My first ever public flute performance took place when I was 10 years old. I wasn’t nervous… until I started playing.
Suddenly, I panicked.
The notes on the page looked strange, the piano accompaniment my teacher was playing didn’t sound at all familiar, despite months of preparation, and for the life of me, I could not remember how to play a b-flat.
This was just the beginning of a long and frustrating (ongoing) battle with Music Performance Anxiety.
What is Music Performance Anxiety (MPA)?
Music performance anxiety is a marked and continued feeling of anxiety which relates to musical performance and is a type of social anxiety disorder.
Many musicians of all ages, both professional and amateur, experience anxiety about performing and this is made worse by the presence of an audience and or judges.
Music performance anxiety may cause you to experience physical symptoms such as, a racing pulse, rapid breathing, dry mouth, cold, shaky hands, or nausea and more. It may also cause you to experience psychological distress, like feeling extremely anxious before a performance, being extremely concerned about negative reactions from the audience or judges or experiencing the feeling of being unable to make it through a performance. It may even impact your ability to sleep and eat and may increase your chances of developing an injury related to playing your instrument.
What causes MPA?
MPA is often more common amongst people who suffer from anxiety disorders such as social anxiety, or those with higher trait anxiety- this is a personality trait which effects a person’s general anxiety levels- so, if you are a person who often feels anxious, you have higher trait anxiety.
Being insufficiently prepared for a performance is another reason why you may experience MPA. If a piece is unfamiliar and difficult to play, you will be more anxious about performing it. However, if you have practiced enough (and well!), the music will feel more comfortable, which will in turn help you to feel less anxious.
The way that you think can also be a contributing factor to MPA. Believing things such as:
“I had a bad performance, I must be a bad performer”
“if I don’t perform perfectly, I am a failure”
can increase your feelings of anxiety and make your symptoms worse. This kind of “black and white thinking” turns even a small, informal performance into a career-defining moment in your mind.
MPA is common
Many musicians have dealt with MPA and have gone on to have successful performing careers, despite their anxiety. Classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz, composer Frederic Chopin, soprano Renee Fleming, superstar Adele, and Barbara Streisand are some of them! As you probably recognize at least one of these names, you can believe that MPA does not have to stop you from performing and having a great musical career. In my next blog post, I’ll walk you through a few methods to help you deal with MPA.
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