What would you do if I sang out of tune...? a qualitative study of music performance anxiety in professional Irish musicians

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Shaw, Erica
Issue Date
MA in Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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The literature on music performance anxiety (MPA) suggests that everyone who performers for an audience experiences it to some degree (Gabbard, 1983), and that it can both facilitate and debilitate performance (Mor et al.1995; Steptoe & Fidler, 1987). Psychology research proposes the severity of MPA occurs on a continuum and offers 3 classifications: MPA as a focal anxiety; a specific social phobia; and comorbid with other disorders. A limited amount of psychotherapy exists on MPA. Psychoanalytic practitioners explain MPA phenomena in terms of underlying developmental vicissitudes of a universal nature that are activated in the performance setting. This study aims to explore the experiences of MPA in Irish musicians. The researcher investigates how the participants experience and view MPA; how they cope; whether talking about MPA helps; and their relationship with the audience. The findings show the participants’ have conflicting views about whether MPA facilitates or debilitates performance. With regard to coping, the findings indicate the importance of rituals, preparation, and discussion with teachers and peers for self-regulation. In spite of this, the findings show participants are somewhat unwilling to speak about MPA with peers. The researcher proposes shame and oedipal dynamics underlying relationships with peers play a key role in the reasons participants do not discuss MPA with peers. Finally, the researcher investigates why performances where the participants’ feel connected to the audience are the most exhilarating. Author kewywords: Music performance, anxiety, stage fright, psychotherapy, musician