In partnership with the Royal College of Music, London, the creators behind the documentary Composed conducted a survey targeting professional classical musicians with the intention of better understanding what causes their performance anxiety and what they do about it.
The survey was the first of its kind in 30 years, and the findings were telling.
To start, the survey revealed just how commonplace performance anxiety truly was. Only 2% of surveyed musicians said they hadn’t experienced performance anxiety.
While most would likely guess that a live performance was the biggest stressor in a musician’s life, it was actually auditioning that earned the top spot for the most stressful situations. Live performances followed in second place, with competitions falling in third.
But perhaps the most telling finding from the entire survey was the solution most musicians found relief in when it came to aiding their stage fright.
Of those surveyed, 72% said they had tried beta-blockers, a prescription medication known for preventing an adrenaline overload in high-pressure moments.
Propranolol, the most common beta-blocker used for anxiety, is typically a blood pressure medication. It’s also used to treat certain heart conditions. But when taken in a small dose, it’s been found to be an effective tool in preventing the physical symptoms of stress.
And apparently, it works very well – at least according to these musicians.
In the survey, 92% said that beta-blockers were the number one most effective treatment for combatting performance anxiety.
Despite the adage “confidence comes with experience”, experience fell behind beta-blockers into the number two spot.
Lower on the list, but still noted as being helpful, were performance psychology, meditation, physical exercise, and psychological therapy.
Although the survey clearly showed that a huge majority of professional musicians experienced performance anxiety and were actively seeking solutions to combat it, it remains a topic that is rarely talked about.
In the survey, 48% of musicians said they rarely talked about or never talked about performance anxiety or what they should do when they experience it during any stage of their music education.