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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, where they were required to take annual piano exams, and they had performed on at least one recital prior to this study. The children's heart rates were recorded over two sessions. The first baseline 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 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, which indicated whether they felt high, medium or low levels of anxiety. Open-ended questions 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, 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 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 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, 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 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 to distract them from the 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 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. She is an experienced independent piano teacher and a past president of the Ohio MTA. 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|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2004|
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