violin and performance enhancement drugs

August 26, 2012 at 03:36 AM · Recently there has been a lot of news about Lance Armstrong and "doping." Should violinists auditioning for competitions or orchestral positions be tested for drugs such as beta blockers for nerves, or other performance enhancing substances?

Replies (26)

August 26, 2012 at 03:42 AM · Beta blockers don't enhance performance for musicians.

For a small number of people, they help to control excessive physical symptoms of anxiety that would make playing an instrument impossible.

They cannot provide anyone with better technique, more informed interpretation, or playing skills that don't already exist. If your anxiety does not get in the way of your existing performance skills, taking beta blockers wouldn't help you in the slightest.

Where does one draw the line? I had a teacher who quit smoking because one day he got fed up that he couldn't get on stage without having a cigarette before (he got "the shakes" if he didn't light up). Is nicotine a performance-enhancing drug?

This subject has come up extensively in the professional woodwind community, and I'd recommend reading some of the responses here: http://test.woodwind.org/oboe/BBoard/read.html?f=20&i=68&t=68

August 26, 2012 at 03:56 AM · try closamin cq for better joint movement! I think our community is safe, however if its a fiddle contest then you might want to check for weed and moonshine!

August 26, 2012 at 04:07 AM · Who knows. Maybe double bass players take steroids ;)

August 26, 2012 at 04:08 AM ·

August 26, 2012 at 04:16 PM · Personally, I've never been able to tolerate even a half-glass of wine without it negatively affecting my violin coordination.

But, on the other side of the coin, perhaps there are foods or medications that could enhance violin playing. For example:

- humble pie

- the serpent's apple

- sleeping pills (to build empathy with the audience)

- and my all-time favorite violin performance-enhacing drug, a hot fudge sundae.

- and don't forget the witches' brew from Shakespeare, when they chanted, "Trouble, trouble - double bubble."

Cheers,

Sandy

August 26, 2012 at 05:19 PM · I sometimes take beta blockers as I suffer from anxiety so if I have a big performance at a time when my anxiety is pretty bad, I sometimes have no choice but to take one, though I avoid it at all costs.

It does not enhance my performance at all, after taking one my playing completely lacks energy and anything 'special', I feel bad about myself from the word go about the fact that I had to take one, I feel like I 'cheated' and don't feel proud or pleased after, even if I played ok. ! My performance coach said that it's extremely common for beta blockers to suppress your performance.

They are definitely not taken by anyone to give any kind of boost or anything like that, and I assume that 95% of people who have to take them, feel they have no choice and wish they didn't have to.

August 26, 2012 at 05:36 PM · I've used beta blockers (propranolol) for auditions and concerto appearances. I don't get super nervous for normal performances. For me anyway, here's what they do:

--keep my heart from pounding

--enable me to keep my breathing under control (since my heart is not pounding, I'm not using up oxygen at 500x the usual rate --- important for a flute player)

--keep my hands (all of me, really) from shaking & sweating

Here's what they do NOT help me with:

--concentration (I can still space out very calmly)

--negative thinking (not such a problem any more, but if I'm going to think bad things about myself, I'll do it whether my hands are shaking or not)

--being able to play anything I can't already play (not a substitute for learning my music)(sadly)

Basically they help me play as well as I could play at home, not better.

As for the energy aspect of things, I tend to shut down my energy if I'm nervous & trying to stay in control. I find that not being full of adrenaline actually allows me to call on my "good" energy without having to deal with the hard-to-control "fight or flight" energy.

So, all that being said --- I don't think I would call beta blockers a "performance enhancing" drug. It's sort of like using an umbrella in rainy weather.

August 26, 2012 at 06:41 PM · How much beta blocker should be taken by a nervous violinist?

10mg or 40 mg? I see two doses avaiable.

August 26, 2012 at 08:39 PM · I'm no doctor but I've noticed a lot of people who take these beta blockers for stage fright often are out of shape and high strung people to start with.

You can lower your heart rate naturally by working out regularly and including cardio exercise a few times a week. I'd give this a shot before taking meds that are really for people with high blood pressure.

In regards to whether or not they should be banned from auditions and competitions, I don't really see how these drugs enhance performance. I think you can sometimes in fact use adrenaline to your advantage and do some amazing things.

This is completely non-music related, but it shows the power of adrenaline. It is a story about a young girl lifting a car weighing over a ton that her dad got pinned under off of him:

http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/01/us/virginia-daughter-saves-dad/index.html

August 26, 2012 at 09:04 PM · To address the OP's question --

"Should violinists auditioning for competitions or orchestral positions be tested for drugs such as beta blockers for nerves, or other performance enhancing substances?"

-- I, personally, don't favor this. But I also strongly disfavor using chemical aids unless they are medically necessary. And I feel that the performing-arts community needs to do more to discourage their use. Otherwise, it seems to me, the "cure" is worse than the "disease."

If a medically diagnosed condition requires such agents, that's one thing; but when it comes to performance nerves -- something probably just about everyone here had to face when first starting in recitals -- I would far rather attack the problem itself than merely chase the symptoms.

August 26, 2012 at 09:32 PM · Just when I'd thought I'd heard it all......

August 26, 2012 at 10:48 PM · For Kitty, I experimented over the years and found 5 mg of Inderal sufficient for the purpose - that's a quarter of a 20 mg pill. It's not something you can experiment with except under the same stressful conditions you are seeking to use it for. All you can tell be experimenting with a dose before a performance is whether it affects you adversely. Asthmatics should be careful about taking beta blockers and they do not mix well with alcohol.

One more thing- JIM - do you have any more moral judgements to offer us?

Andy

August 26, 2012 at 10:58 PM · Andy, yes, but I'll hold my full forces in reserve.

August 27, 2012 at 03:12 AM · The dosage probably varies depending on your body weight. Best to check with your doctor, and even then I've found it's best to experiment beforehand so you don't over- or underdose yourself when the time comes.

I think maybe what Jim was trying to say was that it would be better to address the underlying causes of stage fright / nerves / confidence issues rather than just soak them in drugs and leave them unresolved. (Unless he was trying to be preachy & moralistic, in which case never mind :p )

August 27, 2012 at 05:26 AM · I drink coffee before performances. :)

August 27, 2012 at 12:58 PM · Bruce, you had it right. The intended sense of my reply, in your words:

"… better to address the underlying causes of stage fright / nerves / confidence issues rather than just soak them in drugs and leave them unresolved."

I figure, if some choose to take my comments as "moral judgments," so be it. It's an open forum. Sooner or later, we're all bound to hear opinions we disagree with -- and will probably state some of our own that others will disagree with. Anything we post is open to reader response. I keep remembering Jimmy Stewart's line in the Anatomy of a Murder film: "The cat's out of the bag. It's fair game for me to chase it."

August 28, 2012 at 04:40 AM · I think the case of sports and music is entirely different for performance enhancing drugs. While sports the winner is whoever does it the highest, fastest, or strongest is the winner, those qualities are not really part of music, which include but not limited to right notes, right rhythms, playing in tune, playing with good tone, and playing expressively. And that's more about management of nerves.

Until about 9 years ago, I suffered from HORRIBLE performance anxiety when playing a solo on an instrument, especially clarinet. I didn't get nervous in other situations, or playing the instrument in groups, but if I was playing a piece with just piano, I often got nervous before and during the performance, which affected my tone and breathing, sometimes having disastrous performances. But a few months after I met my husband, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, but within a few weeks of being diagnosed, I completed a music exam with a very good mark, and have reduced my number of bad performances from several times a year to only once in the past 5 or 6 years--and the last several years practicing a lot less than I used to, starting with easier repertoire and now replaying the repertoire that I had the technique and skills for, but couldn't do well under pressure before.

August 29, 2012 at 06:05 PM · Bruce Bodden writes: "Basically they help me play as well as I could play at home, not better."

That's some advantage! We'd ALL like that one.

I don't think it's an appropriate use of medication unless the propranodol been prescribed for a more general anxiety issue. Most musicians "suffer" from some degree of performance anxiety, and have to learn to deal with it, without crutches.

August 29, 2012 at 06:36 PM · I never viewed music as a "sport," but perhaps it would attract football fans to concerts and competitions if they knew major orchestras were considering making the switch? ;-)

August 29, 2012 at 07:34 PM · Marjory, propranolol isn't prescribed for "anxiety issues." It is prescribed to slow an overly fast heart rate, to treat atrial fibrillation, for hypertension, and to quiet certain types of hand tremors.

August 29, 2012 at 07:59 PM · "Marjory, propranolol isn't prescribed for "anxiety issues." It is prescribed to slow an overly fast heart rate, to treat atrial fibrillation, for hypertension, and to quiet certain types of hand tremors."

Actually, I do know of propranolol being prescribed for panic attacks.

August 30, 2012 at 12:06 AM · There is a whole other class of performance enhancers that students use to enhance memory retention and learn skills faster, and that is the nootropic category of supplements. Besides functioning as anxiolytics, certain nootropics such as aniracetam also increase musical sensitivity and can dramatically increase the rate of fine motor skill development. I shamelessly use racetam class nootropics to both enhance my ability to learn in a demanding science-centric college program and to rapidly learn to play the violin.

Unlike in the sports arena where PEDs can grant a person superhuman abilities, PEDs that assist in the musical arena do nothing more than maximize natural ability, so I find it difficult to consider their use unethical.

September 1, 2012 at 07:54 PM · "There is a whole other class of performance enhancers that students use to enhance memory retention and learn skills faster …. I shamelessly use racetam class nootropics to both enhance my ability to learn in a demanding science-centric college program and to rapidly learn to play the violin."

No personal experience here with nootropics; but when I look back at a skill or process learned, or a problem solved, I like knowing that I achieved this result by knuckling down and applying my God-given intelligence and insight, not by relying on a chemical performance enhancer. What if there were a sudden supply disruption -- or what if, for some other reason, you couldn't access the nootropics?

September 2, 2012 at 06:14 PM · Christina, many of those symptoms describe what happens during performance anxiety very well! And if a doctor is willing to prescribe propranodol for them as symptoms, well, it's still a dubious practice if the 'symptoms' only appear AT a performance or audition.

September 4, 2012 at 02:27 PM · I read somewhere that one of the main reasons why chess is not a true olympic sport is because the grand masters cannot give up their coffee and cigarettes.

September 4, 2012 at 02:48 PM · Good, Paul...but have you seen ANY Olympic event that is slow like chess? no athletic appeal, sadly. Takes an Olympian to play it well, of course.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Business Directory
Violinist.com Business Directory

Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning
Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Violin-Strings.com

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin

Warchal

Barenreiter

Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine

Subscribe