to a mind-body method for performing at their highest level.

First, "stressology" facts inform participants of the impact the "fight or flight" response has on performance. Participants learn to recognize their sources of stress and personal stressors. Since stressors are both external (our environment) and internal (our physical health and cognitions), the goal is to learn to catch the tension as it begins to build and reduce it. Next, information about the effects of the relaxation response prepares participants for an experience with the first key step, a basic relaxation technique.

Self-regulation of stress via relaxation involves sitting quietly, closing the eyes and performing a series of "tense then release" exercises of muscle groups. In just four or five minutes deep muscle relaxation begins to counter the impact of tense muscles generated by the stress reaction.

Following relaxation training, participants learn the psychology of peak experiences. Understanding the Yerkes-Dodson inverted U hypothesis, guides musicians to focus on achieving their peak level of performing. Also, the pitfalls of "trying too hard" are avoided. This information prepares participants for their second key step, using mental recall of best efforts.

Mentally recalling a personal best performance provides a virtual example of how the mind-body connection manages the pressures and tensions of preparing for and performing at one's highest ability level.

Mental recall of best efforts involves two steps. …

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