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Most of us have a deeply personal understanding of performance anxiety. Not only do we deal with our own anxieties when we play, we also must try to help our students understand how and why their bodies react to performance stresses and how to cope with the symptoms. But do our female students experience performance anxiety in the same way our male students do? A recent research study by Charlene Ryan Ryan may refer to: Places
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 investigated gender differences in how children experience musical performance anxiety. (1) Most studies in performance anxiety have focused on university music majors and professional musicians, but children also experience anxiety in performance situations, whether in the classroom, on the stage or on the athletic field. This study investigated both the experience of anxiety in children and the relationship between anxiety and gender.

Twenty-six children from the sixth grade in an urban school participated in this study. They received piano lessons from the faculty of a large conservatory conservatory

In architecture, a heavily glazed structure, frequently attached to and directly entered from a dwelling, in which plants are protected and displayed. Unlike the greenhouse, an informal structure situated in the working area of a garden, the conservatory became
, where they were required to take annual piano exams, and they had performed on at least one recital Recital - dBASE-like language and DBMS from Recital Corporation. Versions include Vax VMS.  prior to this study. The children's heart rates were recorded over two sessions. The first baseline The horizontal line to which the bottoms of lowercase characters (without descenders) are aligned. See typeface.

baseline - released version
 rate was recorded during a forty-five-minute piano lesson. The second rate was recorded in a formal recital situation, from the time the child went in a group to the side of the stage to await AWAIT, crim. law. Seems to signify what is now understood by lying in wait, or way-laying.  playing, to the time he or she exited the stage after performing. The rates were recorded every fifteen seconds, and averages were calculated for the baseline rate, the "waiting to play" rate and the "during playing" rate. Each child completed a standardized test A standardized test is a test administered and scored in a standard manner. The tests are designed in such a way that the "questions, conditions for administering, scoring procedures, and interpretations are consistent" [1] , which indicated whether they felt high, medium or low levels of anxiety. Open-ended questions A closed-ended question is a form of question, which normally can be answered with a simple "yes/no" dichotomous question, a specific simple piece of information, or a selection from multiple choices (multiple-choice question), if one excludes such non-answer responses as dodging a  also were given to gauge their feelings about playing on the recital. The recital was videotaped and evaluated in fifteen-second blocks to evaluate five categories of anxious behaviors: feet and legs Feet and Legs
See also anatomy; body, human; walking.


any invertebrate of the phylum that includes insects, arachnids, crustaceans, and myriapods with jointed legs.
, body, arms and hands, instrument and head and face. The tapes were reviewed a second time to examine external events in three categories:

* Distractions Around the Child

* Distractions in the Audience

* Other Errors (memory slips, false starts, technical errors and so on)

Two expert pianists also viewed the taped performances and numerically nu·mer·i·cal   also nu·mer·ic
1. Of or relating to a number or series of numbers: numerical order.

2. Designating number or a number: a numerical symbol.
 rated the quality of each child's performance as low, moderate or high.

The results of the study seem to indicate there are differences in the way boys and girls boys and girls

 respond to performance anxiety. The girls' average heart rates increased steadily from the baseline to the "waiting to play" to the actual performance, indicating anticipatory anxiety anticipatory anxiety Psychiatry Anxiety caused by an expectation of anxiety or panic in a particular situation. See performance anxiety. , as well as performance anxiety. The boys did not have a significant increase in average heart rate between the baseline and "waiting to play" numbers. Once the boys actually started to perform, however, their heart rate increased dramatically and actually exceeded the girls'. "The boys seemed to react physiologically phys·i·o·log·i·cal   also phys·i·o·log·ic
1. Of or relating to physiology.

2. Being in accord with or characteristic of the normal functioning of a living organism.

 to the performance situation only when directly confronted with it." (2)

When analyzing the videotapes, the researchers found, "Boys displayed significantly more anxious behaviors than girls both prior to and during the recital. It is possible that the boys used physical activity as a coping mechanism coping mechanism Psychiatry Any conscious or unconscious mechanism of adjusting to environmental stress without altering personal goals or purposes  to distract them from the impending im·pend  
intr.v. im·pend·ed, im·pend·ing, im·pends
1. To be about to occur: Her retirement is impending.

 performance situation, and that this physical activity also helped them to maintain the lower heart rates that were observed." (3) Their lower "waiting to perform" heart rate is interesting in light of the fact that the boys said they felt most anxious before the performance experience. There also was some indication that boys who had more anxious behaviors before performing usually performed better.

The girls' anxiety measures were more connected than the boys'--the girls with more anxious behaviors before playing also had higher heart rates prior to playing. Although there was some indication that the level of anxiety impacted the girls' level of performance more than the boys', the researcher believed there were too many possible explanations for these results to draw any conclusions from them.

The children's comments indicated that family, teachers and friends sometimes tried to help ease the student's anxiety by saying, "Don't worry," advocating practice and focusing on the technical aspects of the performance. Although practice is, of course, important for successful performances, research has not shown it to help anxious performers relieve their anxiety. (4) It appeared to be the students themselves who were finding ways of successfully coping. Ryan concludes:
   Teachers should ... be wary of
   leading students to believe that
   technical perfection is the ultimate
   goal in performance. While technical
   proficiency is an important
   component of performance, so is
   musical expressiveness. Perhaps
   more emphasis on the latter might
   reduce students' rumination on
   "not making any mistakes." Since
   fear of errors was clearly tied up
   with students' anxiety in this
   study, it seems that reducing this
   fear might effectively reduce performance
   anxiety and, in doing
   so, reduce the number of errors in
   performances. (5)


As I have gained experience as a teacher, I have become more proactive about discussing performance anxiety and coping mechanisms with my elementary-aged students. I suppose I used to think that if I didn't discuss it, they might not know to be nervous. But waiting to have the "how to cope" talk until after a performance disaster is too little, too late. It's really never too soon to begin emphasizing the importance of a musical performance and to let the student know that one wrong note does not nullify nul·li·fy  
tr.v. nul·li·fied, nul·li·fy·ing, nul·li·fies
1. To make null; invalidate.

2. To counteract the force or effectiveness of.
 the other 683 beautifully played ones. It's also important during the lesson to not constantly stop the children to correct imperfections, never letting them experience playing through a piece, no matter what happens.

This study suggests that both genders need to understand how to prepare mentally and technically for the stress of a performance because they both experience anxiety. They may, however, choose different approaches to coping with the increased heart rate and other symptoms of nervousness, and now I am wondering how I can help them find the mechanisms that will work best for them. Should I tell the boys to wiggle more and the girls to worry less? This study seems to leave me with new information, but in a quandary as to how to use it!


(1.) Ryan, Charlene. "Gender Differences in Children's Experience of Musical Performance Anxiety."

Psychology of Music, 32 (2004): 89-103.

(2.) Ibid., 99.

(3.) Ibid., 100.

(4.) Ibid., 101.

(5.) Ibid., 101.

Rebecca Grooms Johnson is the director of keyboard pedagogy at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio Columbus is the capital and the largest city of the American state of Ohio. Named for explorer Christopher Columbus, the city was founded in 1812 at the confluence of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers, and assumed the functions of state capital in 1816. . She is an experienced independent piano teacher and a past president of the Ohio MTA (1) (Message Transfer Agent or Mail Transfer Agent) The store and forward part of a messaging system. See messaging system.

(2) See M Technology Association.

1. (messaging) MTA - Message Transfer Agent.
. Johnson' holds a Ph.D. degree in piano pedagogy.
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Title Annotation:Professional Resources
Author:Johnson, Rebecca Grooms
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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