Children’s emotions at work in a Music Performance competition.

Music concert sinage

What are the emotional differences between winners and losers in a music competition? There are many music performance competitions around the world. Performance practice is a vital part of any musician’s expertise. Familiarity in competitions allows musicians to develop the motivation and cognitive control required to be a performer on stage.

Competitions are encouraged for musicians from a young age. Competitions are different to informal music performance settings. Furthermore, competition performance is a more intense experience which can also induce heightened emotions such as anxiety. The mood and emotional state of a musician can affect how well they can focus and perform the repertoire, however, very little is known about the pre— and post-competition emotional state.

Emotions in competitions

Emotions can comprise of subjective experiences, behaviours and cognitive appraisals.  In music performance competitions, the presence of others in an evaluative context generates emotions which heighten the complexity of the emotional experience of the performer. Emotion in a performance competition can go beyond normal arousal, resulting in detrimental experiences (Osborne and Kenny, 2005).

Valence, arousal, and dominance are three basic dimensions of emotional response used to describe an individual’s’ affective state. Valence is linked to excitement, relaxation, love. It is a pleasure—displeasure emotion. Arousal is defined as mental alertness and physical activity. Dominance is related to feelings of control and influence over one’s surroundings and others. This model of known as the PAD model (Braley and Lang, 1994) to measure emotional responses. Music Performance in Young Musicians

Musical achievement is a complex phenomenon. Typically for singers, a strong association is found between the singer’s training level and music performance ability. Masterful singers report higher self-confidence levels in live performances. Poor performances by singers is associated with low self-esteem and lack of task focus (Krane and Williams, 2010).

Although not entirely clear, non-musical factors can impact performance in music competitions. Factors such as self-efficacy may play an important part in the overall success of a musician so that they can maintain and regulate their effort, persistence, and control their anxiety during a competition (Williamon, 2004). 

The importance of a music teacher

A music teacher also plays a significant part in the performers ability and psychological training for public performance. The high levels of expertise and repertoire required to do well in public performance requires significant amounts of practice. Teachers have an important role in assisting their students perfect their technique, repertoire, and supporting their autonomous and emotional learning (Barry and Hallam, 2002). 

Music anxiety is commonly reported in musicians (Ryan, 2004) affecting musical performance. Studies have shown that competing alone is more anxiety inducing than competing in groups or a team (Ryan, 2004). Music performance anxiety can also emerge from an early age and during the early stages of musical training (Ryan, 2004). 

In the study of Ruscanda et al (2020) emotions in a singing performance competition were studied. The PAD model was used by Ruscanda et al (2020) to measure the before and after emotional responses of children in a music singing competition. The singers were children aged between 7 and 18 years. The study collected data pre— and post—performance. The content of the surveys was related to emotions felt before and immediately after their performances. 


The results of the study found several interesting findings. Participants with more experience in music performance competitions had higher positive emotions, lower arousal, and high dominance. These results were similar both before and after the competition. Furthermore, age of debut (those who started musical training later) reported more intense negative emotions and higher excitement levels than those who had begun their musical training earlier.


Valence differed in performance pre— and post study. Valance was reported to be more positive post performance by those who received prizes when compared to those who did not receive prices. In fact, those who did not receive a prize reported negative valence.

Arousal state had significant pre— and post performance differences. Additionally, the level of arousal was significantly lower post competition. Previous experience or prize-winning did not lead to differences in valance arousal.


Participants who did more competitions reported higher levels of dominance. Interestingly, valance was the only emotion reported to have a positive effect and direct effect on performance. Dominance was shown to have a significant indirect effect on performance which was mediated by experience. Thus, more experienced performers were better at manning emotions and had higher chances of being successful in the future.

In sum, positive emotions, low arousal, and increased dominance are associated with higher level performances and successful competition experiences. Enjoyment of music may be the main motivating factor in music competition performances, however, it is important that other underlying feelings and emotions may also be at play in their ability to succeed. The more performance and competition experienced young musicians, the better they were with managing their emotions in competition settings. 

Positive experiences

The research Ruscanda et al (2020) found that musicians who effectively managed their emotions and arousal state, felt mentally strong and in general had positive performance experiences. This can be a significant bonus for young musicians as they travel through life in dealing with challenging situations such as performance competitions. Furthermore, prior positive experiences will give them the necessary skills such as channeling performance energy, preparation, self-confidence and well-being such that they can deal with distractions, recover from mistakes and manage performance anxiety. 

Wining at music performance competitions can be important for some. We can argue that there are more valuable skills and take-ways from a music composition. The value lies in the participation. Understanding and managing emotions through composition participation may give  young musicians the ability to adapt to challenges and situations that arise later in life (Nastasa and Farcas, 2012). Improved well-being may be one such long-term benefit (Ruscanda et al, 2020).

Ruscanda, M. D., Cazan, A.-M., & Truta, C. (2020). Musical performance and emotions in children: The case of musical competitions. Psychology of Music, 48(4), 480-494.

© iteachpiano 2020

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