University Lecturer dr. LUCHIAN IONESCU




       With this scientific work, we wish to consider the phenomenon of the acute stage-freight as seen from the perspective of the physiological modifications that occur during the young musicians’ performance.

       In this respect, we have made a formative psycho-pedagogical experiment that included psycho-physiological tests.

          The physiologic tests were carried out on an experimental group made up of 30 young musicians of both sexes, young musicians with remarkable scenic performances, whose results were compared with those of a witness group, named control group, made up of 30 amateurs with no stage experience whatsoever; at the end conclusions were drawn.

Keywords: stage-freight, anxiety, emotions, psycho-physiologic tests. 






The main argument in approaching this research is the wish to improve the quality of the creative-interpretative stage act of young musicians, being at the same time a modality of understanding the stage fright phenomenon with its inconveniences and advantages. The naturally ensuing question would refer to its advantages, and the answer, we suppose, cannot be but another question:

“Have you ever been impressed by a robot’s performance?”

Another equally serious reason, we believe, for discussing this topic is the lack of systematically organized data regarding the training for the stage of future generations of musicians among the professionals involved in the development of artistic personalities, and the lack of specialized institutions in this field in our country, unlike in other countries in Europe and in America.

And, last but not least, our endeavor has been initiated out of sheer personal curiosity some 25 years ago, when we dedicated ourselves to the teaching career both as instrument teacher and interpreter, experiencing the disappointments and satisfactions related to the life on stage and its preparations.

We wish neither to discover or to recommend miraculous recipes for eliminating stage fright and anxiety, nor to give advice to young interpreters or to their teachers; we intend to systematise all the data regarding this phenomenon and to pull an alarm signal; not knowing or ignoring these problems can cause the partial interruption or total demise of a career in this spectacular and risky field, and yet so noble and beautiful.

Our research hypothesis starts from the premise that every young musician’s stage performance is accompanied by significant psycho-physiological changes that can influence the performance in a positive way, if they are known, or in a negative way, if they are ignored.

       We admit that we have been preoccupied by and drawn to this topic ever since our very first years of pedagogic research, when we have registered all the behavioural changes caused by stage activities in our students on psycho-pedagogical record cards, in the hope of future tests, measurements and psycho-physiologic evaluations in order to discover and systematize every useful piece of information and to find at least a partial solution to the causes that determine stage fright and to make them public in order to inform the young generation of  musicians willing to take up this career. The choice of this topic was based on two impulses:

  • To observe, test and develop psycho-physiological experiments on a group of young musicians and to compare the obtained data with that of a witness group, that consists of amateur young musicians who do not perform on stage;
  • To apply anti-stress methods, such as mental relaxation, breathing exercises specific to yoga, to energize the young musicians in the first group through kin esthetical methods and to highlight the results.
Since 2000 we have been in touch with musicians at the Institute for Applied Kinaesthetic, I.A.K. (Institut für angewandte Kinesiologie – Freiburg) in Germany, founded between 1990-1991, and the materials they have generously sent us have been a real support in our experiments and tests developed in recent years.  
Material and method

      We consider this experiment to be a formative psycho-pedagogical one, and the involved methodology to be that of gathering, structuring and interpreting information, of intensive and extensive investigation, diagnosis and prognosis, and of applicative psycho-educational research. After two years of tests, we have introduced in our experiment a few breathing and relaxation exercises - which we hope to be factors of progress - to diminish the effects of stage fright; from this point of view we consider it to be a formative experiment.

 In this experiment, for the stimulus x (named stage fright), applied to different persons p1, p2, etc. (young interpreters), the reactions r1, r2 etc., will be specific to each individual, so that we can identify individual reactions and classify the subjects according to the results. Although there are differences between the test and the experiment, they can lead from one into the other; for example in our research some tests are used as situations or stimuli in the experimental research (physiological and psychological tests), while the experimental situation is standardized (provides the same conditions for all subjects), so it uses tests.

 The group of subjects investigated in our research, (also named experimental group), is made up of 30 young performing artists of both sexes, and is chosen according to its typicality, aged between 4 and 26; the results have been compared to those of a witness group (or control group), made up of 30 amateur young musicians of both sexes and who do not perform on stage, aged between 4 and 26. The period of investigation was of 4 years (1999-2003), with an approximate periodicity of three months (regarding the physiological tests), according to the schedule of stage performance of each subject. As concerns the physiological tests the investigations took place before, during and after the stage performance.

        The place of the investigation was the stage itself - during recitals, concerts, school and out-of-school auditions-or the exam classroom itself in the case of students. Two students at The Faculty of Medicine –Andreea Ionescu and Roxana Popescu – have collected the control samples for the physiological tests and the results have been communicated to col. Dr. Otel Ion, who analyzed them and drew his conclusions without meeting the investigated subjects. The investigated subjects did not know the results of their tests nor the person who did the evaluation.

 The physiological tests have been carried out making use of the following materials and installations, internationally homologated: turnsole paper - PH-Box E. Merck, D – 600100 Darmstadt, Germany (PH of sweat and saliva) a Holter polyreactograph - U.S.A. (respiratory frequency), Cresta tensionmeter DS – 115, digital blood pressure monitors, Ireland (arterial pressure), Medisense glucosemeter , precision Q.I.D., series 41924506, England (blood sugar level); thermometer – Normal Glass, England (temperature); ECG  Holter – Los Angeles – U.S.A. (cardiac frequency and  respiratory amplitude). The tests have been carried out with the help of and the installations provided by the G.P. dr. col. Ionel Oţel; the catecholamine has been determined through the analyses of urine samples taken after the performance, for 24 hours, examined in the Rombell – Constanţa laboratory; the presence of the vanyl-mandelic acid has been investigated.

In our experimental research we have gathered information regarding the subjects’ reactions (15 females + 15 males = 30) to stage fright and we have noted all the psychological changes determined by the tests, which were completed by the subjects each year for four years. We have observed especially the subjects’ degree of impressionability and the affective-emotional maturity, not overlooking the elements of personality structure. Each subject has undergone a number of eight tests:

1.    “personality structure” test (no. 1, S.T.I.)

2.     “identification of the attitude towards the self” test (no. 24)

3.    “identification of the degree of interior equilibrium” test (no. 2)

4.    “ identification of the creative potential” test (no. 8)

5.    “the degree of impressionability” test (no. 19)

6.    “affective maturity“ test (no. 19)

7.    “psychological symptoms to  stress” (no. 2)

8.    “behavior in stress conditions” test (no. 5 nocturnal and diurnal type)

Per total, in a period of four years, we have evaluated 960 psychological tests assisted by Dr. S. Popescu, main psychologist at the Constanta County Clinic Hospital. The evaluations have been carried out for each individual or on age groups, taking into account the sex of the subject. The individual psychological analyses has been elaborated after carrying out the test no.18 for emotional maturity, no.1 on 8 elements (simple impres-sionability, obsession, introversion, depression, impulsivity, psychical liability, anti-social tendencies), no. 19 evaluation questionnaire regarding the conscious degree of impressionability and the attitude towards emotion), no. 24 for attitude towards the self, no. 2 for interior equilibrium, no. 8 for creative potential, no. 2 for psychological symptoms to stress, no. 5 for temperament: morning-evening, diurnal-nocturnal.

Results and discussions - Physiological tests

In our experimental research we have gathered information regarding the subjects’ reactions (15 females + 15 males = 30) to stage fright and we have noted all the important physiological changes in a computerized database, which was later on processed statistically and mathematically, and presented for evaluation to our collaborator, col. dr. Oţel Ion. The physiological tests, eight in number -according to the measured parameters - have been carried out before, during and after the stage act, in a period of four years, with an approximate periodicity of three months, per total 6090 tests, which consist in:

§         Measuring cardiac frequency

§         Measuring respiratory frequency

§         Identifying the pH from sweat

§         Identifying the pH from saliva

§         Investigating the presence of catecholamine in the urine sample (vanyl-mandelicum acid)

§         Blood sugar level

§         Temperature

§         Arterial pressure

In order for the evaluation to be objective we have used the double-blind method, that is the evaluator (the doctor) and the investigated subjects did not meet. After the evaluation was carried out, on the basis of the data gathered by the two students, we preferred to collaborate to the specialist doctor, in order for our investigation to be objective and to have generalized and validated conclusions. Nevertheless, we will allow ourselves to have our own opinions. In the concluding chapter we present our opinions-taking into account the estimations of col. Dr. Ion Oţel-regarding the physiological tests, which were carried out.

      - Psychological tests

         We shall present, where necessary, after having consulted the psychologist Dr. S. Popescu, two examples, typical for each age group, of the individual psychological profile (1F+1M):

a) Pre-school children (between 4-8 years old)

Subject B.E., female, born in 1996, September, has tendencies towards emotional immaturity. She exteriorizes her emotions consciously, but she often refrains herself. When confronted with stage fright she can not refrain from crying. When she is sad she hides her feelings with difficulty, and when she is happy she expresses her emotions through a smile. The current predominant emotive profile, instable and slightly aggressive, emotional immature, is normal in the course of physical development for this age, the age of the pre-school child.

        Observation: The subject, who expresses her feelings in this manner, has the possibility to develop her psycho-physical health.

Subject A.I., male, born in 1996, December, with tendencies towards medium emotional maturity, has a healthy attitude to his own emotions, meaning that he is not afraid to confess occasionally these frustrations, therefore his statements are sincere. Resulting from test no.1 (S.T.I.), a tendency towards slight asthenia and perfection in sternness is prefigured. When confronted with stage fright, he manifests a remarkable adaptability.

        Observation: The subject can control his emotional or affective states, so that his psycho-physical health should not suffer.

        b) Primary school pupils (between 8-12 years old)

        In this age group, the subjects, males and females are very well adapted persons, extremely sensitive, who react quickly and promptly, pursuing the rapid rebalancing in the case of a failure due to acute stage fright. They get very easily detached from everything that is not concerned with the domain they explore. Starting with this age group, the subjects were tested in order for their creative potential to be identified (test no.8). Unlike pre-school children, primary school children manifest a high level of emotional maturity on stage, perhaps due to the fact that they are no longer beginners and they have entered programs for reducing stage fright before, during and especially after the performance.

        c) Secondary school pupils (between 12-16 years old)

        Generally, for this age group, there is a good rapport between the subjects’ expectations regarding their manifestations on stage and reality, meaning the obtained results. The beginning of adolescence is accompanied by pubertal manifestations, sentimental and affective oscillations and instabilities, as well as signs of introversion.

        Subject R. A., male, born in 1991, January, is a person who manifests slight emotional immaturity, is tenacious and detached on stage, revealing a firm character, slightly suspicious. He manifests slightly delineated sensitive-interpretative tendencies, acting detached during stage performances. His inner equilibrium is instable and therefore it takes him hard intellectual and physical efforts and a great amount of energy is wasted in order to harmonize the different divergent aspects of his personality. He lucidly appreciates his own emotional states, therefore being able to avoid temporary amnesia which might manifest itself on stage. He manifests a lively temperament, the nocturnal type, with a rich intellectual activity in the afternoon up to late at night, graduating his efforts in an economical way, due to his extraordinary ability to adapt.

        Subject T.L., female, born in 1990, April, manifests normal emotional maturity, having some fixed ideas, nurtured by the socio-educational background, but also by the frequent impediments which she wants to overcome immediately. She seldom suffers from inexplicable amnesia on stage, which is a positive fact when she is confronted with stage fright. Her agreement with her own Ego suffers from imperfection, because the conflicts between desires and reality are left unsolved at the emotional level, the subject manifesting therefore contradictory and oscillatory tendencies on stage. This agreement with the self will improve only if the subject has a thorough knowledge of the field she explores and agrees to face all the difficulties related to the stage activity. She manifests an extrovert temperament, the diurnal type, with a high amount of energy used in the stage act; she often needs intermissions when she makes intellectual efforts.

        d) High school pupils (between 16-19 years old)

         For this age group, teen age, the majority of the subjects manifest a profound artistic sensibility, showing a stable emotional equilibrium, creatively adapting to programs and anti-stress exercises proposed by the experimenter, which had encouraging, even satisfactory results. Generally, the subjects manifest passion for the artistic field and strive to get thorough knowledge about stage activity, despite failures and disappointment. A small part of the subjects have a tendency towards emotional and artistic immaturity, with slight emotional instability; nevertheless, these also take great efforts to adapt to the imposed or chosen stage program.

e) Graduate students (between 19-25 years old)

         For this age group, which consists in teenagers and young adults, we can notice the subjects’ passion for the artistic field, in which they seek professional and vocational accomplishment. Nevertheless, the subjects are often confronted with divergent tendencies of the personality structure, tendencies which can be balanced or blurred only through a solid theoretical and practical training in the chosen field, but especially through direct confrontation with the difficulties of stage life and of daily life in general. All subjects manifest stable emotional maturity, creatively adapting to anti-stress programs and exercises. The majority of the subjects have a formed personality, with features and tendencies specific to the artistic environment, with varied temperaments and characters.




Acute stage fright, in the case of children and young people, determines a significant tachycardia, which comes to normal levels during the first hour after the exposure to stress, without any difference for either sex.

        The marked differences between values, in the first two years of tests, may be due to sympathetic reactivity which is exaggerated in children rather than in the young adult.

        The cardiac rhythm variability is more accentuated between 4 and 9 o’clock, when the predominant parasympathetic nocturnal activity is replaced by the sympathetic diurnal one. During this period there are frequent ventricular and supra-ventricular ectopias (extrasystoles) with underleveling of segment (S-T), which may be the result of acute stage fright.

        We notice a decrease of 10% of the values in the last two years of tests, thanks to the anti-stress exercises performed by the subjects.

              In the case of acute stage fright, we can notice an increase in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, as proven by the parameters SDNN and SDANN.

             This significant increase is accompanied by a lesser increase in the parasympathetic activity, as proven by the augmentation of the ratio LF/HF to a value of 1.67. There is more sympathetic activity in the case of boys-1.94 in contrast to the girls-1.41. At night we can notice an increase in both activities-sympathetic and parasympathetic-compared to the values from before the exposure to stress, the parasympathetic nervous system being predominant over the sympathetic one.

              We can notice a significant increase in the respiratory frequency in the case of the subjects exposed to acute stage fright; its average value reaches 27.75 breaths/min., in contrast to the value of the control group and to the normal value of 20-21 breaths/min.The increase of the average value of the respiratory frequency is more accentuated for boys 25.26 breaths/min. than for girls 24.31 breaths/min.

             In acute stress, the maximum values are situated around 30 breaths/min. in contrast to the highest values of the control group of 24 breaths/min., and even the minimum values exceed the normal ones of 17-18 breaths/min. These increased values of the respiratory frequency during the exposure to acute stress, have a tendency of coming to normal within an hour.

            We can notice an important decrease of approximately 30% in the values registered in the last two years, thanks to the breathing exercises performed by the subjects.

                  Acute stage fright increases arterial pressure in the following descending order: systolic A.P., average A.P., and diastolic A.P. The systolic arterial pressure increases the most, determined by the prospective of a physic-intellectual effort. The average arterial pressure reaches high values (+11.32) also, due to the effects of acute stress. We mention that the values of the increase in A.P. are higher for girls. The diastolic arterial pressure increases the least, nevertheless exceeding the normal values. In all the cases where there was an increase in arterial pressure, this returned to the normal value, the value from before the acute stress, or even to a lower value. The values of the arterial pressure returned to normal within approximately 2 hours from the exposure to stress.

              We can notice a decrease in the values of the arterial pressure in the last two years of tests and the percentage is quite significant, of approximately 13-14%.

              The presence of a great number of catecholamines in the urine, due to stage fright, proves the effects of stage fright on all the subjects, irrespective of the sex or age. The boys are affected more than the girls by stage fright, with approximately +50 units/g. in 24 hours.

             The values registered in the last two years of tests have a slight but insufficient tendency to decrease, of approximately 6%.

            The temperature, due to acute stage fright, is modified with an approximate value of +1.16 Cº. The boys are more affected than the girls, with a difference of +0.32 Cº.

            Although it is not of great significance, we can notice a decrease in the values of the temperature in the last two years of tests, of approximately 5%.

            The values of the blood sugar levels are dropped to half, approximately -51.81mg/ml under the normal values and  -41.80mg/ml under those of the witness group (control group). The boys are disadvantaged in contrast to the girls, the decreases being significant and sometimes dangerous, and there is the possibility that these decreases may lead to temporary loss of consciousness. These decreases can be prevented by consuming sugar before the exposure to the acute stage stress.

          Approximately 80% of the subjects are affected by the drop of the blood sugar level, although in the last two years of tests the values increase by 12%.

          The 30% decrease of saliva pH in the case of all the subjects exposed to stage fright, irrespective of age or sex, is significant and can explain the sensation of having a lump in one’s throat, or having a dry mouth. The modification is higher for girls-1.02 than for boys-0.87, causing discomfort.

          There was not any improvement in the tests from the last two years.   

           The increase in the sweat pH of +1.03, due to stage fright, that is approximately 29%, is not significant when compared to professional sportspeople, but it is significant when compared to the witness group. The increase in the sweat pH is +0.09 higher for boys, without affecting the thermic comfort of the subjects, sometimes manifested in the sensation of cold sweat, especially on palms.

           There was not any improvement in the last two years of tests.




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(Ovidius University  Volume  Number  2005)





07 March 2006©


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