Musicians rate as the occupational group with the highest job satisfaction, but are also one of the five occupational groups most likely to suffer from mental illness (Brodsky, 1996.) Performance anxiety or stage fright is common and can manifest in both physical and cognitive (negative and self-critical thoughts) symptoms. At optimal levels, performance anxiety is energising, but it impairs the quality of performance when excessive. Memory can also be affected by performance anxiety.
It is most common in soloists, although it can affect all types of musicians. The main causes are thought to be self-induced pressure, excessive arousal and concern about inadequate preparation for performance (Kenny et al, 2014.) It may only emerge in certain specific circumstances, or can occur with every performance.
Useful treatments include CBT, Beta blockers, and muscle relaxation for wind players and singers when performing.
In situations such as playing in professional orchestras, musicians report a stigma associated with admitting to ‘weaknesses’ such as performance anxiety and a reluctance to be open about the problem, and this can exacerbate the situation.
BAPAM produces a useful factsheet on performance anxiety ‘I can’t go on.’20