Study finds emotional intelligence is key to achieving ‘flow’ in musical performance

‘Flow’ is a psychological state associated with extreme fulfilment, optimised performance, health and well-being

Monday, 17 February 2014

Researchers from Goldsmiths, University of London have discovered that emotional intelligence is a key factor for successful musical performance. It has long been known that some musicians and sportsmen are far more easily able to reach ‘flow’ – ‘a psychological state associated with extreme fulfilment, optimised performance, health and well-being’. The reasons for this have now been connected to aspects of personality – specifically ‘trait emotional intelligence’.

The study, led by Professor Joydeep Bhattacharya from the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, found that musicians with higher 'trait emotional intelligence' – the ability to ‘competently process strong emotional information’ – are better at focusing on the complexities of musical performance, and therefore more likely to reach 'flow'. ‘Trait emotional intelligence’ was judged by asking participants to report on their self-perceived abilities at managing, regulating and expressing emotion, and in exercising empathy, happiness, optimism, adaptability and assertiveness.
‘Surprisingly, the ability to reach “flow” does not depend on time in training or the age of the first lesson, but on a personality trait,’ said Bhattacharya. '"Flow” experience is highly emotional, rewarding, and music is strongly communicative of emotions and rewarding as well. So it makes sense that those with high emotional intelligence ultimately find it easier to “zone in”.’

The study also found that the performance of classical music was far more likely to lead to ‘flow’ than other genres such as jazz.

Professor Bhattacharya’s study was conducted on 76 piano students from higher institutions around the world, including the UK.

‘It would indeed be very interesting to carry out the research on other instrumental groups,’ he told The Strad. ‘For example, there are some interesting pieces of research showing personality differences among musical instrumentalists. I speculate that our results might come out stronger because recent research suggests that string and brass players report experiencing more “flow” than pianists. So, watch this space!’

Photo: Giorgia Bertazzi

Subscribe to The Strad or download our digital edition as part of a 30-day free trial. To purchase back issues click here.

Limited time only offer - 42% off
Kathy Scarborough

Emotional intelligence has a lot to do with it, but as performers and teachers, we spend a lifetime perfecting techniques, relaxation, etc. that free the "flow" from our physical and mental limitations. As a classical, big band, and strolling violinist, I think emotional intelligence shines through all genres. Connection and communication and the ability to express something of our selves are the point of all music, whatever and wherever we play. What about spirituals? Jazz standards? Great performances of pop songs?? Playing at weddings? Funerals? In restaurants? And how do we as artists and teachers and parents and members of our communities nurture the emotional intelligence that is vital to being fully human?

20:07 - Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Thanks for this article! Got some idea for my thesis.

09:43 - Friday, 11 July 2014


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Google+

Reading The Strad puts you at the top of your game - Save 42% off a subscription today.