Thoughts on composing, teaching and performing music, by Fergus Black

Arty drawing of the human brain

Sports Psychology for Musicians

If your concert nerves get the better of you, take advice from the world of sports psychologists, and apply their techniques to tackling concert nerves: process goals, thought stopping, using imagery, and seeking social support.

Process Goals

Process Goals is a technical term that describes focussing on the process of play, rather than the outcomes - it takes your mind away from consequences, and stops you thinking about what can go wrong. It brings you back to the present. Focus on the process of playing - listen to an inner part, or take a detached view of fingering (pianists), or vowel purity (singers).

Louis Oosterhuizen, winner of the 2010 Golf Open, was advised by his psychologist, Karl Morris: "One of the tips I gave him was to put a red spot on his glove, and to focus on it during his swing". It worked.

Thought Stopping

Practising for the hurdles

Instead of dwelling on missed notes, or clumsy passagework, put the negative thoughts into a "Black Box" where they can be considered after the performance. Tim Rees, of Exeter University, says "It takes a lot of practice to get it to work, but it allows them to focus on what they have to do next, rather than on what they have just done."

A related technique is to analyse mistakes calmly - not to get cross with yourself, or frustrated - if you can film performances so much the better - watch them afterwards, and stay calm, whether they are good or bad. "It allows players to imrove their resilience through mental training" says Bruno Demichelis, assistant manager of Chelsea FC.

Use Imagery

Mentally rehearse what you need to do: even including walking on stage and taking a bow. "Own the podium" is what they say to Olympic athletes. Visualise playing difficult sections in your mind, or act them out - a bit like playing air-guitar!

Seek Social Support

Kind support by friends and family , or even a complete stranger: "While training, tactics and luck all play a part, the encouraging words or gestures of a partner or friend can make the difference between a footballer scoring that winning goal, or a sprinter achieving a record time, says Dr Rees.


  • The Inner Game of Music - Green and Gallwey, (published by PAN, ISBN 0-330-30017-2): recommended

    Stress busting for musicians by Irene Lock

  • Stress busting for musicians - Irene Lock. An shorter introduction, with useful techniques. Queen’s Temple Publication, (ISBN 9780955247309)

  • The examples and headings in this note, are taken from the article Psychology of Sport by Steve Connor in The Independent Newspaper Tuesday 20th July 2010.
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