Monday, December 10, 2012

The effect of Audience on Music Performance Anxiety

Effect of Audience on Music Performance Anxiety
Albert LeBlanc, Young Chang Jin, Mary Obert and Carolyn Siivola
Journal of Research in Music Education, Vol. 45, No. 3 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 480-496

This study looks at the effect of audience on music performance anxiety.  In particular, 27 high school band members were chosen that were performing in an upcoming concert (16 males and 11 females).  The instruments represented included flute oboe clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, french horn, trombone, euphonium, tuba, snare drum, and orchestra bells.  Participants were tested in three performance situations, corresponding to three levels of audience presence: the first was performing alone in a practice room; the second situation was in the practice room with one researcher present; the third was in a rehearsal room with the researchers present, a peer group (9-16 members of participants in the study), and a tape recording being made at the same time.  The recording was then judged by the four researchers on a scale from 1 to 10. 
Study took place six weeks befrore a major performance.  Students that did not have a solo to perform in the upcoming concert, were allowed to choose from a collection of wind instrument solos that would be relatively easy (as determined by the band director). 
Anxiety levels were measured through a self-reported survey, the Personal Performance Anxiety Report, which participants would fill out immediatley after each performance situation, which asked them to indicate anxiety levels on a scale ranging from 0 to 10.  Heart rate was measured by a Polar-Vantage heart-rate motnitor that monitored heart rate during each performance situation, recording heart-rate at five-second intervals. 
The students were instructed to prepare their solos in typical conditions - practicing at home, with the option of asking the band director for help.  No student performed from memory.   
Not surprisingly, the anxiety self-reports indicate increased anxiety in each of the performance situations.  Both anxiety levels and mean heart-rate remained nearly constant between the first two performance situations.   Both anxiety and heart rate rose significantly in the third performance setting.  Gender proved to be a factor not only in self-reported anxiety but also in increased heart-rate.  While female musicians presented better perfomances (as determined by the judges), they also reported significantly higher anxiety levels and increased heart-rates than male students. 
In an exit interview, the participants were asked which situation was the most stressful to them.  Not surprisingly, the third situation was rated as the most stressful by most participants - 63%, representing 17 participants.  30% (eight participants ) said playing for one researcher was the most stressful, while 7% (two participants) said playing alone was the most stressful. 
The authors conclude that this study confirms earlier studies done of older musicians that the presence of an audience has an effect on both anxiety and on heart-rate of performers.  The authors also suggest that music pedagogues should be aware of the potential stress that can arrise in performing in front of an audience for music students, as well as the possible effect of gender on anxiety. 

A very interesting study that supports the idea that playing in front of a physical audience can be more stressful than practicing.  This seems to indicate that these types of situations need to be created in the period of time leading up to a performance, as an example of "practicing performing." 
The authors point out a possible weakness in the study: only highly motivated  students would choose to perform a solo, thus self-selecting the better performers.  However, other studies have confirmed similar results. 
It seems at first glance surprising that some participants would cite performing alone as the most stressful.  However, one of the possible weaknesses of the study is that it is possible that during the study, students were in fact learning how to deal with performance anxiety.  In the first scenario, students probably felt some anxiety since the situation is new, as compared to practicing at home.  In the second, with one researcher present, they may have mentally prepared, gotten used to having a heart-rate monitor strapped to them. By the third, they may be expecting the more stress, but have found their own coping-mechanisms for performance anxiety, thereby perceiving the situation as not stressful.  This kind of gradual "practicing performing" is something that can be tremendously useful to all music students and performers. 
Lastly, there are other studies that have not found gender to be a factor in predicting performance anxiety.  I wonder if the results in this study as pertains to gender would be replicated in a larger-scale study. 

1 comment:

Elizabeth Roach said...

This is a subject that I am very interested in, as I have suffered from performance anxiety to the point where my abilities and execution suffered as well. I have been humiliated on stage, not because I wasn’t prepared, but because I was shaking/sweating so profusely I couldn’t handle my saxophone. However, my performance anxiety wasn’t just based on whether there was an audience present, it was the type of audience that was the determining factor. I would succumb to the pressure when I was performing for teachers or for classmates – but put me on a stage in a bar full of locals and I am in heaven. It is also about where and with what you are most comfortable. The more comfortable you are with anything, the easier and less stressful it is going to be. I think that your idea about “practicing performances” is essential to curbing stage fright. It’s as much about experience as it is about preparation – the “10,000 hours” fits in nicely here. In a school setting I think we need to keep in mind what significance we as music educators may be placing on our students’ performances.