Music & Science: Stressed during sight-reading?

1 August 2019

Dr Katie Zhukov has had a long-term interest in helping music students overcome performance anxiety and published in early 2019 an overview of research in Medical Problems of Performing Artists.



In her most recent publication Dr Zhukov applies this interest into a new musical research context by investigating whether music students experience sight-reading as a stressful activity. While there is anecdotal evidence that this is the case, no other study has focused on evaluating physical symptoms of anxiety during musical sight-reading.

Music performance anxiety (MPA) research has investigated solo performance, using self-reports and questionnaires to measure the efficacy of interventions to reduce MPA. Studies examining physical symptoms of MPA have focused on measuring heart rates and muscle tension in players.

Dr Zhukov's pilot study examined MPA’s effects during music sight-reading (SR) by measuring physiological responses and SR accuracy amongst undergraduate woodwind students. The results demonstrate increased arousal as testing materials became more challenging and SR accuracy decreased.

The findings of this pilot study highlight the need for large-scale MPA interventions to broaden their scope by investigating specific music skills important for classical music careers in the 21st century instead of focusing only on solo performance.

Dr Zhukov suggests that SR research should consider including MPA assessment as part of experimental design. In particular, training of SR skills might need to include MPA interventions in order to be fully effective. Other implications for future MPA research includes the need to validate effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing MPA through the collection of pre and post physiological evidence in addition to the use of self-reports.

(Published in Music & Science, Volume 2:1–7, 2019; DOI: 10.1177/2059204319840730)