By: Marie Smith
I’ve had many opportunities to observe and participate in master classes. In each class, the most powerful performance changes I’ve seen have correlated with an increased sense of confidence.
Sometimes, this ego surge comes from the player being invited to be more outgoing with their musical ideas. Other times, a new practice tool or mindset aids the student with a technical hurdle, allowing them to be more confident in their playing ability. Every time I have watched a player physically gain confidence, or I have felt more comfortable and confident in performance situations, I’ve noticed the positive benefits extend far beyond more right notes. An assured demeanor produces a high quality sound. Assertive playing is exciting to listen to as players are more open to taking more risks, and usually earn the higher reward. So, why don’t we play with this kind of confidence all of the time?
Our minds are incredibly powerful tools, but that power can be used in both constructive and destructive ways. Being a student is challenging because we have ideas and sound concepts that we want to achieve. But, because we are still learning, there is a gap between what we can do now and what we want to do. Of course, we are in school trying to learn how to bridge that gap, but in the moment, it can be easy to let our perfectionism and analytical thought processes dominate performance and make it stressful and sometimes traumatic. In other words, our brains can be the opposite of helpful. But when we train our mind’s attention to be geared toward portraying our ideal sound, musicality, and confidence, performance is so much more fun and successful. Critical, technically-oriented thought is important in preparation, but detrimental to performance as it can block out more right-brain, creative thought.
As we gain more technical control of the instrument we also expand our freedom of expression. Playing horn is a challenge, but we need to remember to let our minds lead us to creative liberty and not paralyze our performances with over-thinking. Just as practicing harmonic series exercises sets us up for success in all other aspects of our playing, we have to train our minds to respond to performance stimuli in positive and confident ways if we want to consistently feel that way. We have the power to make the decision to use our brains to achieve our best performances, so let’s do it!