“Research has shown that people who adopt mastery goals experience the lowest levels of performance anxiety.”
–Music Educators Journal, Dec. 2010.*
When we step on stage, nothing affects our state of mind more than our goals.
Mastery goals inspire us to be artistic and fearless.
Avoidance and comparison goals, in contrast, sap our creativity and confidence.
Also labeled ‘learning goals,’ mastery goals reflect a performer’s desire to increase personal or task mastery.
When mastery-oriented musicians step under the spotlights, they trust in their ability to perform and also to learn from whatever comes up. They view performing as an adventure through which they and their audiences grow.
Memory slips? No problem. They improvise through them to the delight of listeners. Then, prior to the next show, they practice in novel ways, grateful to have uncovered gaps in their memorization strategies.
Technical flubs? They saturate each phrase with emotion, and audience members don’t notice missteps. Later, they adjust their practice habits, triumphing over weaknesses.
“To make the most of a performance,” I wrote in The Musician’s Way, “the key is to be open to your experience and to discover new things in both the music and yourself.” (p. 208).
Mastery goals fuel artistic excellence because they stem from openness, curiosity, and belief in one’s potential to evolve – i.e., self-efficacy.
When we tell ourselves not to have memory slips, not to feel nervous, and so forth, we’re racking up avoidance goals. But aiming to avert things only magnifies our fear that they’ll occur.
Imagine, for instance, performers telling themselves, “Don’t make mistakes; you’ll look foolish.” Then, any on-stage glitches will be blown out of proportion in the performers’ minds.
They’ll probably be timid on stage, and neither they nor their listeners will draw much pleasure from their efforts.
Performers who take on comparison goals rank themselves against various criteria. They’ll strive to “do better than last time,” let’s say, outshine rivals, or score highly on exams.
Students who cleave to such goals focus more on grades and what other people think than on learning. For that reason, these kinds of objectives are sometimes termed ‘performance goals’ because they’re epitomized by people who strive for favorable ‘performance reviews’ at work or school.
Worse still, some comparison-minded musicians aim for god-like perfection, ensuring that they’ll be anxious about falling short in concerts. And they always fall short.
Simply put, comparison goals can amplify fears and hinder creativity.
Cultivating a Mastery Orientation
I’ve learned that musicians who opt for avoidance and comparison goals commonly do so owing to their limited knowledge of practice and performance skills. That is, they’re deficient in some or all of the following:
• Strategies to choose suitable repertoire
• Practice routines that bolster self-assurance
• Backstage techniques that promote poise and creativity
• Maneuvers to counteract on-stage shakiness and other aspects of fight-or-flight activation
• Methods that enhance stage presence
• Tactics for handling errors
• Avenues to connect with listeners
• Ways to practice performing
• Procedures to evaluate performances
Without awareness of those sorts of skills and how to learn them, musicians can’t set inclusive mastery goals.
Hence, I created The Musician’s Way and this site so that aspiring performers would have access to far-reaching methods for attaining comprehensive abilities.
© 2011 Gerald Klickstein
*Donald Robertson and Kevin Eisensmith,
“Teaching Students about Performance Anxiety,”
Music Educators Journal 97/2, (Dec. 2010): 31-35.