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Understanding the role of silence within music performance anxiety

posted on 16.02.2017, 02:49 by Fabian, Peter James Jorge
This project investigates the role of silence in the onset of anxiety in musical performances, and examines possible methods of managing this kind of Music Performance Anxiety (MPA). Classical music performance culture requires stillness and quietness from performers and audience, especially immediately before the beginning of the performance. This state of silence, and others like it that occur throughout a recital, can create immense stress on the player as they are not generally exposed to this state during practice, and it can leave the player feeling fully exposed to the audience. Despite the substantial literature that is available on the topic of performance anxiety, silence is seldom mentioned as a possible contributing factor. This gap in the literature is all the more surprising when one considers the vast range of studies that detail the neurological and psychological impact of silent states, as well as the philosophical challenges posed by the notion of silence. Silence is a pervasive convention in classical music contexts, and therefore there is a clear need to examine silence as a possible factor in the creation of performance anxiety. The idea that silence has power to create fear and anxiety must be investigated in order to understand how our brains react to the idea of no sound. The effects of this state on the mind and body should also be investigated to see how performance anxiety caused by silence can best be understood and managed. Therefore, the first part of the thesis examines the philosophical, psychological and neurological literature on the effect of silence on the mind and body, with brief reference to the scientific aspect. The second part compares various case studies of performance anxiety caused by a range of factors, and the third part brings together these ideas to suggest the role of silence in performance anxiety, as well as evaluating a range of management methods. It is hoped that there will be some ideas to help the performer who is negatively affected by silence in the classical music context.


Principal supervisor

Sarah Collins

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music

Campus location



Faculty of Arts