Miamiflute's Blog

The Anxiety Issue

Posted on: January 25, 2011

While the rest of the world is looking for snow days that lead to spring flowers, those of us in education get a little less sleep in the spring. It’s not lack of sunshine, but the over emphasis on testing. And this is testing season. Whether you are preparing your students for their annual Music Performance Assessment (MPA), solo and ensembles, college auditions, or just the onslaught of academic tests, the spring can cause some educationally induced anxiety. As educators, parents, and just plain people who care about other people, we can help reduce anxiety by talking to others about it.

Performance anxiety is not unique to musicians! Just look at Ricky Williams. This Heisman Trophy winning professional football player became the poster boy for performance anxiety back in 2003.

To combat adding to performance anxiety in yourself and others, consider a few things.

1. Are you creating a success oriented or failure-threatened atmosphere? 25% of your students will fall into one of these categories — how are you helping create success-oriented students?

2. Does the difficulty of the project/music match the level of the performers? Whether it is a college audition, MPA, or just a fun recruiting concert, does the music show off what the students can do? Highlight their strengths?

3. Who is this for? Anxiety will be highest when you are playing before peers or critics, playing solo, or playing for a very large or higher status of audience. Do you acknowledge this with your students, or sweep it under the rug?

4. Do you use a coping strategy? A moment of silence? Meditation? Deep breathing? Yoga? Positive self-talk? Imagine the audience naked? I have read recently about school systems using yoga to combat test anxiety in students, and organization such as YogaCalm have been create for classroom atmosphere. Master choral teacher Doreen Rao even addresses this in her book Circle of Sound which adds movement and meditation to singing instruction.

5. Some anxiety can be a good thing. That rush you get from performing live on stage – that buzz. I get it. I like it, too — that’s why I’m a performer, speaker, teacher, Supermom-Rockstar. Some level of excitement is needed to get you to the top of your game, to create enthusiasm. Don’t overlook this either. It can be a good thing, too.

Whatever your approach, the point is that you have do something to address the anxiety issue with yourself, your children, and your students. Knowledge is power and nothing is that scary when examined by the light of day.

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1 Response to "The Anxiety Issue"

Nice job working Ricky into the discussion! Folks everywhere seem to forget that he attributed his drug use to anxiety, not for fun.

The struggle for science is that we’re not good at training students to practice; we just assume that students who are good at the labwork can also be good speakers if tossed in the spotlight of a scientific conference. At some level, every teacher has a bit of #5 in them — otherwise, the pressure of continually getting in front of a classroom would become either overwhelming or (perhaps worse) immensely boring — and perhaps the lack of awareness that others don’t instinctively get that small thrill is the first hurdle to overcome when dealing with non-teaching students.

Thanks for the hints, though. I’ll be sure to let all my grad students know that I’m just fine with them doing some yoga before their thesis defenses. 🙂

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