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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