Free improvisation and performance anxiety among piano students

by Allen, Robert Gail, Jr., D.M.A., BOSTON UNIVERSITY, 2010, 203 pages; 3399466


The sensations of a dry mouth, perspiration, knot in one's stomach, lump in one's throat, or that tingling feeling referred to as the "butterflies," are phenomena generally thought to be symptoms of "performance anxiety." The purpose of this study was to compare the levels of anxiety that students experienced according to whether their public performance consisted of a free improvisation or a repertory piece. This was based on the assumption that a free improvisation instructional strategy might aid in reducing levels of performance anxiety among school aged piano students, and should therefore be systematically evaluated for its potential to offer improvements to music education. The researcher had two objectives: (1) examine the relationship of students' levels of anxiety to free improvisation and repertory pieces during a performance, and (2) examine the effectiveness of free improvisation as a treatment for the reduction of performance anxiety. The following instruments were used for data collection: (1) Spielberger's State—Trait Anxiety Inventory for Children, (2) Musical Anxiety Report Scale (designed by the researcher), (3) Subject Interviews, (4) Parent Questionnaire, and (5) Performance Video. Thirty-six elementary, middle and high school students from a private music teaching studio were selected from a list of potential subjects available to the researcher. Participants were selected based on age (7-18 years) and years of training (1-3), as well as to comprise a gender balance. Sample criteria required that all subjects who participated in the study (1) play the piano, (2) claim to have experienced music performance anxiety, and (3) have not received any previous psychological or pharmacological treatment for their music performance anxiety. They were then randomly assigned to three groups (n = 12). Subjects within the treatment group(s) developed a free improvisation during weekly individual sessions, administered and observed by the researcher over a period of 6 weeks. Each participant was taught applications of scale, harmony, and rhythm elements from which to construct their free improvisations. Results from this study validated free improvisation as a treatment for significantly reducing anxiety during the public performance of a musical work.

AdviserDavid Hebert
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsMusic; Music education; Clinical psychology
Publication Number3399466

About ProQuest Dissertations & Theses
With nearly 4 million records, the ProQuest Dissertations & Theses (PQDT) Global database is the most comprehensive collection of dissertations and theses in the world. It is the database of record for graduate research.

PQDT Global combines content from a range of the world's premier universities - from the Ivy League to the Russell Group. Of the nearly 4 million graduate works included in the database, ProQuest offers more than 2.5 million in full text formats. Of those, over 1.7 million are available in PDF format. More than 90,000 dissertations and theses are added to the database each year.

If you have questions, please feel free to visit the ProQuest Web site - - or contact ProQuest Support.