Solution to Stage Fright?

December 4, 2011

Political Theory

Everyone has experienced nerves in situations like public speaking or a job interview, but musicians have found a way to curb their nerves when they are on stage.  Beta-blockers, or Inderal, has become a prevalent drug in the classical music world.  Some musicians get so nervous their hands shake, palms sweat, and mind races; essentially, they have “stage fright”.  After practicing countless hours, this can be an extremely frustrating for the musicians greatly affected by nerves.  Because beta-blockers relax the heart, keep hands from shaking, and allow for clearer thought about other things rather than nerves in a performance, no wonder many musicians recommend or turn to this drug for performances.  The drug is legal and can be obtained from a doctor easily, although some musicians get the drug on tour in other countries where it is sold over the counter.  Beta-blockers were created for patients with abnormal heart rhythms and they can take up to 800 milligrams, whereas musicians take 10 milligrams prior to a performance.  Performers that use it say it makes them feel completely normal, does not enhance their playing in any way, and helps them produce the sound they create in a practice room.  Even though this drug does not make a musician play better, is it right to have this advantage over others, especially in an audition setting? Does this relate to drug use in the athletic world?  Decades ago, musicians would turn to alcohol before a performance, so is this a better alternative to that if it just keeps your heart from racing and the performer feels completely normal?


Inderal 10 mg

I think John Rawls would be opposed to this drug use in the classical music world.  Rawls believed that society should help the less fortunate.  In this situation, many professional musicians use beta-blockers, so what about all the other musicians unaware of the drug or opposed to it taking the same audition?  They do not have the advantage if they also have severe stage fright.  Some musicians choose not to take it because they thrive off the adrenaline in a performance setting.  Others think it creates an artificial performance, and no one should rely on a drug.  Maybe Rawls would say the best way to help the less fortunate is to get rid of the drug in the music world all together.  Some musicians are fortunate to have very expensive instruments, better teaching, and live in places with better music organizations.  Why add a drug to strengthen the gap between the less fortunate musicians, and those with access to a better education in music?


Do you think it is wrong for musicians to use this drug even if it has no side effects in such a small dose and just makes a performer feel normal?  Is it fair for some musicians to use it even if it is legally obtained from their doctor and recommended by their teacher?  Is it fair for some to use it even if others are aware of it and choose not to for ethical reasons?  Do you agree that Rawls would oppose it? Should there be rules in the music world like there are in athletics about drugs?


“Trade-offs across lives should be avoided, and replaced by a system of priorities for the most serious needs and interests”  (John Rawls)



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6 Comments on “Solution to Stage Fright?”

  1. benhenri Says:

    Even if Beta-blockers are legally obtained from a person’s doctor because it does not have any side effects and is recommended by one’s teacher, it is not fair for that person to take it. I believe that any drug that is not needed to improve or stabilize one’s risky health should not be taken at all. I think that a person is acting unethically if that person takes the drug. And, the drug should definitely not be taken in an audition setting, or even when performing on stage. Part of the job as a musician is to be able to control one’s stage fright and learn how to fairly overcome that adversity, I think. A person should not be given the advantage of not having to overcome the same adversity as other musicians, especially if they already have more advantages coming in- wealth and have more resources and opportunities. I agree that this drug would strengthen the gap between the less fortunate musicians and those with access to a better education in music. Musicians are competing against each other for jobs based on their performance. So, if some musicians performed better due to the Inderal drug, the other musicians who did not take the drug were not earning a fair chance. This is similar to students taking Adderall and athletes taking steroids. Again, I think that, unless a person NEEDS the drug to improve or stabilize their risky health condition, they should not take the drug at all. Also, I agree that this post relates to Rawls. I think that Rawls would oppose musicians taking Beta-blockers because it further divides the less fortunate musicians from the very fortunate ones. Lastly, unfortunately, I do think that musicians taking Beta- blockers is a step up from them turning to alcohol to enhance their performance simply because the side effects are far fewer and less detrimental to the musicians’ health. But, all in all, I still think musicians should not be allowed to take Beta-blockers.

  2. goldman13 Says:

    This is an interesting take on Rawls’ argument, and while reading this post i couldn’t help but think about the adderall issue. Beta-Blockers, as you explain, help a musician perform to his or her ability when playing in front of an audience. Therefore, the drug isn’t improving their talents, rather it is allowing them to perform at the level that they otherwise would be able to. Similarly, adderall allows students with ADHD to focus and perform to the best of their ability – which they wouldn’t be able to do without the drug. I think that both drugs should be allowed because neither the talents of the musicians or of the students are being exacerbated — they are simply being brought back to the level that they were originally at.

    However, you seem to make a connection between this beta-blocker and drugs in professional sports. I think you are mixing apples and oranges. In sports, some athletes choose to take steroids or growth hormones. These drugs are “performance-enhancing drugs.” In other words, these supplements allow the users to perform better than they normally would be able to. Healthy athletes that take these performance enhancers are equivalent to healthy students who take adderall; they are both giving themselves an unfair advantage, and are therefore both cheating.

    Rawls would undoubtedly describe the above as cheating. However, i don’t think he would identify the use of beta-blockers as such. Therefore, I’m not opposed to it either. If musicians are hindered by stage fright and are therefore unable to perform as they do in a studio, then i say give them the drug. If i am sitting (standing?) in a concert and the people who i payed to see are playing like crap because they are nervous, i would be angry. But i would be even angrier if i learned that they weren’t allowed to use beta-blockers because people identified it as “cheating,” and they were therefore unable to deliver the performance that the audience expects.

  3. rachdavidson Says:

    I think that it is okay for performers to use beta-blockers. Musicians create music for us, for their fans, who pay large sums of money to watch them confidently dance around stage, playing music. If this didn’t happen, who would go see them? Think about all the money that would be lost. Think about what would happen to the music industry, and thus the entire economy.

    In life, people are always going to be better at something. Someone is always going to be a stronger athlete, more interesting performer, smarter student. Our world population is not equal. Not using a drug isn’t going to change this fact whatsoever, especially since the drug is accessible.

    In the past, I have thought that Adderal should be considered a form of cheating, but when I look at the argument I just created, I don’t think this is true. I think the only difference in the comparison between Adderal and the Beta-Blocker, is that with the Beta-Blocker others besides the performer benefit. Yes, a better performer will be more successful and thus bring in more revenue, but a better performer also brings more pleasure to the listeners. Adderal only benefits the person taking it.

  4. parijog Says:

    Where can i get some of this stuff? From medical school interviews to standardized exams like the MCAT, this drug would do me wonders. Adrenaline blocking drugs such as this help get rid of the nerves tend to hold me back in stressful situations. However, I am still torn as to whether or not this should be viewed as a form of performance enhancement. By artificially leveling the playing field between those who can and cannot thrive in stressful situations, the effectiveness of that stressful situation as a means to separate people is lessened. For example, If I was to use this drug to perform better during a medical school interview, I would give them the untrue assumption that I am able to relax when under stress, as is the requirement for any good doctor who may receive dozens of patients in the emergency room every day. If I am unable to interview well without this drug, then I would not be able to perform well without it in an emergency. In this way, I agree with your interpretation of Rawls stance on this subject.

  5. schoemad Says:

    As goldman13 and benhenri above both already stated, this definitely reminded me of how college students use adderall in order to increase their focus and concentration with homework. Although I feel like Adderall is beneficial and necessary as a medication, the Beta-blockers are different. Coming from the perspective of a musician and performer, I believe that part of what makes someone on stage talented is that bravery that is channeled before a performance. It’s a skill that people either naturally have or gradually acquire.
    I believe that Rawls would not agree with the use of these Beta-blockers. It goes against the Difference Principle. Not only are the musicians who take this drug not helping the less fortunate musicians, but also the conditions of fair equality of opportunity are not maintained, especially if the Beta-blockers are used before an audition. Auditions are just as incredibly nerve-wracking.

  6. Phil O'Donnell Says:

    In my opinion the use of these beta-blockers truly does depend on the nature of the individual situation. If it was in a competition or the event was based on a competitive formula then I would argue that these beta blockers should be prohibited. I argue this because similar to any other performance enhancing substance, it makes the competition unfair and no longer an ‘even playing field’ so to speak. Some may argue that these beta blockers in fact ‘even the playing’ field, as they help those with an inability to cope with the pressure and nature of the event, which is a valid point. However I would argue that similar to many other competitions, competitive musical performances require not only skill and talent, but also composure and an ability to handle pressure, as this in reality is an essential part of the competition. Hence, those musicians who can handle themselves better under pressure and have greater levels of composure. Another example of this away from the music example is the sport of snooker (a game similar to pool or billiards) which over the last few years had its own controversy pertaining to beta blockers and similar performance enhancing drugs, which specifically target increasing the individuals’ ability to handle pressure. Hence, this issue could simply be characterized as any other competitive sport or activity where participants have to obey the laws and rules of the activity. To my knowledge, there are no competitive activities which endorse or allow the use of performance enhancing drugs or chemicals, thus I can see no justification for why it should be permitted in the arena of competitive music?

    However, I would argue that if it was simply a performance then I actually believe that it is fully justifiable for these musicians to use beta blockers or other performance enhancing drugs, as I believe that they are not harming any other musicians or people, apart from themselves and therefore they should be able to use these drugs to overcome their anxiety and be able to represent themselves to the best of their ability. Furthermore, if it is a performance then it can bring increased happiness or joy to a great number of people and potentially could allow the showcasing of some of the best music of history; an example would be a situation where a musician could not perform to an audience and their musical talents were forever lost to the majority of the public. Could you imagine if Mozart or Beethoven couldn’t demonstrate their ability to others due to anxiety?

    Another interesting issue to come out of the post is the question of whether the use of beta blockers would have ever been made public unless someone had told the media? The argument could be made that it wouldn’t have been discovered, as I doubt there is frequent drug testing in the world of competitive music, mainly due to the being lack of expectation of anything malice being carried out. This issue can be applied to the very topical issue of Adderall use in college by students who don’t necessary need it for a medical condition. If it is deemed that ‘illegal’ Adderall use will be blamed, what will be the practicalities and implications of this ban? Blood or urine samples after examinations or paper submissions? How would educational institutes regulate an issue such as this and moreover, pertaining back the original issue raised in the post, how would the world of competitive music prevent the use of beta blockers? Drug testing?

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