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  • rachaelinwoodmusic

The symptoms of performance anxiety

Updated: Feb 11, 2019

You are about to go on stage, but your stomach in knots. Your heart is racing, you don’t think it's possible for it to beat that fast. Your palms are sweaty, you don’t know how it will be possible to hold on to your instrument. All you want to do is run and hide, but it's too late. These are some of the symptoms of suffering from Music Performance Anxiety (MPA). Why do we experience these debilitating symptoms, when we about to perform.

This post is the start of a series of short posts, looking at performance anxiety, what it is and how to control the symptoms of it, so it doesn’t ruin our performances.

The term Music Performance Anxiety is used to describe the various different definitions of anxiety that musicians suffer. MPA’s meaning according to Dianna Kenny [1] is:

“the experience of marked and persistent anxious apprehension related to musical performance.”

MPA can affect all kinds of musicians ranging from the youngest beginner to the most seasoned professional musician.

There is research to suggest that musicians looking for perfection in their performances and like to have MPA [2].

It doesn’t matter what type of performance the musician is playing in, MPA can strike at any time. However, it is more likely in performances where the musician has more invested in the performance and/, or there is a high degree of failure.

There are emotional, mental, physical and behavioural symptoms associated with MPA. Very similar to the fight/flight response that animals and humans display when they feel under threat.

Symptoms include:

Fast heart and breathing rate.

A reduction in digestion,

pupil dilation

loss of peripheral vision and auditory exclusion

Pale face

Butterflies in stomach

memory lapses



catastrophizing (making a mountain out of a molehill)

Before a performance, a musician may also be experiencing behavioural symptoms such as:

avoiding practice or practising obsessively

abusing substances



difficulty focusing

Once you have established what the main ways your body responds to Music Performance Anxiety. It then helps you to understand and find ways to keep the anxiety under control. My next post will give you tips on how to deal with your symptoms.


[1] Kenny D. (2011) The Psychology of Music Performance Anxiety

[2] Patston T. and Osborne, M. (2015) The developmental features of music performance anxiety and perfectionist in school age music students.

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