Is It Helpful to Listen to Music Right Before Your Audition?

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

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14 Responses

  1. For the playlist:

    Mozart Piano Concerto #23, first and last movements

    Salamone Rossi, “Keter”

    J.S. Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring; Magnificat, first movement

    Ravel’s Bolero

    Sousa’s Stars and Stripes

  2. I don’t listen to particular songs before a performance, but I do focus on my breath. I have a regular meditation practice that helps me bring greater clarity and focus to my performance.
    But on the subject of listening to music before a performance, I like the website where I can select from one of a handful of channels (styles of music) and listen to music that is non-descript — described as background music that helps you focus without distracting you. I use this website when I have to work at my desk on a task that can be mind-numbing or one from which I can be easily distracted.
    I wonder if it might be helpful to listen to before a performance for similar reasons – keeping me focused on the task at hand.

  3. One song that helps get me focused is “Nightcall” by Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx. The track sits at a solid 90-91 bpm and has a very straightforward, consistent pulse throughout; rather hypnotic.

  4. Crash Your Party- Karmin

    Pump up music that puts me in the mind set that I’m going to nail my music and blow the minds of the people listening to my performance/audition.

  5. Really interesting article, I ‘ve used music many times in the past to get me hyped up for a performance but never considered doing so for a more relaxed/classical set … interesting, I’m definitely going to try that out next time! For me I really like a lot of Christian songs and Worship music, helps me to keep perspective on the grand scheme of things. One of my favorite songs is, “After Today” by Sanctus Real

  6. I wouldn’t use classical music before a performance, musical or otherwise. I end up analyzing and mulling over the playing and get worked up over it. Brian Eno, AIR, and maybe even Sigur Ros regularly feature on my pre-performance playlist. Ambient, atmospheric music, that I know well and that lets me mentally relax.

  7. Richarfort’s Requiem gets me immediatly in a “Oh boy music isn’t just music, it can be the voice of God” state very useful for playing religious or calm Ancient Music.
    And for joyful, rapid music, some songs of the Renaissance (Torch’s bransle, Horses’ bransle, Washwomen’s bransle etc) get me quickly into the mood

  8. I like to relax before performances, so I often go with Reich, “Music for 18 Musicians” or Bach cello suites.

  9. Fascinating stuff! Dependant on the situation and nature of the performance, as a general rule I like to listen to something light and upbeat as a distraction tactic. Usually Abba to my shame.
    Interestingly, Bryn Terfel mentioned in a BBC documentary (available on YouTube) that he listens to Tom Jones before going on.
    I think it must be a very individual matter, depending on what sort of performer you are.

  10. Interesting article. I was wondering about listening to a recording of what I’m about to perform just before performing and if that would help, or if it would be too late to have an impact on my performance.

  11. I have pretty much metal music in my playlist, but I’ve started adding a couple of guitar pieces. Some pieces by Santiago de Murcia, J.S. Bach (lute works and WTC), Leo Brouwer.

  12. When I’m feeling overly excited (I’m working on taking “nervous” out of my vocabulary…), I listen to anything but classical music. I especially avoid listening to pieces that I will be playing. One time I was listening to Florence + the Machine right before an audition, and it went amazingly well. I’ve made a playlist on Spotify I call “Performance ready” where I collect upbeat music (including really embarrassing pop music that I would never admit to listening to in really life). I listen to it on performance days whenever my mind gets stuck on analyzing the piece(s) I’m about to play.

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