Feb 4, 2014

Performance Anxiety? Roll With It!

Surely you've seen it-- the football team sprinting onto the field before a game, then huddling, yelling, jumping, and getting pumped up in any way possible.  Turns out, this tradition may be backed up by compelling psychological evidence.

A recent study by Alison Brooks published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology:General suggests that rather than trying to calm down as a way of coping with stress, you're better off getting excited:

Anxiety is a specific emotion characterized by high arousal, negative valence, uncertainty, and a low sense of control (Gray, 1991; Raghunathan & Pham, 1999; C. Smith & Ellsworth, 1985)...Although anxiety is unpleasant and aversive, it can have positive effects on behavior. For example, if individuals feel anxious far in advance of an event, it can motivate effort and preparation through a process called defensive pessimism; when individuals make negative appraisals about future events, they work harder to avoid potential negative outcomes and prepare more thoroughly (e.g., Norem & Chang, 2002)...My findings demonstrate the profound control and influence we have over our own emotions. The way we verbalize and think about our feelings helps to construct the way we actually feel. Saying “I am excited” represents a simple, minimal intervention that can be used quickly and easily to prime an opportunity mind-set and improve performance.

Anxiety can be a positive force in our performing ensembles, but unchecked, it can lead to students freezing up, speeding up tempo, raising pitch, and losing breath support.

I have started trying the "Get Excited" method with my students in private voice lessons and in choir.  So far, it seems to be working.  After we get more experience with it, I will post again with a more conclusive and thorough report.

What do you think?  How do you teach your students to deal with performance anxiety?

Moving forward,
J.D. Frizzell, a composer, conductor, and educator, is the Director of Fine Arts and Director of Vocal Music at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, TN. He earned the double Master's in Music Theory/Composition and Conducting from The University of Southern Mississippi, where he also earned the bachelor's degree in Music History and Literature. He is currently a candidate for the Doctorate of Musical Arts in Choral Conducting at the University of Kentucky. He has many published compositions available from www.cadenzaone.com and other sheet music retailers.

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