Performance Anxiety and the Pedagogy of Consciousness

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During performance, the musician's mind shifts to an altered state of consciousness. Brainwave activity slows considerably, the subconscious mind becomes more active, and the critical conscious mind is subdued. Performers who are effectively able to reach and maintain this altered state consistently report a sense of freedom and lack of performance anxiety. Eminent psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to this as the perceived state of "flow," or optimal experience.

Unfortunately, the study of consciousness is often missing from most music curricula. As we assess the pedagogy of applied music study, it appears that most instructors focus on physical technique, interpretation, and performance practice, but rarely the science behind consciousness and music performance. Studies of the brain are often applied to learning theories rather than to a performer's control of optimal experience on stage.

This transdisciplinary paper examines the relationship between states of human consciousness and effective music performance. It combines concepts of the mind-process model of Carl Jung and Csikszentmihalyi's research on the ability to control the psychological state of flow, applying each of these to the pedagogy of music in both the studio and classroom. This session will include case studies from an innovative program at the University of St. Thomas, where students are learning to bring about conscious and conditioned control of the various brainwave states to alleviate performance anxiety.


Keywords: Music, Performance, Anxiety, Consciousness, Psychology, Brainwaves, Mind, Stage Fright, Mindfulness
Stream: Performing Arts Practices: Theatre, Dance, Music
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Vanessa Cornett-Murtada

Director of Keyboard Studies and Assistant Professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy, Department of Music, University of St. Thomas
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

Dr. Vanessa Cornett-Murtada is the Director of Keyboard Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she teaches piano and courses in piano pedagogy, literature, and mindfulness. She earned the DMA degree in piano performance from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and the MM and BM degrees in piano performance and pedagogy from West Virginia University. A chief examiner for the International Piano Performance Examinations Committee, she also teaches piano and adjudicates exams in Taiwan. A certified hypnotherapist, she specializes in the study and treatment of performance anxiety for students and professional musicians. Her research focuses on the nature of human consciousness and the role of the subconscious mind in music performance, as well as the applications of wellness in piano pedagogy.

Ref: A09P0029