Recently in a classroom discussion with some of my peers, a fellow student asked the question? What exactly is confidence? "I know what it means", he said "but what exactly is it"? I thought this was a very intriguing question.
I believe confidence is tantamount to preparation. Certainly within a musical environment, one can only confidently approach a gig, concert or recital if one is prepared and practiced. If we're are not prepared or practiced in something, this can often allow fear and anxiety to creep in. Kenny Werner says,
"Enslaved by the ego, we are encased in fear. What are the consequences of playing poorly? Nothing really, compared with the consequences of, say, jumping of a cliff. Yet if you ask some classical musicians to improvise, they might behave as if you were pushing them off the cliff".
It's well known in the music scene that some classical players have certain shortcomings in the area of improvisation. But why is this? What leads them to such a lack of confidence in one area of music when they excel at some others? Quite simply; practice. Classical musicians simply don't practice improvising enough to be confident at it, yet they excel in areas such as technique, sight-reading, dynamics and expression. Most notably because these are the things that they practice every day. When Barry Green, educator, musician and author of 'The Inner Game of Music' and 'The Mastery of Music' talks about confidence, he envisions the great jazz trumpeters of the 20th century; Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and Dizzie Gillespie. Imagine if we could bottle and sell some of what those guys had! Louis Armstrong was one of the first soloists in early jazz music and one of the first to begin improvising the melodies of popular songs.
"Confidence is no accident. It is based on preparation, momentum and, most important, experience. It is something that you acquire. And like a snowball as it rolls down the hill, it gets bigger and bigger".
What made these giants of jazz so great, particularly in the area of improvisation, was that they practiced it constantly.
The old adage comes to mind: practice makes perfect. But this is slightly misleading. Mindful practice is what truly makes perfect. Or at least as close to it as honest mindful practice can make!
I've been playing guitar and writing music for nearly 15 year. But if I'm honest with myself I've hardly ever practiced. I've studied a lot of music. But I rarely practice it. The reason for this being (which I've only recently discovered) is that I wasn't totally honest with myself, regarding my shortcomings and my weaknesses. I would gloss over material that was challenging, play it a few times and assure myself that I had practiced it, eager to move onto something less challenging to satisfy my ego and self-esteem. I was in fact indulging in what Werner calls "fear-based practicing". Musicians often skim over material very quickly because they are under so much pressure to learn all the things necessary to make them great players. They're in a rush to get "good" that they never really absorb the material properly. Werner calls this negative practice. He states:
"No practicing at all would be preferable to that kind of negative practice! You move on because you think there isn't enough time to learn all the things you need to become a great player. You move on, leaving the previous material in an unusable state. And you never become a great player. Your mind has played a trick on you."
-Werner (1996: 61)
This is one of the reasons why I was never a particularly confident player. Because I was in such a rush to get good, I missed all the things that would have actually helped me get good! This is an invaluable lesson that I hope to pass on to students and peers alike.
Werner, K. (1996) Effortless Mastery, Liberating the Master Musician Within, Jamey Abersold Jazz, New Albany.
Green. B. (2003) The Mastery of Music, Ten Pathways to True Artistry, Broadway Books, New York.