, Volume 199, Issue 2, pp 117-126
Date: 22 Aug 2009

Music performance anxiety in skilled pianists: effects of social-evaluative performance situation on subjective, autonomic, and electromyographic reactions

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Music performance anxiety (MPA), or stage fright in music performance, is a serious problem for many musicians, because performance impairment accompanied by MPA can threaten their career. The present study sought to clarify on how a social-evaluative performance situation affects subjective, autonomic, and motor stress responses in pianists. Measurements of subjective state anxiety, heart rate (HR), sweat rate (SR), and electromyographic (EMG) activity of upper extremity muscles were obtained while 18 skilled pianists performed a solo piano piece(s) of their choice under stressful (competition) and non-stressful (rehearsal) conditions. Participants reported greater anxiety in the competition condition, which confirmed the effectiveness of stress manipulation. The HR and SR considerably increased from the rehearsal to competition condition reflecting the activation of sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system. Furthermore, participants showed higher levels of the EMG magnitude of proximal muscles (biceps brachii and upper trapezius) and the co-contraction of antagonistic muscles in the forearm (extensor digitorum communis and flexor digitorum superficialis) in the competition condition. Although these responses can be interpreted as integral components of an adaptive biological system that creates a state of motor readiness in an unstable or unpredictable environment, they can adversely influence pianists by disrupting their fine motor control on stage and by increasing the risk of playing-related musculoskeletal disorders.