“Your central tasks are finding inner peace and strength, on the one hand, and being very well-prepared for your performances, on the other.”
-Eric Maisel, author & psychologist
The Musician’s Way, p. 146
In The Musician’s Way, I show that stage fright arises due to personal, task-related, and situational causes.
In this article, I spotlight a person-centered cause – lack of self-acceptance – and offer pathways to build acceptance and confidence.
1. Celebrate the Journey
Passionate music students work hard to close the distance between their current musical abilities and their long-term creative goals.
Such striving can drive artistic growth or, in some cases, morph into a kind of self-denigration in which students belittle themselves for their skill gaps.
Those feelings of inadequacy – a form of perfectionism – can then fuel fears of self-exposure in performance, sparking anxiousness and embedding habits of nervousness, even when students are otherwise prepared to perform.
Thing is, musical abilities ripen gradually, and musicians never cease learning.
Self-acceptance for music students, therefore, begins with acknowledging that a commitment to artistic growth involves starting where you are and that it’s a journey without end.
By celebrating that journey, students can accept both their musical strengths and the areas they need to improve, opening themselves to their creative adventures, wherever they may lead.
“Musical abilities ripen gradually, and musicians never cease learning.”
2. Adopt a Growth Mindset
Along with acknowledging that our abilities need time to mature, we also have to recognize our potential to grow, adopting what researcher Carol Dweck terms a growth mindset.
Here’s an illustration: If we grow a plant from seed, we can provide ideal soil, light, water and nutrients, yet we know that the plant will mature at nature’s rate. We wouldn’t consider a plant inferior because it doesn’t flower soon after planting.
Just as plants grow at their own pace and at varied rates, so too do musicians.
Each of us encounters particular musical, technical, or performance challenges that require sustained effort to master. Other difficulties we surmount relatively easily.
For instance, one music student might readily read and memorize music whereas another will toil to do so, at least at first.
We are the way we are, yet we’re programmed to grow.
When an excerpt proves tricky for us to assimilate, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t talented or that we “shouldn’t” be having difficulty. All it means is that it will take smart practice and a bit of time for us to bring the excerpt into bloom.
A growth mindset underpins self-acceptance and ensures that we progress endlessly.
3. Cultivate Productive Habits
As with plants, we grow best with optimal nurturing, by cultivating habits that maximize musical progress. Here are some crucial ones:
- Access reliable guidance – e.g., from The Musician’s Way and reputable teachers.
- Work on suitable material rather than music that far exceeds your abilities.
- Practice effectively and consistently.
- Foster performance skills via practice performances.
- Maintain positivity and overall health.
- Objectively evaluate your work.
By embodying those and other constructive habits, we can take pleasure in daily practice, accepting our triumphs and stumbles, learning from both.
“We grow best with optimal nurturing, by cultivating habits that maximize musical progress.”
4. Confront Performance Anxiety
If nervousness undermines your ability to perform, take heart. You can understand what’s causing your jitters, and you can become the fearless performer you aspire to be.
In fact, it’s likely that your performance problems result from correctable deficits of knowledge and skills, and the solutions might be relatively straightforward.
But it will take time to replace old habits with new ones. The most important thing to do is take action.
“You can understand what’s causing your jitters, and you can become the fearless performer you aspire to be.”
Start today: Choose accessible repertoire, and then employ the deliberate practice and performance preparation strategies delineated in The Musician’s Way. After a few months, if you don’t feel that you’re making progress, seek additional help from a qualified teacher, coach or therapist.
Also, bear in mind that such steps toward self-improvement won’t impact you alone. They will make a difference for others, too. Because when you accept yourself and take charge of your learning, you become empowered to share your music-making with others.
Then, through your performances, whether they’re for a few friends or a large crowd, you make the world a better place.
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Read more about self-acceptance on the Harvard Health Blog and the Psychology Today Blog.
The Musician’s Way is the only book to provide comprehensive guidelines for aspiring musicians to master the skills of expert performers.
Becoming a Confident Performer
Better than Patience
Committing to the Creative Process
Talent and Skills
© 2023 Gerald Klickstein