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Biofeedback technique eases musicians' anxiety

June 17, 2010 |  7:00 am

Music If you've ever sat down at the piano to play a Mozart sonata and couldn't find middle C, you know the feeling of performance anxiety. The condition, often called stage fright, is anxiety that is so severe it can impede performance. As many as three-quarters of musicians have musical performance anxiety. Thus, for serious students, learning to master this condition may be as important as learning all the scales.

A new study shows that a specific biofeedback technique is highly effective in decreasing stage fright. Researchers studied 14 college-age musicians. The musicians' tendency to have stage fright was estimated in a performance before an audience at the start of the study (with questionnaires and heart rate measurements). Half of the musicians repeated the performance four weeks later. The other half received training in biofeedback that was designed to teach them how to control their heart rate through thoughts and emotions. These students also performed again after four weeks.

The study showed a 71% decrease in performance anxiety in the biofeedback group compared with the control group. The biofeedback group had a 62% improvement in performance. The musicians in the biofeedback group also said they had an overall increased sense of calmness, slept better, were more relaxed and had less anger in their everyday lives.

Biofeedback helps coordinate the brain-heart-body processes, the authors wrote. This synchronicity defeats performance anxiety and gives musicians a feeling of "flow," the authors said, which they defined as "when a person is functioning at peak capacity, including mind, body and energy."

The study appears in the current issue of Biofeedback, published by the Assn. for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback.

-- Shari Roan

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Photo credit: Mel Melcon  /  Los Angeles Times

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Comments (9)

this article has 'got to be bad news for the drug / pharmacy industry.

calm, peace, and less anxiety without the use of drugs?

Wow. A test of a whole 14 people for a magazine called "Biofeedback" shows that with four weeks of biofeedback practice performance anxiety was reduced. Isn't that sample too small to make any generalized assumptions? Meanwhile, hypnotherapists regularly relieve performance anxiety in one session as do practitioners of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. But I guess a magazine named "Biofeedback" isn't going to do any comparisons with techniques that have a proven track record of success.

Good article and true. As many a college and professional recital/performance in my late teens to mid-20's, wind flow always "at-ready" (control, application, timing to in/out). Now decades later, I find myself competing in triathlons, and notice a close similarity when first jumping into the water. Essentially, it's that "will I be able to control air-flow and coordination" during the first 10 minutes that determines confidence levels for the remaining parts of the race. Stage fright or not, it's really up to the individual and whether a "good" or "bad" day is in the cards for you! Just have fun doing it no matter what.

I don’t know if this is so necessary... It's just called learning from experience. Students as well as pros need to know that 'being nervous' is a PART of performing. Try recording your performance, listen back, make your own evaluations and you next performance will benefit. Know thyself. Oh, yeah, it's probably a good idea to practice in an environment exactly like the performance is going to happen, lights, position, everything the same.. Some Japanese teachers make their students dip their hands in ice water and then play. I get that, making a negative-tool to overcome disfunction. But really, performing has to be a long term commitment. Practice to get good, sure, but also practice in performance mode is even better - no stopping to fix mistakes, and actually practicing to ‘impart’ the music to your listener, those are the important keys.

I am a musician and have been performing since I was 5 years old. I can tell you that it is very normal to have a rush of excitement just before taking the stage to perform. In many ways it can help add intensity to ones performance, but I can also understand how it can negatively affect it as well. In many ways, it is like an athlete that is about to take the field. One must learn how to channel that extra energy, increased heart rate, etc and control it in a way that enhances what you are doing. This is something that really only comes with experience, great preparation and a sense of confidence. Your instrument is an extension of your voice. And, if you're a singer, it is your voice! But, in the end, there is no greater feeling in the world, then that of a standing ovation. Good luck to those that are facing performance anxiety. I enjoyed reading this article.

Biofeedback is also used by Scientology to "clear" the "pre-clear" mind from "bad karma."

@Eltalon: This is a great tool for those with anxiety and no it's not called "learning from experience." I have over 20 years of performance experience in music, theatre, and dance. I also suffer from severe stage fright. I use relaxation to help me through, but it doesn't matter how much I practice or how well I know the material or how excited I am to show it to an audience. I have stage fright. Pure and simple.

Actually, it was a test of only 7 people for a magazine called "Biofeedback" ... the other 7 were the control group. Bring on L. Ron Hubbard and the E-flat meter!

Why would thsi be posted with a picture that is 13 years old?


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