In order to maximize learning, the student’s stress level needs to be in the Goldilocks zone! (“just right”)…
… both in terms of type of stress and amount of stress.
Stress can induce significant physical, cognitive, and emotional changes that can have either a positive or a negative effect on learning and performance. Common bad stressors include rewards for performing well or punishments for performing poorly, being unprepared, time pressures, poor health, the presence of a critical audience, perfectionist character traits, competition with others, the need to get good grades, and doing things for the wrong reasons, to name a few.
So, where exactly is just right? It is somewhere along the continuum between two competing trends:
- Trend #1. Some anxiety is good. The desire to reduce the anxiety motivates us to study and prepare in service to a desirable goal. Healthy anxiety energizes our mind, body, and spirit for optimum physical and mental and creative activity. A little bit of anxiety makes us feel aware and alive, but…
- Trend #2. If your anxiety is too high, you can feel overwhelmed, rather than energized. Your body starts to shut down, your brain stops thinking clearly, and your spirit become closed and self-conscious, making you vulnerable to freeze-fight-flight impulses.
Implications for Students & Teachers
It is a significant challenge, for both students and teachers, to find a healthy balance where the stress is just right. A little bit of the right kinds of stress is healthy because it motivates us to learn and improve and enjoy, but too much stress or the wrong kind of stress can leave us feeling overwhelmed and incompetent. The key to success is to play music for the right reasons, to surround yourself with good friends and good teachers, and to make sure that you balance your musical life with the rest of your life! You know you are on the right track when you have the desire to learn and excitement about performing.