“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.”Carol Dweck
Learning to play the piano can be intimidating. After all, there are thousands of talented pianists showcasing their skills on YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook. Many of them have studied with the best teachers. And they’ve performed on the best pianos on the biggest stages around the world.
Watching these performances can lull you into thinking these pianists were simply born talented. It can seem as if you were not born with the same abilities that they were.
In thinking back to my days studying piano in college, I firmly believed that talent won out. I was convinced that some people are born more talented than others. At that time, I also thought that there was a limit to my improvements. In other words, I completely discounted my abilities to improve through hard work.
All of these beliefs chipped away at my self-confidence and significantly worsened my existing performance anxiety. Instead of watching other pianists with the intent of learning how to improve my skills, I chose to feel intimidated. Ultimately, this led to less practice time and more shaky performances than I’d like to admit.
But deep down, I love the instrument! I knew I’d never be able to walk away from it and began searching for ways to improve my piano playing confidence.
And I’m happy to report that I’ve found an inspirational resource that has revolutionized my thoughts on talent. It’s a book called Mindset written by Carol Dweck, and it’s a must-read for anyone who has ever desired improvement in their life.
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“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times of their lives.”Carol Dweck
It’s funny that the most significant in my search for piano playing confidence have, for the most part, occurred away from the keyboard. But perhaps this only drives home the point that mindset matters more than I ever imagined it would.
Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, has spent her career researching mindset. Dweck asserts that ultimately, “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you live your life.”
She spends the remainder of the book detailing real-life examples of two opposing mindsets. One is the fixed mindset, and the other is the growth mindset.
If these are entirely new terms to you, don’t worry! Before reading the book, they were also foreign to me but are relatively intuitive when you understand the basics. Dweck describes the fixed mindset as “an urgency to prove yourself over and over.” It’s the belief that your intelligence, abilities, and personality are fixed and unable to be altered. I would refer you to the introduction for more on the fixed mindset.
On the other hand, the growth mindset is a belief that you are capable of change. Although the shift often occurs due to effort, hard work ignites a passion for learning. In the growth mindset, “failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.”
Now that you have a basic understanding of the two mindsets, let’s explore how to improve your piano playing confidence dramatically!
1. Play to Learn
“Becoming is better than being.”Carol Dweck
Imagine for a moment that you are preparing to give a recital. You’ve been working on the repertoire for months and feel prepared but struggle with performance anxiety. You’re not sure how you’ll get through it without either throwing up or running off stage mid-recital.
Luckily, your teacher is a wise woman who always knows exactly what to say. She tells you to consider each of the following statements carefully and adopt one.
“Everything comes down to this one performance. I can’t miss a single note, or I’ll be found out as the imposter I am. I’ve got to prove my talent for playing because if I screw this up, I lose my right even to call myself a pianist.”
“I’m nervous about performing but am confident in all the work I’ve put in. This is an incredible opportunity to practice the art of performance, and I’m going to learn everything I can. Even if I miss notes or completely screw something up, I will come away with valuable information I wouldn’t otherwise learn.”
Now I ask you, which mindset would you rather adopt going into that recital?
Even if you’re not preparing for a recital, start making your piano practice about learning. Make it about becoming 1% better than you were yesterday, and you’ll quickly see your piano playing confidence go through the roof!
2. Focus on Yourself
We live in the best and the worst of times for improving your piano skills. Best in that we have unprecedented access to music and recordings unlike any in history. Worst in that, all these performances can create a tendency to compare ourselves to others.
And comparison can easily transition to feelings of demotivation and inferiority.
All those videos may cause you to question whether you’re wasting your time. You may feel like you’ll never be as good as insert name here, so what’s the point?
The point is that insert name here has spent thousands of hours practicing to get where they are today. They’ve put in the time and energy required to pull off that Rachmaninoff concerto successfully.
And you can either use your energy to feel down on yourself or to figure out to improve your skills. Stop making comparisons because it’s never fair to yourself.
Instead of comparing, shift your mindset to one of growth. And keep records of your progress so you can look back and realize just how massive your growth has been. There’s nothing that boosts my piano playing confidence quite like a look back at where I’ve been and where I am currently.
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3. Challenge as Opportunity to Skyrocket Your Piano Playing Confidence
“No matter what your current ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.”Carol Dweck
My third mindset secret for improving piano playing confidence goes hand-in-hand with the second. It involves seeing challenge as an opportunity rather than as a roadblock.
Learning to play the piano is fascinating in that there’s always something to improve upon. I would argue that it’s impossible to learn all the repertoire out there. And there will always be nuances that are more difficult than others.
As an example, memorization has always been tricky for me. And I could choose to forget about memorizing as no one is forcing me to do it. But I love the challenge of continuing to learn a skill that doesn’t come naturally to me.
And as a result, I have found that memorizing is now easier than it ever used to be. It’s also become way more fun than I remember it being in my college days! I love taking a piece from sight-reading to memorization because I know how hard I have to work to make it happen.
And it makes the feeling of accomplishment that much sweeter!
I encourage you to start seeing the opportunity in the challenge instead of writing anything off as impossible. If nothing else, I hope you’ll understand the personal enjoyment that comes from doing something you once thought impossible!
4. Identify Your Alter Ego
Even the most positive thinkers among us have an alter ego. This alter ego loves to remind us of our limitations and past failures. It delights in cautioning us from taking chances to avoid embarrassment.
And if you think about it, the negative alter ego often aligns closely with characteristics of a fixed mindset. Although it hides under the guise of protecting you from the unknown, it only serves to hold you back from fantastic new opportunities. Or in the case of the piano, it feeds into the energy of low self-confidence, performance anxiety, and imposter syndrome.
And identifying this negative voice can be tricky!
But in her book, Dweck gives incredibly useful advice for managing these mindsets. She recommends clearly identifying your alter ego, going so far as to name it. By doing so, you can clearly distinguish between the two mindsets and begin to identify triggers for a fixed mindset clearly.
In time, you can start shutting down those negative thoughts before they’ve had a chance to take root. And with a firm grasp on growth mindset, I’m positive you’ll see your piano playing confidence go through the roof!
5. Look for Opportunity to Improve Character and Your Piano Playing Confidence
“Effort is one of those things that gives meaning to life. Effort means you care about something, that something is important to you, and you are willing to work for it.”Carol Dweck
If there’s anything I’ve learned from life thus far, it’s that anything worth having takes effort. And nothing I’ve gotten easily has been of much value.
So it is with piano.
I would be lying if I said that I always feel like practicing. Or that I never get frustrated with various technical aspects of the instrument. But at the end of the day, I know all these challenges are transforming me into a stronger pianist. And a better person.
I hope it’s the same with you. Regardless of whether you’re working through a beginner book or are learning a Chopin etude, don’t give up! Keep at it and look for little ways to stay motivated. Embrace the growth mindset in piano and in life.
And if you’re looking for other ways to improve your piano playing confidence, make sure to check out these posts:
- The #1 Piano Practice App to Skyrocket Your Success!
- How to Instantly Upgrade Your Piano Practice
- How to Find the Right Piano Teacher for You
- Become a Better Pianist with These 5 Simple Tools
- How to Learn Piano as an Adult
- 5 Benefits of Learning Piano as an Adult
I also highly recommend you check out Mindset by Carol Dweck. It’s an easy read and applicable to both piano and life!
As always, I would love to hear from you! Where are you struggling in your piano journey? Or do you have any secrets to overcoming piano-related barriers? Do you relate to the concepts of fixed and growth mindset?
Please drop a comment below so I can address your questions and challenges here on Only Getting Better! And until next time, stay safe, healthy, and never stop seeking the best version of yourself!