Many musicians work on silencing their inner critic.  We all know that put-downs coming from our own minds can be damaging to mental health and to our performances.  Shutting down this negative inner dialogue is a key component to performing successfully.

But, there’s another aspect of the inner voice that doesn’t get as much attention: Even when the inner voice is shouting encouragement, it can still be damaging!

The ironic thing is that the inner voice hurts you both ways.  When you tell yourself things are going badly, you will mess up.  If you tell yourself you are doing great, you will mess up.

While you’re performing, you must avoid having even such innocuous thoughts as “I sound pretty good right now,” or “I made it through that spot with no problem.”  These sentences are sure signs that you have gotten outside the music.  While playing, you ultimately want to be thinking in the music language, not in spoken language.

When you have an inner dialogue, it’s a sure sign that you’re outside of the music—thinking about yourself instead of just performing.  The dialogue is just your inner critic raising its ugly head.  Even if the thoughts are positive while you’re performing, they can be dangerous.

As soon as your inner voice begins to praise, you will likely make a mistake in your playing.  The higher the praise, the more likely the mistake.  For instance, if you say “This is the best I’ve ever sounded,” you are sure to fumble on some passage that is the easiest in the piece.

It’s even worse if you focus on what other people are thinking about you.  Probably the worst thought you can have while performing is, “I sound great; they’re going to be so impressed with me.”  That thought is an invitation to the music gods to strike you down.

The inner voice is a strange animal. Whether offering encouragement, harsh criticism, or even something unrelated to your music, this voice often invites disaster.  So, what’s the best advice for your performances?  Don’t think about your playing while you’re playing.

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