Practice and confidence

So here’s the basic rule: unless you achieve enough competency as a performer to put in enough feelings into the performance for the audience to pick out, they will not respond to you.

And therein lies the goal of practicing: to acquire the ability to effectively express feelings through your performance.

It’s hard to convey anything except discomfort if you can’t tune your guitar, strum it in rhythm and do it like you mean business. You can’t stir up feelings when you’re stuttering through your lines — either in yourself or in the audience. This is why you need to practice and acquire techniques, so you can not only execute the moves required to play the piece of music, but also say something in doing so.

That said, this ability to express yourself is also greatly tied to the larger you — how confident/comfortable you are in your own skin.

Let’s say you’re taking a speech class. You learn the mechanics of how to craft a good speech — and you also learn and practice how to deliver one. But you fundamentally hate getting up in front of people, and even after you repeatedly practice and get the techniques down, you still can’t deliver once on the podium.

This problem has roots in a deeper place. There are some deep set fears in you that prevents real you to make an appearance in front of people. It doesn’t matter how many hours you spend practicing. Unless you do something to deal with this fundamental obstacle, you can’t deliver a soul-stirring speech.

The same thing applies to musicians. All the practice in the world will do you no good if you can’t build up the confidence to get in front of people and perform. The flip side is that if you are very comfortable and confident in your own skin, you don’t require as much technical proficiency as the next guy — stumbling or awkward, you’ll still manage to say something with what’s in your arsenal.

If you really come out of your shell and say it with true emotions, it still has the chance to stir the same feelings in those listening to you.

This is what happens to likes of Neil Young and Kurt Cobain. They are not technical wizards, but they can still say a lot on their guitars. In fact, a whole genre of music is built around this concept of relying on gut-wrenching emotional display over technical wizardly: blues. This is the reason why blues guitar players frown on the notion of fast, technical playing, as they see it as a mask, just flashy display to hide your real feelings behind it.

They say that the way to improve fast is to practice smartly, not the number of hours you spend practicing. By focusing your efforts on confidence-building both on and off the instruments, you’re taking a more direct path to becoming a great musician. Not everyone is meant to be a virtuoso or prodigy. But that’s the great thing about popular music — anyone, even those with only a limited technical ability, can become great.

So there’s no reason to lose hope or hold yourself back. If music is what you want to make, go practice!

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