The Effect of Bio/Neurofeedback Training on Musical Performance Anxiety

By Shelby Renee Carico, D.M.A., James Madison University, 2021.


Current research states that 15-25% of musicians regularly experience musical performance anxiety (MPA). Unfortunately, MPA and possible solutions to alleviate symptoms are not often discussed amongst musicians. Many musicians who suffer from MPA utilize various mental training skills such as meditation and imagery to alleviate the issue. However, for many, these are not successful. Therefore, many musicians revert to drastic measures to alleviate their symptoms such as obtaining and taking various beta-blocker and anti-anxiety medications. Biofeedback is a known treatment for many psychological and neurological issues, including anxiety. However, until recently, biofeedback sensors and training programs were only accessible through a certified practitioner. This research study examines the effects of using readily-available heart-rate variability (HRV) biofeedback sensors and electroencephalography (EEG) neurofeedback sensors in short 5-10 minute increments within the applied music studio setting to determine whether these technologies can offer a lasting, practical solution to alleviating the physical and mental symptoms of MPA.

A small pilot study was completed on May 2, 2019. The study had a total of 10 participants. In this pilot study, participants were given a pre-session survey, as well as a post-session survey. Using the approved IRB protocol, it was found that participants’ coherence levels increased by an average of 93% after being led through a short bio/neurofeedback session, and their time in the alpha brain wave state was increased by 54%. Survey results showed that 66% of participants felt that their performance was much improved in comparison to their performance without using bio/neurofeedback devices, and 100% of participants felt that this training would be beneficial for their future use. In addition to the benefits shown and perceived by the increases in alpha brain waves and coherence levels, 23% of participants felt that no physical manifestations of musical performance anxiety occurred in their performance after their bio/neurofeedback training session. In the pre-study survey, the participants identified 59 factors that contribute to their anxiety during a performance. However, in the post-study survey, only 9 contributing factors remained.

Because the data obtained in this study yielded such positive results, a larger-scale study will be devised and conducted in the future.

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