The Secret of Professional Musicians

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Old mail envelope with wax seal isolatedProfessional musicians exude a confidence that is the envy of many aspiring music students. They seem unflustered and calm,not burdened with nerves or uncertainty. How did they get to that level of security? And how can you get even a little bit of that for yourself?

The secret to that confidence is easy to identify; it’s experience. Whatever it is, whatever sort of performance, whatever type of music, they’ve done it before, and probably many times over many years.

We all understand the value of experience, how it is a foundation that supports you and a cushion that prevents hard landings. But do you know what kind of experience you need? And do you know how to use your experience to best advantage?
The most obvious kind of experience is performing experience. Playing everywhere you can and for every audience you can find is the easiest way to create comfort for yourself when you perform. That doesn’t mean every concert will be easy or that you will never feel nervous. It does mean, however, that you will know what will likely go well and where the pitfalls will be.

Professionals also play a variety of types of music. You may not need or want to play every genre of music, but varying your musical diet can have a significant impact. It enriches your musical understanding of course, but it also gives your fingers a chance to play other patterns and rhythms which will make you a better sightreader and a faster learner.

This is a piece of a wider sort of musical experience, an ongoing and deepening knowledge of the inner workings of music. Learning more about how music is crafted, the people who write it and play it is part of being a complete musician, a craftsman as well as an artist.

And lastly, there is the experience each of us has with our instrument, the hours of practice that teach our bodies to behave automatically in precise and controlled ways. This is part of the long term effects of practice. And this is why the what and the how of our practice is so important.

As important as gaining experience is, it is equally important to know how to benefit from your experience. Too often we discount the things we do or file them away as “water under the bridge” without really stopping to think about what we have learned. Here are a few tips to make your experiences become learning opportunities.

  • Expect to learn from a new situation, not be good in it. Remember to give yourself some grace. You’re new at this.
  • Don’t just judge what you do; learn from it. What went well? What didn’t go as well as you had hoped? How can you prepare differently next time?
  • When you come to the next time, remember it isn’t the first time. Run through the entire experience in your head beforehand. Visualize how the situation will feel, how you are likely to feel and what you will do to rise above the challenges of the situation. This will allow you to create a plan for the best case scenario and the worst case scenario as well as the most likely scenario.

    What has your experience taught you so far?

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  • rob stone

    Some of my best and humbling experiences were playing with older musicians. They bring out the best in you when they are patient, helpful and want you to succeed for the sake of the group. The kindest ones remember when they were young and looked to their own mentors for advice and guidance.


  • Anne

    I have had the same experience. And now, as I am able to pass on those traditions myself, I can understand the pleasure it gave all those mentors to help train and encourage younger players. Great comment – thanks, Rob!


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