Year of Publication


Date of Thesis


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Exercise and Sport Sciences


Flow is an elusive state of consciousness associated with enjoyment and total absorption in a task (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Sinnamon, Moran, & O’Connell, 2012). When in a state of flow, actions are effortless and intrinsically motivated. Because being in flow – or “the zone” – is associated with an optimal performance state, flow has been studied extensively in athletics (Jackson & Marsh, 1996). It is argued that flow is also important in artistic activities like music performance due to the focused and goal oriented attention needed for peak performance (Csikszentmihalyi, Abuhamdeh, & Nakamura, 2005; Perry, 1999; Sawyer, 1992). Yet, when compared to athletics, the flow experience has been rarely studied within the domain of music (Sinnamon et al., 2012). Empirical research examining flow in music suggests a need for in-depth interviews to better understand the essence of the flow experience. Semi-structured phenomenological interviews with musicians were conducted to illuminate aspects of flow presented during an optimal performance experience and to identify antecedents of flow. The data was compared to Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory constructs (concentration, a balance of challenge and skill, a merging of actions and awareness, transformation of time, unambiguous feedback, autotelic experience, loss of self-consciousness, sense of control, and clear goals) to determine if and how the constructs were similar, and if new constructs emerged within a music population. A purposive random sample of undergraduate musicians at a private college in upstate NY were recruited during their respective core classes (music theory, career orientation, and sight-singing) to participate. Participants were given a confidential background questionnaire, and those interested in being interviewed returned the questionnaire to the researcher and scheduled an interview (N = 72). Musicians who consented to participate were asked to describe an optimal performance experience. Interviews ranging 20 to 90 minutes were transcribed verbatim and coded into respective themes, and they continued until theoretical saturation was reached after 15 interviews. The final thematic structure demonstrated that environmental context , emotional connectedness, and interpersonal relationships exemplified the flow experience. All constructs of flow theory, with the exception of “clear goals”, were deductively discovered.
Some of these themes were sub-characterized by elements such as knowing and liking the music you are performing, seeking meaning in the music, not being too technical, fully immersing yourself into a character or concept, understanding the setting in which you are to perform, being focused, receiving positive feedback from the audience, and surrounding yourself with those who support and motivate you, to name a few. Now that the optimal flow experience is better understood within a music population, researchers can develop interventions and strategies that target the specific performance needs of the music population as a means of promoting or enhancing flow. Most importantly, the ways in which a musician experiences the essence of flow within the performance is a crucial component to understanding flow theory within a music setting.



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