Developing Confidence

I received an email from Jason (a.k.a. FiddleHed) about developing confidence which I thought was so good, I decided to share it here. I have read this article before, and it’s valuable links, but as I read it again, it became apparent that I probably should re-read this periodically, especially when I get in a rut or am feeling discouraged.


Jason Kleinberg – a.k.a. FiddleHed

It’s important to develop a sense of confidence in what you can do on your instrument. If you’re always doubting what you are doing, this very doubt becomes an obstacle to playing well.

But how do you do that? Maybe if you just say “I am good at the fiddle” a hundred times a day you will become confident. But at some point, you just might not believe it’s really true. What will really make you feel confident is when you successfully take on a very small challenge and have a small victory. If you do this over and over again, day after day, you will gain confidence in your ability.

How to develop confidence with small victories:

  • Start with something small. Simplify further if that’s too challenging.
  • Practice until you feel confident that you can do that simple thing.
  • Congratulations! You have just “made it” as a musician. But don’t get too comfortable. Start the process over with a new small challenge.

If you want to get good at shooting a basketball, you start by getting really good at lay-ups under the basket. Once you feel confident there, you move to a point further away and practice shooting from there. If you want to learn to meditate, start by doing it for one minute a day. If you want to eat healthier, start by eating two cookies instead of three after dinner. And with the fiddle, you want to start by getting a good basic sound on an open string, and then progress to more challenging things.

You are creating a good habit of confidence when you Work At Your Edge. In essence, you are learning to overcome a small bit of fear and uncertainty every time you play. If you do this regularly, then you will be better able to face the uncertainty and fear that might arise.

You not only have to build up confidence in your overall career as a fiddler, but you also have to build your confidence each time you start a practice.

Here a step-by-step process for warming up which will help you gain (or re-gain) confidence in your fiddling:

  • Start with getting a good sound on open strings
    • Play with drone
    • Quarter notes
      • Attention on breath
    • Rhythms
    • String crossing
  • Then get a good sound on single fingered notes
    • Play with drone
    • Quarter notes
    • Rhythms
  • Move on to Intervals (two-note exercises)
    • Start with two bows on each note
    • Add rhythms
    • Sequence intervals
      • For example, D3-A1 can be practiced in a sequence D3-A1-A3-E1
      • Add variation to the sequence
  • Scales
    • Linear
    • Melodic patterns
  • Warm-up tune
    • Start with your best tune
  • Go to current tune or technique you are learning

This is a suggested course you follow as beginner. To learn more about how to practice this way read Micro and Macro Practice.

Even if you’re more advanced, it’s good to approach each practice session as a beginner. Every time you play, it’s like you’re re-living your journey as a fiddler. You may not exhaustively need to run through all these steps. Design some form of warming up that works for you.

Most beginners are in a hurry. They heard a recording by Mark O’Connor and want to sound like that. They take on challenges that are too big and than can’t understand why they don’t sound good. They play too fast because they are too focused on the goal instead of the process. The goal is just there to keep you moving.

It took me a long time to learn all this because I had to figure it out on my own (and because I’m a slow learner). I only recently discovered that there is a whole science of learning called deliberate practice. (Also, my post: Deliberate Practice) This is how I have been teaching for years (just didn’t have a name for it). If you start now with deliberate practice, you can make much faster progress than I did. Not that progress is the end-all-be-all of making music. It’s the music itself that I love, the connection to people and the universe and the process of learning. I’m not complaining, but just pointing out that I was never taught how to practice. This is the most valuable thing you can learn from FiddleHed.

  2 comments for “Developing Confidence

  1. June 25, 2019 at 4:01 pm

    Such a helpful article! Thanks for sharing it. I love FiddleHed specifically for how he teaches. I’m much older than he, and I’ve been a teacher for many years (and a student even longer!) and I love to see him realizing and sharing things that I already KNOW work – because of years of application. The most important concept here is that deliberate practice is a METHOD, not a GOAL. Goals are inferior to method, because if you are concentrating on a specific goal, the only time you “win” is the moment you achieve the goal. But if your intention is to follow a method, you “win” every time you do even one step in that method. You can’t help but win. 🙂

    • June 25, 2019 at 4:36 pm

      My pleasure, Susan! A while back, after I learned about K Anders Ericsson and Deliberate Practice, I asked Jason if he was familiar with Ericsson’s work. He was! (I had a feeling just based on the way he structures his fiddle lessons.) It was through Jason that I learned about Ericsson’s book, PEAK. Jason also emphasizes “the journey” and how to enjoy it. I dare say that he shares your philosophy that you “win” when you concentrate on and follow the method.

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