Confidence and Practice for Musicians

What is confidence?

When reflecting back on the last week of teaching, confidence was the topic that I had found myself discussing in depth with all of my students and choirs. It didn’t matter about age, gender or experience, because the challenges were all the same.

You see, so much of what we do in life requires us to be confident and courageous. Yet most of the time, when we have to try new challenges and experiences we have to step into uncertainty and discomfort to actually develop confidence.

It’s the uncertainty and challenge that can be the hardest part to master. Brené Brown, a fabulous writer and educator, has spent her entire career studying and discussing the difficult emotions, how they impact us, and ways we can overcome challenges.

You can’t get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability. Embrace the suck!

Brené Brown – Dare to Lead 2018

In truth, I think this quote is so relevant to learning music. Every new piece requires us to face a new musical challenge – whether that is musical expression, range, technique, control of tone, etc. Although we are excited to learn new music we have to go through a pain-threshold every time to overcome the musical challenges as well as manage the normal protective thoughts of “am I good enough?’, “will I ever be able to do this?” and “should I just stop?”.

So how do we grow in confidence in playing or singing?

  • We need to recognise and celebrate the progress we have made. When my students are being tough on themselves, I am always reminding them how far they have come in the last month. What they couldn’t do and what they can now do. As a society, we have lost the ability of praising ourselves for small consistent action and improvement and that is a great shame because the steps you have made to move forward are always there and need celebrating. Make it a goal this week to celebrate each day all that you have achieved. You’ll be surprised at how much more confident you feel.
  • Not everyone is going to sing a big sell-out show, so we need to stop making these huge events the only goal and outcome of achievement. If you have mastered a piece of music or secured a new technical challenge then you should be proud of this, celebrate it, give yourself a high 5 and without a doubt you will feel more confident.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of practice for your confidence. I spent a lot of the week explaining how practice is in three stages. The first stage is exciting because it is all about learning a new piece, seeing how much you can already do and the anticipation of being able to play it. The second stage is the frustrating part – the part where you rumble with vulnerability and have to embrace the suck. This is where you work on the nuts and bolts of the piece, fixing the technical challenges, dynamics, pitch, rhythm and tone. This stage can be long and frustrating, especially when you move to intermediate and advanced levels of playing. At this level the music is longer, more technically difficult and requires a greater control of the instrument and you playing with musicality. However, you eventually get to the third stage – the performance practice level. This is where you have mastered a lot of the challenges and you are now getting ready to perform the piece. At this point the challenge for your confidence is to develop stamina and remembering all the musical elements as you play the piece from bringing to end.

If we understand the process of practising, especially the second stage and the emotions that arise, then we can become stronger at not getting triggered or wanting to quit. This in turn will help you grow in confidence and courage and ultimately help you progress with your musical journey at a quicker pace.

In reflection of my week, my main message for my students was to embrace the challenges because that is where the greatest learnings come from.

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