Luther College student studies ways to combat performance anxiety

October 22, 2020

Luther College junior, Abigail Toussaint spent her summer studying solutions that could be used to combat performance anxiety, a problem faced by many musicians. 

"I have struggled with music performance anxiety for many years and wholeheartedly understand the stress and frustration that it causes," said Toussaint. "In part, this project was inspired in an effort to help me, personally, get a grip on my nerves. But more importantly, I hope that this project might help those around me."

            The purpose of Toussaint's work, with the help of her faculty advisor, Loren Toussaint, was to determine practical solutions that music students and musicians in general can utilize to cope with and combat music performance anxiety. 

The project took place in two phases. Phase one included more than 400 students who completed a survey, asking about their personal experiences with performance anxiety and the methods they used to cope with it. In phase two, 65 participants completed a questionnaire measuring their musical confidence before and after an assigned reading. Half of the participants read an article about coping methods and how to use them, while the other half read an unrelated article. 

To analyze the results of this project, music performance anxiety scores and self-confidence scores were calculated. Toussaint was able to draw comparisons between experience-level groups to determine that the educational reading about coping mechanisms was beneficial. 

"We found that regardless of the level of music performance anxiety one may be experiencing, their confidence improved solely after reading about coping mechanisms. I believe that by reading and educating oneself, that musician can improve their confidence level and therefore, have a more enjoyable performance."

            Through this research, Toussaint had the opportunity to connect with many Luther music students and faculty members, many of who share the same feelings of performance anxiety.

"During a time when social interaction was discouraged, I was reminded of the beauty of community. Multiple participants reached out to me after completing the survey with heartwarming messages. I found great comfort in the fact that I wasn't alone - in my experience with music performance anxiety, or in my experience as a musician during COVID-19. This project reminded me to cherish that community, despite the hurdles we may face."

Through this summer research project, Toussaint said she learned a great deal about music performance anxiety and about the research process in general. She hopes to complete more research in the future regarding this topic with the goal of being able to make performing music enjoyable for her future students.

"As a future educator, I am eager to incorporate what I have learned in my classroom. I know how crippling performance anxiety can be so I'm hopeful that I might be able to help my students find joy in playing/singing music."

            This project was part of Luther's Summer Student/Faculty Collaborative Research program. As a college that prides itself on offering active-learning opportunities, this program allows students to engage in collaborative research projects with Luther faculty members during Summer Session. All returning Luther students, in any major, are eligible to apply. Each full grant provides a $3,000 stipend for eight weeks of research work as well as on-campus shared housing and up to $500 for project expenses.

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