Whether it’s a music theory placement exam, orchestral audition, or recital, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of going into important moments with total confidence.
Such moments don’t happen as often as we’d like, but when they do, everything is so much easier and fun.
Of course, more typically, we go into auditions and performances battling doubts and fears for days or weeks in advance. Especially when it’s a really important, high-stakes kind of challenge that we’re preparing for.
These are the times when it can be really difficult to eradicate doubts. No matter how hard we try to maintain positive self talk and imagery. Especially as the big day draws nearer.
Confidence can indeed be an invaluable asset on stage. And you’ve surely heard stories of musicians who have admitted after a big audition success, that deep down, they were already convinced they were going to win.
But is that level of absolute confidence necessary in order to play our best? Or is a little bit of doubt maybe not the worst thing in the world?
“Don’t worry, be happy!”
“Don’t be nervous/sad/upset/frustrated/etc.!”
Throughout our lives, we are told in many ways – both explicitly, and often, more subtly – that we ought to maintain a positive, upbeat attitude. That winners engage in positive thinking, and our success is dependent on our ability to avoiding being so negative.
And while there is certainly much to be said for positivity, sometimes it can be awfully exhausting to keep it up.
Because on occasion, we do experience things in life that are disappointing, discouraging, or frustrating. Sometimes we just feel kind of blah for no apparent reason. And when life throws us curveballs, most of us do have moments of pessimism, doubt, and maybe even panic.
How bad is it for us to let negative thoughts or emotions like this into our lives? Is this like the worst mental habit ever? Are we setting ourselves up for failure by not maintaining better mental hygiene?
Whether it’s sight-reading under pressure, nailing that big shift in an audition, or making an impossible shot to get all your classmates an A on an organic chemistry quiz, we all know from experience that performing up to our full abilities is infinitely more challenging when we feel like there’s something at stake.
But we’ve also learned from recent research (like here and here), that we don’t have to accept this. That being clutch under pressure is a skill we can get better at – by practicing under pressure.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, because it’s not like we have a “pressure” button we can push to instantly make our hands go cold and turn our brain into mush.
So what are we to do? What are the most effective ways of manufacturing pressure training situations in advance of a big performance or audition?