Just recently, many musicians I have met or have worked with have said, “I want to improve my confidence”. This came as a bit of a surprise to me as some of these musicians seem very confident already. We can all suffer from a lack of confidence from time to time and I talked to one guitarist who said that he had always played it safe in formal performances and wanted to branch out a bit. He said that his solos were a bit boring and uncreative. The answer to improving confidence is in almost every case about having more fun whilst performing. This is easier said than done and almost never happens in formal paid gigs or performances. The answer lies in doing different types of performance. Even musicians whose only source of income is from playing live music can suffer from a lack of confidence at times. So where can this confidence improve? I noticed that my confidence improved most from impromptu musical gatherings.
I was reminded of this about a month ago when I went to a party where my friends had a piano. (see picture above) They asked me to play and after a couple of glasses of wine and countless requests, I was in the flow and people were singing. This is what I had signed up for as a musician, to have fun and lose myself in the moment and enjoy making music with my friends. We went from Beatles to Nat King Cole and then finally to some songs from the shows. Some of the requests people made were not well known to me and my renditions were flawed and not without mistakes but people were happy to sing along and seemed to enjoy themselves. The requests came thick and fast and so did the mistakes but they did not matter, the singing had got louder and people were happy. At the end of the evening, people thanked me for playing and some were moved that I had played their favourite song.
What did this party piano playing experience do for my own confidence? It reminded me not to be worried about mistakes and that others’ enjoyment comes from what you play and how they are involved in the music. I played what they wanted to sing and they were totally engrossed in the music and the singing so didn’t notice or care about mistakes in any way at all. The music was fun and I felt fearless. It reinforced the fact that I love playing music and that I like to entertain people. I even worked out a creepy crawly chromatic left hand bassline to Bluemoon which I have used since in other performances. It reinforced the fact that I love playing background music and love the way live music changes the atmosphere at a party. It had nothing to do with some of the expectations of precision and total focus when you play a gig or concert at which people are paying money. This is a really important distinction to make. Unless I get a balance between these impromptu gigs and focused formal performances then music loses its very essence of fun. Our subconscious listens to the feelings we have about what we do, so create more situations where music is fun and your subconscious will listen to you.
Impromptu fun gigs change the feelings we have about performance.
When we have fun performing on a regular basis in these impromptu get together’s, we find that the association we have with performance shifts from fear to fun. If we laugh and have lots of fun, we associate that with all of our performances. So isn’t it a good idea to find the time and places we have fun playing music and do more of these? If we do, our feelings about performance change. We now associate all performance with fun.
Bowled over by the feelings of confidence this impromptu party Piano playing gig gave me, I then booked a gig at my local pub at which I knew I would not be paid and paid some extra musicians to come and Jam with me. I wanted to carry the ethos and feelings I had into another situation. We had such a fun time and we laughed whenever we went wrong. The audience loved it and it was one of my favourite performances to date. I took control of the event and made sure that it would be fun by removing the expectations of a paid performance. I made a fair few mistakes but we just laughed through them because I was trying out some new ideas. The bass player was 30 minutes late due to traffic and I just played the basslines with my left hand until he joined us. I tried out the new BLUEMOON creeping chromatic bassline I had tried at the party from the previous months piano party. It was a bit rough but we smiled and got through it. Coming out of your comfort zone as often as you can is important and these impromptu free jam sessions/gigs are the way to do it.
So what should you do if you feel you need to improve your confidence?
Find or make events where you can jam, sing, accompany and just have fun. Parties are great for this. I always used to bring my guitar to parties in my teens and no doubt bored people on occasion but we had some laughs along the way which is probably why I tend not to worry about playing rhythm guitar -my association is the guitar is fun. Open mic nights can be useful although I have found these to be more nerve racking sometimes than a full gig because you usually only play one song and if it goes well then it is fine but if it does not go well you can feel a little bit demotivated. People are quite nervous around you to, waiting for the one song they are going to be playing. Open mic nights are great and really lift many performers to the next level but they should be just a part of your performing life – jamming and parties are the very first step for many people.
Why not invite people round to have a music evening? Just print out a few sets of lyrics and chords and go from there. In my experience, some of my friends are desperate to do this kind of thing and many a great voice has been unearthed at such events.
So in short:
- Organise musical get togethers- have fun musical evenings
- Print out some lyric sheets and chord sheets to get you started.
- Play in places and to people who like what you do.
- Not every gig has to be paid!
- Take your guitar/instrument to parties
- Accompany other singers and just have fun.
- Laugh at your mistakes and remind yourself WHY you got into music.
- Have a go at EVERYTHING people suggest to play! See what happens.
- Use the things that went well in the jams in your formal performances. Transfer fun into your life.
- Reinforce the times where you feel fun when performing and do more of these.
- Create a new reality where whenever you perform, it will be fun. Fun is the new normal feeling for you whenever you perform.