Music and Anxiety / Stress
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Many students will feel anxious when asked to give a formal talk or musical performance, especially for the first time. There could be many reasons for this anxiety which may include any or all of the following:
- Unfamiliar situation: because most people speak formally only rarely to an audience, the novelty of the situation is a cause of apprehension.
- Lack of Confidence: this stems often from a feeling that others will be better speakers than us, or that they will know more about the topic in question.
- Sense of Isolation: the performer is alone, the centre of attention, and therefore vulnerable.
- Self-Consciousness: about our accents, grammar, voice and image generally.
- Fear of Looking Foolish: students may be worried that they will forget what they want to say, or will stumble over words, will say the wrong thing, or forget a section of the musical piece, etc.
- Fear of the Consequences: e.g. being judged by others, particularly tutors, as lacking in ability or insight because of a poor performance. At least with an essay, mistakes can be made in private!
There are a number of signs of anxiety that can affect students if they are feeling anxious about the presentation: increased heart and breathing rates, increased adrenaline, over-rapid reactions, and tension in the shoulder and neck area. These bodily changes can also affect the voice, making it sound tremulous, or disjointed by over-rapid breathing.
Students should be encouraged to overcome anxiety by planning and preparing presentations and thinking about what they want to say and how they want to say it. By encouraging students to adopt the following strategies, they can learn to prepare for presentations and therefore build confidence:
- This involves setting objectives; considering the purpose of the presentation and the message that the student is trying to get across to the audience.
- Knowing the audience: How many people will the student be speaking to? Why will they be there? What is their prior knowledge? What are their expectations?
- Brainstorming to get ideas down onto paper and selecting and ordering the points that they want to make.
- Considering the time that has been allocated and how much can be reasonably said in the time.
Decide how the presentation will be structured:
- The first four minutes are the time when the student is likely to have the full attention of the audience, it is important that they use this time to make an impact.
- Making notes: unless students will be reading a speech or a paper, notes should consist of only key words and phrases. Just enough to jog the memory and remind them of key points they want to make. They can be encouraged to use cue cards, mind maps or ordinary notes on paper depending on preference.
- Students will need to prepare any visual aids they will want to use well in advance.
- Ensure any equipment is available and that students are familiar with using it.
- Check the venue and ensure that students are familiar with the surroundings.
- Encourage students to practice the presentation out loud, either alone or in front of peers and invite feedback.
- Use a tape recorder to listen back to presentations. This will identify how much students will need to vary the tone of voice, any areas where they will need to add emphasis and the amount of enthusiasm they need to project into the presentation.
- Encourage students to practice in front of the mirror to identify any mannerisms or gestures they might want to add or change.
- Practice smiling to convey the message that students are pleased to be speaking to the audience and are enjoying the presentation. This will affect how the student relates to the audience as well as help them to build confidence.
The following case study describes a situation where a student was experiencing bouts of depression at a conservatoire in the UK. The strategies at the end are ones that the individual institution considered useful to the student in this particular situation.