How I Regained Confidence In My Playing (After Becoming Too Afraid To Play)

Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of D-I-YHOLY GRAIL (6).jpg

After I graduated with my degrees and was officially a musician in the world, I became afraid to play.

I got a full-time non-music job right away, and was trying to figure out how to be an adult and not a student anymore, and I had moved to a new city where I had no friends or connections.

During that time, I had no outside motivation or goals, and I rarely played anything. I quickly slipped into a place of fear and judgement with my instrument.

When I look back over the the past few years, there are several key things that stand out as having helped propel me back in to a positive, self-motivated place with practicing and performing.

The most important part is that it didn’t happen overnight, and it certainly wasn’t all of these things at once!

It was one step at a time, a little bit each day, and a lot of self-kindness in between the frustrated moments that helped me grow.

  1. Instagram

    The first video I posted in 2014 was an old practice video I had taken while at FSU, and some kind people left positive comments. It felt like studio class where my peers were supporting me! I posted a few more old practice videos and started interacting and supporting others who were posting their playing, too.

    After a few weeks, I finally decided to record and post current videos. I had no goals or projects to work on, so my initial goals were tiny - to simply record and post a section of a piece I enjoyed - and back then, it was only 15 seconds! I thought “I can play for 15 seconds!”

  2. Actual Goals, finally.

    A couple of actual auditions popped up between then and now, and it was time to actually start auditioning for real. My first audition was a train wreck, and I KNEW I could only do better from there!

    And I did. And the one after that was just a little better still. I started learning more and more about the mental aspects of performing to improve myself, and it started learning to overcome stress.

  3. Fun Things

    When it felt scary to practice, going to Dr. Terri Sanchez’s materials were very helpful and encouraging to practice. I started doing her Epic Flute Warm-Up daily, and it became that thing that helped me to improve a little bit each day.

    I could touch on all aspects of my playing a little bit at a time, and I enjoyed doing it consistently! I started noticing how much I’d improved because some of its initial challenges felt much easier over time. (I also enjoy her descants and pop music tracks, especially on days where I’m taking myself too seriously and especially afraid of my own sound.)

  4. I Became an Inspiration Sponge

    While working my full-time and then part-time insurance job for four years, I used all the time I could to listen to recordings, master classes, podcasts, and videos to soak up any inspiration I could while working. I’d often become ANTSY to practice and couldn’t wait to clock out and get my flute out! When I wasn’t actively soaking up inspiration during the day, I’d be more likely to feel too tired to practice after work.

    The Inspiration Calendars were also born at this time - I spent hours each day seeking resources and little bursts of inspiration to propel me, and it all fell into the mantra of “a little bit each day.”

  5. Etude of the Week

    Thank you Katy Wherry for creating the best practice accountability group! When I first posted in Etude of the Week, I was feeling ready to take on the challenge of recording and posting something longer than 60 seconds, but I was still tensing up when pressing Record.

    With every week, I got better and better at learning to perform confidently under pressure, and started learning how to enjoy performing with self-trust.

    The added pressure of posting it in a group of flutists also meant I was trying to listen for every little opportunity to improve something about my playing for the next one, and it gave me (and still gives me!) a laser-like focus for improving my playing every week!

    (Not to mention, this group is so supportive and encouraging!)

  6. 100 Days of Practice

    Thank you Hilary Hahn for starting the #100daysofpractice challenge! This practice challenge gave me a reason to embrace the mess and overcome perfectionism FOR REAL. I found it to be incredibly liberating to put the mess out there and truly embrace the process.

  7. Playing with Others

    I played in several community groups for the chance to practice something that really scares me - playing in ensembles. I’ve always found wind ensembles to be a little bit more intimidating than orchestras because you’re right up close by the director and you’re never quite soft enough!

    While playing in these groups, it didn’t matter to me what level everyone else around me was playing at - I used every rehearsal and concert to practice grounding myself, staying free, and playing at the highest level I possibly could as though I were in a professional ensemble.

  8. Teaching

    The better I practice, the better I teach. The better I teach, the better I practice. I didn’t get to teach as many students as I do now back then, but I still learned something every week and used all those jolts of inspiration to inspire lessons!

  9. Playing for Actual Humans

    In addition to playing with others in ensembles, I also found it extremely helpful and enjoyable to practice duets and perform a couple of duo concerts with flute friend Nicole Riccardo at an assisted living facility.

    Our first concert was one of the first times I had performed for others in years, and I was overwhelmingly tense. It felt difficult to breathe while playing, but I managed to play anyway, and by the next time, I felt much more free!

    Nicole and I also played mock auditions together!

  10. Learning About trust vs. doubt

    I began understanding more about the mental aspects of playing mainly while reading sports psychology books. The main, overall theme is that great players trust themselves in the moment, but amateurs direct themselves through the mechanics of playing at the critical moments, and that’s a form of self-doubt.

    I started using affirmations and simplifying my mental state while performing for my camera, and little by little, I could find freedom to sound how I wanted under pressure!

I’m still on this journey of finding more and more confidence in myself, growing a little bit at a time, and I’m encouraged to look back and see how much I’ve been able to grow, even if it took several years.

This is a life-long process — it’s not a race!

No matter where you are, you’re growing, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

I’m here cheering you on!

Have you found tools that have helped you gain confidence in yourself?

I’d love to hear about them in the comments!