Hesitation is a quality that can help us in some dangerous situations, but in music it can hold us back from succeeding...
Try thinking about the last time you really went out of your comfort zone. Perhaps it was asking someone out on a date or auditioning for a band you thought was way out of your league. Now, recall the specific feelings of that time. What was it like even just contemplating this task to begin with?
If you happen to be like most musicians or people in general, odds are your heart would be racing, sweat glands dripping, blood pressure rising, and mind wandering. All of this is a result of fear. Fear of rejection. These symptoms are all too common, but it's the overcoming them that's rarer.
Hesitation is a quality that can help us in some dangerous situations, but it can also hold us back from succeeding. In music, hesitation can make you look weak and as though you lack confidence. Ultimately, tentative playing may make you feel more comfortable, but in the long term, it's dangerous for your music career. Don't fret just yet, though. As with most problems in life, there's a solution to this one.
Why you should eliminate hesitation
Getting on stage and putting yourself out there in front of an audience requires some serious guts. After all, playing music is a very personal act, and you're exposing yourself to strangers. Everyone is staring at you, listening hard as you have one chance to prove to them that you have talent. Your artistic choices become a public display, and that's highly stressful for many musicians.
"...He who hesitates waits... and waits.. and waits..."
For that reason, hesitation and stress seem to go hand in hand. It's that emotional response that tells you, "Wait, this might not be such a good idea." Well, that voice may be good when jumping out of a perfectly good plane, but in terms of music, it's better to eliminate hesitation.
Think about your favorite performers. What's their stage presence like? You won't see Jimmy Page sulked in the corner, scared to play his guitar. No, he approaches his solos without fear. His heart and soul pour into every crevice of his art, and once he commits, he doesn't look back. Even if you aren't a fan of Jimmy Page, it's hard to deny that his decisions are clear and confident, and that's something to respect.
Professional musicians don't play tentatively. Their focus isn't on making mistakes; it's on the performance at hand. From the first note to the last, you should be giving it your all to make sure every part of the song is clearly executed with passion. Even if you see a professional musician fail, at least they went down trying hard. That will always win over an audience compared to someone who hesitates and gets the same result.
Of course, all this strong confidence is easier said than done, but it's possible to eliminate hesitation. Like anything, it just requires a little practice.
The art of building courage
Now that you know why hesitation will hurt your music career, it'll help to know how to change it. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as just telling yourself to be more confident, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. Since you don't want to test this out for the very first time during a live performance, it's best to practice courage on neutral ground.
For example, take to the streets and find a crowded place like a park. On your way there, set up a challenge of sorts. Maybe your goal is to walk up to five people and ask them directions, or, if you really want to up the ante, get a phone number from an attractive person.
The best way to approach this is by going up to a whole lot of people in a short time span. If you sit around hesitating about the exercise, your anxiety will only increase and the whole thing will become an awkward train-wreck. To help, try giving yourself a time limit, like talking to 10 people in 15 minutes. Furthermore, it may help to have a script prepared ahead of time to ease your anxiety.
If you feel yourself beginning to hesitate, it's completely fine. It's a natural response. That being said, if a silly exercise like this can get the best of you, that hesitation will only magnify onstage, so it's best to get over it when less is on the line.
Forget about results
We tend to be a results-driven society, but in the art of building courage, forget about results. They're meaningless. If you talk to 15 people and have 15 horrible conversations with all of them, who cares? The point is, you went against your natural instinct and took charge for once.
Also, keep in mind that this will be your first time doing this. As the old saying goes, "Rome wasn't built in a day," and neither is your courage. The more you practice ignoring hesitation, the more you'll feel your comfort zone growing.
Whether it's talking to people on the street or making a mistake onstage, you have to keep in mind that it's really no big deal. That stranger you talked to may never see you again and most of the audience probably didn't pick up on your mistake anyway. The worst-case scenario in these events is nothing permanent.
In fact, what you want to do here is think about the best-case scenario. Positive thinking may seem like some old advice your parents give you, but studies show it can make you a more confident and versatile person – which, in turn, will make you a more confident and versatile performer.
Anthony Cerullo is a nomadic freelance writer and keyboard player. In his spare time, he can be found reading, hiking mountains, and lying in hammocks for extended periods of time.