Breath(take)ing Flutes

Led by: , Divisione Ricerca e Sviluppo

Project running from October 2010 to January 2013

Keywords: .

To produce a definite, well-controlled sound, flutists should exhale air with their abdominal muscles while remaining as relaxed as naturally possible. But how can they remain relaxed and calm when they must perform under the scrutiny of audiences, conductors and critics? The experience of high stress and anxiety is a common occupational hazard for performing musicians, typically evidenced through shortness of breath, increases in heart rate and blood pressure, as well as numerous other psychological effects.

For flutists, whose method of performing so closely relies on controlled breathing, physiological symptoms of performance anxiety can be debilitating for performance quality.

Seven advanced flutists performed a piece by J.S. Bach in low and high stress conditions while measures of breathing rate (in the chest and abdomen), heart rate and state anxiety were taken.


The aim of this project is to understand how performance anxiety effects breathing in flute performance.


The results showed significant differences during the low stress and high stress performances in chest respiration and in heart rate in the moments just prior to performance and during the performance itself. The high stress performances also elicited higher state anxiety scores. The results will be discussed in terms of their implications for monitoring stress in musicians and applications for flute performance.