Cultivating Confidence: Rehearsal Strategies for Emerging Performers

Cultivating Confidence: Rehearsal Strategies for Emerging Performers

From Sleepy Toddler to Juilliard Faculty: My Journey to Conquering Performance Anxiety

Hi there, my name is Noa Kageyama, and I’m a performance psychologist on the faculty at The Juilliard School. But believe it or not, I didn’t always have it all figured out when it came to performing confidently. In fact, there was a time when I struggled with some of the same issues that many emerging performers face today.

You see, once upon a time I was that sleepy-looking 2-year-old learning how to hold a violin. At first, everything was rainbows and unicorns – learning a new skill is always exciting, right? But it wasn’t long before I started hitting those dreaded stretches of frustrating practice days where it felt like I was stuck or even getting worse. And when it came time to perform, I was a mess of nerves, worries about memory slips, cold clammy hands, a racing heartbeat, and all the rest. No matter how much I practiced or how many bananas I ate, I just couldn’t seem to beat that dreadful performance anxiety.

That is, until I went to Juilliard and stumbled upon a course called “Performance Enhancement” taught by sport psychologist Don Greene. This class changed everything – I discovered that top athletes don’t just train physically, but they also engage in a ton of mental training as well. Furthermore, they understand that learning a skill and performing that skill are two very different challenges that require distinct types of practice.

At the time, I had no idea how to translate any of this into my own practice. What does mental training actually look like? How exactly is practicing for skill development different from practicing for performance? And how the heck does one manage nerves, practice confidence, or maintain focus?

Well, through my years of research, teaching, and working with countless musicians, I’ve uncovered some powerful rehearsal strategies that can help emerging performers like yourself cultivate the confidence you need to shine on stage. And I’m excited to share them with you today.

Mastering Your Mental Game

One of the key components of becoming a more confident performer is getting a handle on your self-talk. You know, that little voice inside your head that’s constantly chattering away, sometimes encouraging you, but often times being downright critical and self-defeating.

As psychologists like to say, your subconscious mind is listening to everything you say to yourself, and it doesn’t have a filter – it will take in those consistent messages and start to accept them as reality, whether they are actually true or not.

Think about it like your own personal computer. It’s completely literal, doesn’t understand sarcasm or jokes, and will simply execute the commands you give it. So if you’re constantly telling yourself “I’m never going to be able to play this piece well,” guess what your subconscious is going to believe and start acting on? Yep, a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

On the flip side, if you can learn to reframe those negative, self-limiting thoughts into more positive, confidence-boosting ones, you’ll start to see a dramatic shift in your performance mindset and outcomes. It’s all about training your brain to think like a winner.

Becoming Your Own Best Friend

One of the first steps in this process is to get a good handle on what’s really going on in that chattering mind of yours. Try setting up a voice recorder the next time you’re practicing a challenging piece, and every time you have a thought, pause and repeat it out loud so you can capture it.

Then, take a look at that self-talk log – how many of those thoughts were critical, unsupportive, or just plain irrelevant? Chances are, the majority of them weren’t actually helping you in any way. In fact, they were probably doing more harm than good by sapping your confidence and concentration.

Now, go through those negative thoughts one by one and rewrite them in a more positive, constructive light. Imagine what you would say to encourage a good friend who was struggling – that’s the kind of inner dialogue you want to cultivate for yourself.

It might feel a little forced or “fake” at first, but trust me, over time, this shift in self-talk can work wonders for your confidence and performance outcomes. It’s all about training your brain to focus on the helpful, supportive thoughts rather than the self-defeating ones.

Practicing for Performance, Not Just Skill

Of course, managing your mindset is only one piece of the puzzle. The way you structure and approach your actual practice sessions is also crucial for building unshakable confidence on stage.

You see, most musicians make the mistake of thinking that if they just practice enough, the nerves will eventually go away. But the truth is, simply performing more without the right tools and strategies won’t necessarily make you more confident. In fact, it can often lead to more bad performance experiences.

The secret lies in training not just your physical skills, but your mental skills as well. Elite athletes understand this, which is why their practice looks fundamentally different from the average musician’s. They don’t just work on technique – they also deliberately practice things like confidence, focus, trust, resilience, and anxiety management.

So what does this kind of practice look like in reality? Well, instead of just mindlessly running through a piece over and over, you might take a more intentional approach. Maybe you start by visualizing yourself performing confidently and flawlessly. Then, you could try playing through the piece while focusing on your breathing and staying present in the moment, rather than worrying about mistakes.

You could also experiment with simulating performance conditions by recording yourself or playing for a small audience. The key is to make your practice sessions as close to the real thing as possible, so that when you step on that stage, it actually feels familiar and comfortable, rather than completely foreign and anxiety-inducing.

Progress, Not Perfection

Of course, becoming a confident performer isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes time, dedication, and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone. But I can assure you, the payoff is well worth it.

When you learn to silence that self-critical inner voice and replace it with encouraging, supportive self-talk, you’ll start to feel a shift in your mindset. Suddenly, those butterflies in your stomach won’t feel quite so threatening, and you’ll be able to channel that nervous energy into exciting, energetic performances.

And when you train your brain and body to work together seamlessly through strategic, performance-focused practice, you’ll find that you’re able to show up on stage feeling calm, focused, and completely in control. No more white-knuckled, tentative beginnings – just pure, uninhibited musical expression.

So if you’re an emerging performer who’s been struggling with confidence issues, I encourage you to give these rehearsal strategies a try. It may feel a little uncomfortable at first, but stick with it, and I promise you’ll start to see some incredible results.

After all, you are worthy of feeling confident and self-assured, both in the practice room and on the stage. It’s time to let go of those limiting beliefs and self-doubts, and step into the spotlight as the talented, capable performer you truly are.

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