Simulating and stimulating performance: introducing distributed simulation to enhance musical learning and performance

Williamon, A. and Aufegger, L. and Eiholzer, H. (2014) Simulating and stimulating performance: introducing distributed simulation to enhance musical learning and performance. Frontiers in Psychology, 5 (25). ISSN 1664-1078


Musicians typically rehearse far away from their audiences and in practice rooms that differ significantly from the concert venues in which they aspire to perform. Due to the high costs and inaccessibility of such venues, much current international music training lacks repeated exposure to realistic performance situations, with students learning all too late (or not at all) how to manage performance stress and the demands of their audiences. Virtual environments have been shown to be an effective training tool in the fields of medicine and sport, offering practitioners access to real-life performance scenarios but with lower risk of negative evaluation and outcomes. The aim of this research was to design and test the efficacy of simulated performance environments in which conditions of “real” performance could be recreated. Advanced violin students (n = 11) were recruited to perform in two simulations: a solo recital with a small virtual audience and an audition situation with three “expert” virtual judges. Each simulation contained back-stage and on-stage areas, life-sized interactive virtual observers, and pre- and post-performance protocols designed to match those found at leading international performance venues. Participants completed a questionnaire on their experiences of using the simulations. Results show that both simulated environments offered realistic experience of performance contexts and were rated particularly useful for developing performance skills. For a subset of 7 violinists, state anxiety and electrocardiographic data were collected during the simulated audition and an actual audition with real judges. Results display comparable levels of reported state anxiety and patterns of heart rate variability in both situations, suggesting that responses to the simulated audition closely approximate those of a real audition. The findings are discussed in relation to their implications, both generalizable and individual-specific, for performance training.

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