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Self-Confidence: The performer's secret weapon

Updated: Jul 8, 2023

There are many ingredients that go into making a performer great: technical skills, expression, and the ability to connect with an audience. One of the essential things we must have is self-confidence. One needs to develop the ability to perform in front of an audience without distraction or insecure thoughts of their overall value. Should their eyes meet a frowning face in the audience, it is important to quickly change focus and look to some positive belief in oneself as a performer.

dancer Doris Humphrey, in long white flowing gown, twirling around with arms uplifted
Doris Humphrey

In The Art of Making Dances, famed choreographer and dancer, Doris Humphrey said “The dancer with conviction has power; many a dance of poor quality has been “put across” just by the superb belief of the performer in the work... If you believe in yourself, everybody else probably will, too.”

So let's say your goal is to be a great singer. Do you ever get distracted by negative thoughts when you make a mistake and then obsess over your lack of ability to sing a few notes correctly? Do you beat yourself up over the many days you practiced only to still make the same mistakes under pressure in a performance or a lesson?

Rather than focus on the flaws, choose to credit yourself with doing some things well. Determine to entertain positive thoughts about yourself. In chapter 12 of the book Power Performance for Singers, Shirlee Emmons and Alma Thomas advise making a list of positive affirmations for yourself personally and as a performer. Then, say them to yourself throughout your day as well as when you are practicing, getting ready to go into a lesson, or about to perform. Some positive affirmations you might say about yourself are:

  • I am a smart and capable person.

  • I wake up, I get up, I show up.

  • I do what needs to be done and I get results.

And some affirmations for your artist self might be:

  • My ability to control my voice is continuing to improve.

  • I am making steady improvements in my technical and artistic abilities.

  • I enjoy the adventure of learning to sing and share music with others.

Emmons and Thomas also recommend separating affirmations into physical, mental, and technical categories by making up a specific list of ones for each piece you perform. Under physical:

  • My body language is very confident during this piece.

  • I maintain good posture throughout, and my jaw is free of unnecessary tension.

For mental:

  • I am able to connect with and express the meaning of each word in this foreign language piece.

  • I have clearly memorized the notes, rhythm, and words of the first verse.

For technical:

  • My staccato arpeggios feel effortless all throughout my range.

  • I arrive at the downbeat of each measure on time after measures with large leaps.

When you have made lists of these positive affirmations, determine to program them into your life. This is done by making screensavers, programming them as reminders in your phone, and keeping a list of them in your music folder so you can read them aloud before you practice. Say them to yourself while driving to the gig.

Building your self-confidence is like building a muscle. You must workout regularly. Just as one must do many repetitions of a bicep curl to strengthen their muscle, one must speak and think positive affirmations daily to grow stronger in self-confidence. With daily attention to your thought patterns, you can begin to shift your beliefs surrounding what is possible for you as a performer. You can go from being nervous to self-assured. Your audience will feel more receptive to your performing, and you will have more fun onstage.

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