I’m Practicing, So What’s Missing?

Musicians and performers, in general, spend hours, months, and years of their lives diligently working on technique and skills that are necessary for success in performance.   We spend much more of our time practicing than we ever will performing on stage.   Because of this we get really good at practicing—monitoring ourselves for correctness, at self-coaching, and at analyzing cause and effect after mistakes.  These practice skills are necessary for a performer to improve and refine skills for performance, but if taken into the performance they can be the source of dissatisfying performances, music performance anxiety, and unhappiness.

How can we make sure we perform technically well if we don’t concentrate on technique throughout the performance?

The simple answers are:  COURAGE, TRUST, and ACCEPTANCE.

We need these performance skills as much as we need any technical skill we’ve worked so hard and long to cultivate.  These mental performance skills allow us to maintain a clear, present focus while performing and also allow us to rely on our practice so that we can serve the music and our intent with it.


Courage is another word for confidence and can be defined as the strength of our belief in a specific skill or in our ability in general.   As with any other belief we have, we choose it!  Our courage or confidence is informed by past experience and past performances, but ultimately, it is our choice to believe or to doubt.   You can practice courage through the positive way you talk to yourself and visualizing your performances as positive, successful ones rather than engaging in doubt-talk and playing the what-if game in your head about an upcoming performance.


Trust is the ability to let go of conscious control over correctness, self-coaching, and over-analysis.  A trusting mindset allows the performer to rely on instincts that have been developed over time in practice.  Trust in performance also allows performers to let go of expectations (focus on results) and judgments (over-analysis).   Practice trust by playing or singing rehearsals with accompanists or other run-throughs without expectation and judgment or focus on results.  Perform for this moment.  Save the analysis for AFTER the performance.


Acceptance for a performer is the ability to see his performance as it is today—in this performance—without judgment as to right or wrong.  If we accept that there is no perfect performance, then we can also accept that our performances are not either/or experiences.   A performance is a glance, if you will, along the way of our journey with this music.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t mean acceptance in a complacent sort of way, but in a mindful and healthy way.  Practice acceptance by allowing yourself to see your performance as the art form that it is–neither black or white, good or bad, but a living, breathing expression of your experience with this music.

These performance skills—courage, trust, and acceptance—need to be practiced as much as any technical skill.    To do this, you can devote a portion of each practice session to “performing.”  Perform through the entire piece or a section relying on your practice, choosing to believe in your ability without self-coaching and analysis, and accepting that this is where you are today.  Once you have “practiced” performing, you can evaluate what you might still need to address in an upcoming practice session.

I encourage my students to shift their mindset from practicing to performing at some point before an upcoming performance.  We call this declaring their practice complete, a concept I borrowed from performance coach, Dr. Jon Skidmore.  Declaring practice “complete” helps the performer shift her focus from cultivating and improving skills for the future to a focus on the present and on performing for now.  This frees performers to trust their practice and accept their performances.  When to declare the practice complete can depend on the length of performance.  If the performer is playing or singing a single selection on a seminar or convocation or recital, practice can be declared complete a day or two prior to the performance.  For an extended performance such as a recital, the performer may want to begin gradually reducing the ratio of practice to performance a week or two prior to performance.

By doing so, in the days or hours leading up to the performance the performer is choosing to trust and perform in preparation to performance rather than choosing to continue practicing.   Once the performance is over, practice is open once again.  Evaluation of a previous performance can be a valuable way of guiding future practice.

For better and more satisfying performances remember to work on your performance skills—courage, trust, and acceptance.   Keep practicing!   Just remember to practice performing, too!

Let me know your thoughts and how this might work for you.

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  1. evelyn metcalf says:

    As I am a Level 2 Lawn Bowling Coach who believes in the holistic approach to coaching(“all inclusive”), I was encouraged years ago not to be afraid to include a “Mental Training segment in all of my sessions with athletes. It is a most challenging and most important part of any athletes repetoire in my opinion – whatever you “feed” into your mind is what you will get.

    It is a difficult area to share with athletes in my experience as it is something that they can’t “see”, or “feel”, and to some quite abstract and difficult to comprehend. Having said that, I believe in the concept of “repetition” “repetition” & “repetition”, and for that reason I believe that if you introduce an athlete to programmes and routines for them to practice and put into action, you must also share with them that it will take “time” to become confident and trusting using those particular routines.

    I belie ve it just takes time and repetition – over and over again, encouraging athletes to incorporate these routines into their “daily living”, eg. before they answer the telephone, whether mobile or otherwise, ‘RELAX, TAKE A DEEP ‘CENTERED’ BREATH AND GO THROUGH THEIR PRE-SHOT ROUTINE FOR INSTANCE, or “on the mat routine whatever it is they are trying to learn to be comfortable and confident with. It has been my experience that the athletes who use their routines during their daily lives have no trouble using them as part of their “practice” & or “performance” because it has become automatic for them to do so.

    With this particular newsletter I am responding to I think that “in order to help our athletes stay “in the present”, the two areas they need to develop are definitely -
    1. TRUST – letting go of “conscious control” – YES
    2. ACCEPTANCE – YES only if they do not settle for whate ver is going to happen.
    3. COURAGE – YES – ” take charge at the door of your mind”
    I am inclined to think that perhaps no. 2 could be PERFORM because that word means exactly that – PERFORM – no “ifs or buts”, just do it.

    Thankyou for this latest Newsletter – I know as a coach I can already see where it will be most useful for me when I work with our athletes. As you will notice I have become a reasonable student as far as Mental Training is concerned, but I do study a lot and listen to experts such as yourself, so I feel I am at least doing a reasonably good job with the athletes in my care.


    Evelyn Metcalf

    • Dr. Diana Allan says:

      Evelyn, good point about ACCEPTANCE. We are not talking about “settling,” but accepting our performance as it is this day so that we can PERFORM free of evaluation and judgment—”no ifs or buts!!”

      Thanks for commenting. Please let me know if there is anything you need or if I can help in any way!

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