Musicians, Rumination and Anxiety: Is there a connection?

July 7, 2018, 7:28 AM ·
Rumination: excessive repetition, often uncontrollable or difficult to control.

Are musicians more likely susceptible to anxiety because of poor practice habits; rumination of new exercises, pieces, and techniques?

It is my "belief" there is a connection, but I need to know what others think or experience. I believe that rumination in musical practice can also be transferred to other areas in a person's life: social anxiety, stage fright, education, etc...

Replies (8)

July 7, 2018, 7:37 AM · Finding causes so you can work towards better piece in both music and life has nothing to do with anxiety. The key is love. If you do not love what you are doing, whatever things or methods that you do will increase stress. And if you do not know how to deal with stress or manage it, you will get anxiety. And if anxiety happens often, in the long run , you can suffer from anxiety disorder.


July 7, 2018, 9:49 AM · I agree with Norfolk Southern.
July 7, 2018, 4:27 PM · I’m not sure exactly what you mean by anxiety, but I assume that you mean the “bad” or excessive or inappropriate kind. From a medical perspective, not enough “anxiety” tends to degrade perseverance for a task, or the will to succeed in a learning a difficult task. Too much anxiety can degrade performance of a practiced task, or interfere with learning of a new one.

It seems to me that many musicians ruminate about music as our form of thinking, either as a reflection of an emotional state, or possibly when “working” on the intellectual problem of how to play or memorize something. Moments of inspiration in analogous non-musical situations can be a surprise, like Archimedes in his bathtub, or Einstein on a train.

With out a doubt there are connections among anxiety, rumination and inspiration, and musicians express it in a unique musical way.

As for dysfunctional anxiety in particular, the stresses of music as a career are well known, and there are, I believe studies (one recently reviewed in The Strad) that support th conclusion that there is a high rate of anxiety disorders among musicians relating to a competitive environment, and pressure to perform difficult performances well. Some have tried beta blocker drugs to control stage fright etc., and my understanding is that it is quite controversial whether or not this should be a regular practice.

July 8, 2018, 12:49 AM · Paul Deck: Norfolk Southern...I like that :D
July 8, 2018, 4:16 PM · @ Charlie - there should be nothing controversial about using beta blockers. Some people are naturally hyperactive in this way and the unfortunate results (bow shakes etc.) are beyond their control.

I've known people who use them for every audition they've ever taken.

July 8, 2018, 9:35 PM · It is a stress-ridden career.

I have heard chatter that a huge percentage of professional orchestra players are under some kind of psychiatric care. No specifics, of course.

July 8, 2018, 9:56 PM · Re beta blockers - I have no direct experience using them, but I have noted for years that in public speaking, my first few sentences might sound outwardly nervous, but once I get into my topic it goes away. Though I am very new to violin performance, I did a recital recently and a similar thing happened - the first few bars had some bow bounces, that went away as I “settled in”. The critique I have heard about beta blockers is that one risks removing some emotion from one’s playing, but maybe that’s a reasonable trade for avoiding gross degradation of performance due to the effects of excess anxiety. Maybe just adjusting the dose...

As for incidence of psychiatric care and psych meds in particular, people generally don’t volunteer it, but in taking medical histories I have long been struck by the high incidence of psych med use in the general population. It would be difficult to design a study for musicians to see if incidence is higher than the general population, but I have heard that chatter too.

July 9, 2018, 9:43 AM · Rumination is a form of worry (which is different than anxiety) in that one typically worries/ruminates on the past, something that is out of one's control but one metaphorically keeps chewing on the material. Rumination prevents progress.

Anxiety is fear of the future, upcoming event, or something that does not have a certain outcome (medical test results, competition results, an upcoming performance, etc.).

Rumination would then be spending an unconscionable amount of time reviewing one's performance to the detriment of learning then moving forward and dropping the ruminating material. Anxiety would then be allowing the fear of an upcoming performance (say, for a competition) to overtake oneself leading to a poor performance.

I do not think that anxiety and/or rumination are necessary for improving as a musician. Nor do I think that anxiety and/or rumination are the cause/consequence of bad practice habits.

There's nothing wrong with taking care of one's psychiatric/psychological/emotional/mental health. Psych medication use is very high in the US - regardless of population.

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