Confidence Commitment Concentration

Sometimes, and more frequently that you might imagine, my husband’s world (mountain-biking) and mine (music) intersect, with interesting results. At first sight, our respective passions could not be more different: he likes to hurl himself and his bike down the side of mountains, riding rough-shod (literally) over rocks and gnarly tree roots while I get my share of excitement out of playing the piano or hearing others play it in concert. How could there possibly be any connection between those two activities?

But a chance conversation between my husband, myself and two pianist/piano teaching friends over dinner recently revealed some noteworthy parallels between the world of the downhill mountain-biker and the performing pianist. In fact, there are many parallels between sportspeople and musicians, from the way we prepare for a race or a performance to the importance of listening to and taking care of our bodies (see The Musician as Sportsperson).

“Confidence Commitment Concentration” is a mantra my husband regularly repeats in relation to his cycling. In his world – and that of other sportspeople – Confidence is a key factor in propelling one down that vertiginous mountain track or round the running circuit. While negotiating a rocky descent there’s no time for self-doubt because a moment’s hesitation can lead to one to misjudge the line and ride into a tree, or worse. Confidence, and the ability to handle one’s bicycle or instrument adroitly, comes from practising and honing one’s technical skills. Assured technique then provides the firm foundation on which to build creativity and artistry. It also gives us the freedom and confidence to make snap decisions during performance and to prevent small slips or errors from distracting us or pulling us off course.


Commitment – so you’re barrelling down that alpine track and there’s a jump ahead. You can’t apply the brakes because you need the right speed to propel you over the jump. Now is the time to commit – don’t hold back and don’t be tentative. In a musical performance, we commit from the moment we start playing. At that point there is no going back – the first notes have sounded and we must play with commitment to offer our audience a convincing performance. Commitment also means playing fluently and not allowing errors or slips to distract us. And just as a moment’s hesitation on the mountain track could lead to an accident, tentative playing may hint at lack of confidence which might make our audience uneasy for the rest of the performance. Of course piano playing is not nearly as hazardous as downhill mountainbiking (I know this because my husband is a fairly frequent visitor to the A&E department at our local hospital), but a metaphoric accident during a performance can do serious damage to our confidence and self-esteem which may harm future performances.


Concentration – sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Of course you need to concentrate, but our concentration can easily be disturbed which can then disrupt or sabotage a performance. My husband cites things like “your mates standing at the side of the track taking photos or yelling at you“. In a musical performance, external factors such as a member of the audience coughing or rustling their programme can interrupt our concentration, in addition to internal issues such as the negative voice of the inner critic. Concentration can be trained to such a degree that we can accept external interruptions without affecting our performance – see my earlier post Mind Games for more on concentration.

Taken all together, The Three C’s can lead to a performance – musical or sporting – that is fluent, convincing and successful.

If you get one of The Three Cs wrong you can probably still pull it off, but if you get two of them wrong you’ll probably crash. 

Last year I wrote about strategies to cope with feelings of inadequacy as a musician and the oft-posed question, Am I Good Enough? In this article I will examine how social media can help and hinder those same feelings of inadequacy.

Social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+ and many, many more platforms…..) is very hard to ignore these days and unless one takes very deliberate steps not to engage with it at all, one has to accept it as a fact of modern life. It has its uses: on a most basic level, it’s a means for people to stay in touch. It can connect like-minded people and offers opportunities to forge new partnerships, collaborations and communities, both professionally and socially. For a musician, used well it can be an incredibly powerful tool (see my article on Classical musicians and social media). On social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, one can connect easily and simply with many other musicians, music teachers and others in the music profession, and the accessibility and immediacy of these platforms allow ideas to be bounced around and shared very quickly, creating interesting and stimulating discussions. Social media can also offer useful support for one’s practising – read more here

One of the criticisms which is often leveled at social media platforms such as Facebook in particular is that some people use them as a way of parading their seemingly perfect or highly successful lives before others. Alongside one’s personal profile, there are groups which one can join for shared interests – and there is a plethora of piano-related groups. Such groups can be a great way of connecting with like-minded people and offer many benefits such as support for technical issues within specific repertoire, advice on setting up a piano teaching practice, musicians’ health or venue hire, to name but a few. But sometimes observing what others are doing, or constantly comparing oneself to others is not the best way to assess one’s abilities, progress and development. There may be a tendency too for certain individuals to criticise others, or be overly didactic in their posts or comments, and in the curious artificial world of the Internet, comments that might be shrugged off or refuted face to face, can seem negative or hurtful online.

Then there are the people who endlessly advertise students’ exam successes or seek endorsement from group members for their own achievements. Such parading of egos or desire for mutual appreciation or praise can make others feel inadequate. Sometimes it feels as if people are all over the networks are shouting “look at me!” and “look at my brilliant career, isn’t it wonderful?”

Social media puts us in touch with many other very competent people and it is all too easy to become intimidated or feel pressurised or depressed by what others are doing. A positive way of dealing with this is to accept that there are many talented people within our profession and to be happy to be amongst such a pool of musically accomplished individuals.

Many however cite the benefits of social media in relieving the feelings of isolation that often accompany the musician’s life:

I have found social media to be extremely beneficial as someone who has returned to the piano recently after illness. I have connected with many extremely stimulating and experienced musicians and reconnected with old friends as a result. Practising the piano can be a somewhat solitary affair so it has been a great blessing to find like-minded people to chat with during a practise session. There is always someone to turn to who can advise on fingering or other questions of technique…. (FW)


I feel encouraged when I read about or correspond with other amateur pianists who are serious about the piano while having non-piano day jobs. (PC)


If you find the “noise” of social media too distracting or detrimental, turn it off. Make a conscious decision to limit your engagement with it or allot a time slot during the day when you check in and then go back to work. Sometimes someone will post a link or start a discussion thread which is helpful or stimulating: take from it what you think will be useful to you, otherwise step back from all the chatter. Be confident in your own abilities and accept that there is no “right way”, that there may be many different approaches to the same issue. Ultimately, we have to get our vanities, anxieties and preconceptions out of the way and just get on with our work.

(This article was first published on the Piano Dao blog)

A guest post from Grace Miles, founder of, a blog about the musician lifestyle. She helps pianists get the most out of music with psychology.

Remember the “spotlight”?

When all eyes are on you, every little action feels 100 times more obvious.

We all want more sparkle in our performances– and it comes with the right mix of confidence and nervous energy.

Being confident is easy.

So is performing comfortably.

You just need to make the right choices and behave the right way.

How People Really See You

Imagine giving a speech, making it up as you go, to a crowd.

How will you look?

There’s something I call the ‘glass wall’ effect.

In one study, people gave speeches (made up on the spot) and were asked to rate their own nervousness.

These ratings were compared with the audience’s ratings, and they found that the audience always thought the speaker was less nervous than they really were.

In other words, people looked more confident than they really felt.

Not many people notice how much you’re really shaking inside– that’s the glass wall effect.

People see you, but you’re separated by the glass wall and your emotions don’t come across as clearly as you might think.

This is consistent with tons of other studies–we think our feelings are more obvious than they really are.

(But don’t get carried away: your feelings aren’t invisible to everyone else– it’s a glass wall, remember.)

Of course, looking less nervous isn’t the same as looking confident and composed, and actually feeling that way.

The answer is so simple yet so powerful.

The Secret to Being Confident

The first step is knowing that people can’t see how nervous you really are.

When they told the speakers that they project more confidence than they actually feel, the speakers gave better speeches and felt more confident overall.

To be more confident, we just have to remind ourselves that people don’t see how nervous we really are.

Shy, clipped phrases may be taken as calm and controlled speech, and so on.

When this burden is gone, then we’re free to focus fully on whatever we’re doing.

But remember that you do want some nervous energy in you– this adds the spark and excitement that amazing performances thrive on.

Act it Out

You smile because you’re happy but you’re also happy because you smile.

Your actions change your feelings.

To let this hit home, let’s look at a study where two groups of people are watching the same cartoon.

The first group holds a pencil between their lips in a way that makes them frown while watching the show.

The other group holds the pencil between their teeth so the “smiling muscles” are activated while watching the show.

It turns out that the people who smiled actually found the show a lot funnier (and enjoyed it a lot more) than those who frowned.

So fix your posture and let yourself smile.

This sends signals to your brain: you’re ready and you’re not afraid to have fun.

People don’t expect to see a nervous trainwreck when they first see you, and they’re not going to think you’re nervous at all if you behave with confidence.

But how does confidence come naturally?

“Natural” Habits

It comes without thinking when you make it a habit.

Confidence just means faking it until you get it right. (Click here to tweet this)

The first few times you try this and remind yourself of the glass wall effect, it might feel like you’re forcing it. And you might be.

But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re on your way to forming a habit and you’ll reap the results when the time comes.

(Some people say that performing puts them in the state of flow, and who’s to argue with that?)

Personally, I’m not the most extroverted person, but I can work a crowd like anyone else.

The Confidence Kit

1. Remember the glass wall effect.

2. Fake it until it comes naturally.

3. Rock on.

The trick to performing is having the right mix of nervous energy and confidence. (Click here to tweet this)

The most technically sound performance falls flat when there’s no underlying hint of nervous energy.

So make sure you leave a comment letting me know how you plan to use these new insights. 🙂

And here’s where you come in: if you know anyone– absolutely anyone– who might benefit from this knowledge, just send them a quick email with a link to this post.

They’ll thank you.

Grace Miles blogs about the musician lifestyle at, designs good designs, and makes great music on the piano.