Do Musicians Get Performance Anxiety?

According to a recent study led by Veerle L. Simoens of the Cognitive Brain Research Unit at the Institute of Behavioral Sciences at the University of Helsinki in Finland, musicians who are not fully united with their instruments have the highest rates of performance anxiety. In the study, Simoens questioned 320 musicians, some professional, about their relationships with their instruments.

Based on the theory of the musician-instrument relationship, feeling united to the instrument strengthens musicians’ perceptions that they are merely vessels for their music, and that their bodies act as bridges between their instruments and their minds. This sense of being one with the instrument allows musicians to achieve the desired state of “flow,” a state in which technical expertise is easily mastered and the creative process can function most effectively. When a musician is in the flow, he or she tends to have less anxiety related to performance and is less concerned about criticism and technical mastery.

Simoens assessed the musical backgrounds of the musicians, their mental health, phobias related to social situations, anxiety resulting from performing, and coping strategies. The results revealed that those musicians who felt truly one with their instruments had the least amount of performance anxiety. This psychological state spilled over to their overall well-being, which was significantly higher than those musicians who felt barriers between their instruments and themselves.

The musicians who avoided performances or felt distanced and disconnected from their instruments found less enjoyment in playing and felt high levels of stress related to performing. Simoens added that they were more concerned about technical expertise, feeling more pressured to focus on the physical aspects of performing and less focused on the creative aspect. These musicians felt as if their music did not adequately reflect what they intended to perform. This psychological state that they felt during performances also spilled over to their general well-being, resulting in less overall satisfaction.

These findings were evident in all the participants, regardless of differences in general health status, musical training, smoking, drug and alcohol use, or other psychological stressors. “This musician-instrument relationship should, therefore, not be ignored in music education or in the treatment of afflictions related to music performance,” Simoens said.

Simoens, V. L., Tervaniemi, M. (2012). Musician-instrument relationship as a candidate index for professional well-being in musicians. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030164

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Counselling North Shore

    December 18th, 2012 at 3:13 PM

    I agree with article. Musicians are probably my most popular clients. Anxiety and self esteem issues seem to be the most prominent in this industry.

  • sharon

    December 18th, 2012 at 3:14 PM

    its so important to feel connected with your tools.not just in music but in almost all trades.I remember having a strong attachment to my baseball bat in my teen years.the connection itself gave me so much confidence whenever I stepped on the pitch!

  • Zeke

    December 18th, 2012 at 4:03 PM

    It astounds me when people with such obvious talent have issues with getting up and performing in front of others. They have been given such a gift, that if I had the same I think that I would want to share it with the world. But most of the are plagues with poor confidence and low self esteem when it comes to their real talent, and you have to wonder why that worries them so. mYou know that they have been nurtured and assured that they are indeed good enough, so why the issues with this? I suppose that we all question our real truths every now and again but it often seems that the more creative types are the ones who most struggle with this.

  • Jon

    December 19th, 2012 at 2:58 AM

    What exactly consititutes being “united” with their instruments? Is it just the feeling of connection with that instrument?Or does it have to do with a favorite or ‘lucky instrument?

    I always had this lucky pen I used in all of my exams.Maybe it was placebo but it really worked.Whenever I used that pen I scored well and when I couldn’t I din’t score just as well.Maybe a few of these musicians also have their lucky piece!

  • Paula

    December 19th, 2012 at 3:56 AM

    I have known so many parents who push music onto their kids, even when this is not what the child wants. Those are the children in performances whom I see who really do struggle. They are anxious and nervous when they have to perform, so maybe it is really true that if they were able to feel more as one with their instrument and have that connection that they would not necessarily have that fear on stage.

  • cal

    December 19th, 2012 at 5:21 PM

    everybody experiences anxiety but the real artists can overcome that and put on a performance that can leave the audience enthralled..while every person has different triggers and coping techniques for anxiety,for a musician to have his instrument as a coping tool can be of great benefit..its not only shielding him from anxiety but as his tool it is also letting him perform better with it,like it is a part of him.that is when great artists are born and people absolutely love them..but alas..there is a dearth of such artists now,all we see is commercial-minded,over-hyped people out there.

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