Do you listen to music while running or working out at the gym?

Well, you may be onto something. As it turns out music can enhance your workouts in a number of ways. For one, it takes your mind off how tired you feel, and can lower your perception of effort. Music can also put you in a more positive mood.

Hmm…so might listening to music also help enhance performance outside of the gym? Like on stage?

Many sport psychologists do encourage athletes to listen to music before competing, and you may also have noticed a number of athletes with headphones stuffed in their ears before their events at the Olympics.

So why do they do this? How does this help?

Two ways music can help enhance performance

Some of the way in which athletes benefit from listening to music don’t apply as directly to performing artists (e.g. increased muscular endurance or work output).

However, there are two key areas in which performers can benefit from listening to music as part of their pre-performance/audition routine.

1. Arousal regulation

Getting into our optimal activation zone (i.e. calm and relaxed vs. excited and pumped up) is one of the key ingredients that helps set us up to perform at the level we are capable of.

You know how some music gets you fired up, and other tunes chill you out?

You can use this phenomenon to your advantage and put together playlists to either get you “up” or “down” depending on what the situation calls for. 

2. Focus

Being able to focus past distractions, like a noisy warm-up room, or even just the critic in your head, is another key pre-requisite for peak performance.

Many of the athletes in this qualitative study described using music to block out distractions, and also as an adjunct to mental imagery.

Rather than letting the situation dictate your focus, headphones and a pre-selected playlist can certainly help keep your mind where you want it to be in the moments leading up to your performance.

What’s on your playlist?

A reader sent me an email recently, wondering if it would be possible to compile a playlist via the blog – for readers to submit a list of the songs that were relaxing, inspiring, helped to enhance focus, or were great for getting fired up.

Sounded like a helpful project (and fun), so here’s what I’m thinking:

Share your favorite pieces/songs below in the comments with what mood/state they help you get into (e.g. relaxed, pumped up, focused, inspired, and so on).

Need some ideas? Check out this list of selected athletes from the 2012 London Olympic Games, and some of the songs on their playlist.

photo credit: KaiChanVong via photopin cc

About Noa Kageyama, Ph.D.

Performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus & faculty member Noa Kageyama teaches musicians how to beat performance anxiety and play their best under pressure through live classes, coachings, and an online home-study course. Based in NYC, he is married to a terrific pianist, has two hilarious kids, and is a wee bit obsessed with technology and all things Apple.

After Countless Hours of Practice, Why Are Performances Still so Hit or Miss?

It’s not a talent issue. And that rush of adrenaline and emotional roller coaster you experience before performances is totally normal too.

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