“Faking” confidence at the piano, in the best possible way

When you’re performing, you have to learn how to “fake” confidence. Pretend to have confidence. Not necessarily to the audience (because you’re appearing confident already, right?) but to yourself.

What exactly is confidence?

I’ve found that many aspiring musicians, and some professionals, get mixed up by what they think confidence is.

Confidence is not “I know this will go perfectly.” After all, no one can say they know their performance will go perfectly, no matter how good they are or how much they’ve prepared. And to hope for this will set us up for self-defeat and disappointment.

Instead, the confidence we can rely on is more along the lines of “I know I’ve prepared well, and if I focus on listening to the music and following it where it wants to go, I’ll play better and can handle any mishaps that may happen.”

That’s powerful stuff!

Here’s an example: A few weeks ago I was asked to put together some music for a program at The United Palace theater in upper Manhattan. It’s a beautiful old theater and they were presenting a lecture on the different types of Christianity and wanted some music before and after the lecture. For one of the pieces, I chose one of my all-time favorite songs, Deep River. I’ve played this many, many times and I have a certain direction I like to take it in.

Well, during the actual performance, I quickly realized that it wasn’t coming out the way it usually does. Either the singer had brought a different kind of special feeling to it that was uniquely hers, or my fingers weren’t working smoothly, or the keyboard’s sustain pedal kept slipping (which it was!), it didn‘t matter. What mattered was that I couldn’t rely on what I had ever previously played on the piece to guarantee that this performance would be good.

So I threw it all away. Instantly. I immediately keyed in on the one thing that I’m confident in. My ability to listen closely to each note I play and to feel the energy of the music. And to let it lead me, instead of the other way around.

So I relaxed, listened, and enjoyed the slightly different direction that this particular performance was taking. A new journey. And watching the video later on, I saw that I had nothing to worry about. It sounds great! The vocalist, Amy Justman, is a wonderful Broadway actress and singer who interpreted the song wonderfully, and the piano blended with her performance in just the right way. And this was because, from long experience, I knew where to place my confidence. In listening, being “in the moment,” and trusting that if each step along the way is secure, the whole journey will turn out all right.

Even if you don’t feel confident, it helps to “fake” it in this way. Feel confident in the right way, and make the right effort at the piano. This really works!

Here’s the video so you can see what I mean. Deep River begins at 1:22:10 on the video.

Deep River: from Open Heart Conversation

This is something you can explore for yourself, each time you play the piano. Ask yourself what you can truly have confidence in, and then pretend to already have it. Over time, you’ll develop the kind of confidence you can rely on.

(By the way, after Deep River you’ll hear me improvising an uptempo Gospel Rock accompaniment on Amazing Grace, just using the chords as a guide.)

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