How to build confidence for musicians…
This question comes up in musician and music teacher communities often – when we see musicians not making eye contact or fidgeting, we immediately assume they need more confidence when singing or playing.
I get it. As a musician (or music teacher), it's easy to get caught up in the idea that building confidence is the key to success. Throughout our lives, we are repeatedly told about the significance of being confident.
As a result, many of us believe that if we just had more confidence, we would be able to perform better, write better songs, and ultimately achieve our career goals.
However, I believe building confidence should not be the primary goal for most musicians.
The Problem with Focusing on Confidence
We often see confidence as something that we either have or we don't.
Unfortunately, this perspective can do more harm than good when we overly focus on building confidence.
Because if we feel like we don’t have much confidence, we might believe that there's something inherently wrong with us. This, in turn, can exacerbate any existing feelings of anxiety and self-doubt.
And once we notice the need to work on our confidence, many musicians and music teachers focus on increasing self-confidence using approaches that range from "just fake it" to pep talks.
But that’s not my approach.
Let me explain why.
What Low Self-Confidence Actually Is
Low self-confidence is often misinterpreted as the primary issue faced by musicians, when in reality, I see it as a symptom – an outcome, a by-product of deeper underlying factors.
In the realm of music, musicians may struggle to develop genuine confidence if their motivation primarily stems from external influences (such as teachers, critics, authorities, etc…).
But relying on external validation can create a cycle of dependency, where musicians constantly seek approval and reassurance from others to validate their worth and abilities.
When our sense of self-worth and confidence hinges on the approval of others, we place ourselves in a vulnerable position. Because, how can we trust ourselves to consistently gain the approval of others?
The truth is, seeking validation from external sources all the time is an unrealistic and unattainable expectation. Our worth as individuals and musicians should not be solely determined by the opinions or judgments of others.
This dependence on external validation becomes a significant obstacle to finding genuine self-confidence. Sooner or later, there will be cracks in the external motivation. Maybe two teachers will have widely differing opinions. Maybe what the conductor wants will go against everything we learned in our previous training.
We become scattered when trying to please everyone, and our self-confidence suffers as a result.
This is why I believe self-confidence is not what we need to work on.
The Power of Small Successes
Instead of relying on extrinsic motivation from others, discovering intrinsic motivation is how we can make meaningful decisions and thrive in a profession that is highly dependent on acceptance and praise from others.
This means figuring out what we, at our core, truly care about. And taking steps to meet those core needs. In my experience, this is the only long lasting way of overcoming self-doubt and finding joy in music.
Another aspect of this is our conditioning: Our level of self-confidence has roots in our previous life experiences and upbringing, which makes trying to overcome the resulting conditioning in a few sessions unrealistic at best.
Instead, I propose taking small but meaningful steps every day.
Yes, despite feeling self conscious and vulnerable. Here’s why:
These are the little victories that we achieve along the way, such as learning a new chord, writing a catchy melody, or nailing a difficult section of a song. These small successes may seem insignificant, but they're actually incredibly powerful.
It means we are taking steps to do what we truly care about.
So each time we achieve a small success, we reinforce our belief in ourselves.
Because confidence essentially means trust.
These smaller steps will gradually prove to ourselves that we can, indeed, make meaningful promises to ourselves and keep them.
And this will build trust in ourselves and our abilities over time.
How to Build on Small Successes for Confidence
Now that we touched on the importance of small successes in building confidence for musicians, let's delve into some practical ways to actively build on these achievements.
Because this is how we can strengthen our belief in ourselves and foster genuine self-confidence – by focusing on incremental progress and celebrating the small victories.
Consider the following ideas:
Set Realistic Goals: One of the most important steps is to break down your musical journey into manageable goals. Rather than aiming for grand accomplishments overnight, focus on setting small, achievable targets. Whether it's mastering a specific technique, learning a new song, or improving your improvisation skills, these smaller goals provide a clear roadmap for success – which is what we want to build confidence, not more frustration over perceived failures.
Embrace Progress, Not Perfection: Another thing is to recognize that progress is a continuous journey. We need to embrace the idea that each step forward, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. Try not fixating on perfection and instead celebrate the growth and improvement you experience along the way.
Keep a Success Journal: I first learned this from a kind singer. She told me to maintain a journal to document my small successes, so that I can look back and see how far I’ve come in a year. It also works as a reality check when you feel down and especially hard on yourself. The way this works is, you take note of the challenges you overcame, the skills you developed, and the breakthroughs you achieved in a dedicated notebook (or a folder on your phone). This practice not only serves as a reminder of your progress but also boosts your confidence by having your accomplishments in one place.
Practise Mindful Reflection: This is one I had the most resistance towards, but learned over time that it truly makes a difference. Periodically, try taking moments of introspection to reflect on your journey and acknowledge the strides you've made. Celebrate not only the end results but also the effort, dedication, and resilience you demonstrated. It shows that you can, indeed, keep your promises to yourself.
Embrace Continuous Learning (in low-pressure situations): Being a professional musician can take the joy out of performing. We feel like we have to be serious and respectable all the time. But here’s my favourite step to building confidence – stay curious and explorational with music. Take lessons in instruments you don’t play, attend unconventional workshops or masterclasses, explore new genres, experiment with singing or even beatboxing. Engaging in continuous learning keeps your passion alive, expands your skill set, and provides fresh sources of inspiration, and reminds you that music is supposed to be fun – all of which contribute to building your confidence as a musician.
While building self-confidence is not an overnight process, and it requires patience and perseverance, it is totally worth it.
Because confidence is a vital part of finding joy in music again and feeling the thrill of performing.
This is what I want for you, dear musician.
I want you to become the confident and joyful performer you want – or need – to be.
If you’d like to discuss having more fun on stage, overcoming a negative inner voice, or… you know, building your confidence, I’d love to invite you to my virtual studio for my Colour & Connect Hour. It is a small group call where we can talk about music, brainstorm ideas for your performances and get creative. It’s free and casual, but if you can’t make the time slot, we can always arrange a tea date instead.