Learning to Trust Yourself

I’ve seen so many classical musicians who can play the shit out of the music, but once you take the written page away from them, they can’t even play Happy Birthday, and they are terrified to improvise.

These musicians don’t realize how much music is embedded in their consciousness that can be drawn from for improvisation. They may also fear the style or the chords or of simply making a mistake.

Sometimes if you give them something really simple to improvise over like a C pedal with no time or jazz stylistic pressure, suddenly they start to open up and let go of the fear and of the analytical overthinking. I’ve seen it happen.

You have to practice letting go. You have to make it an exercise because it may not come easily. You must abandon for the moment everything that you consciously think of regarding music and your instrument.

You must put all of that into another part of your brain. Foremost is the frontal lobe, which is about beauty, and construction, and architecture and balance. Put all those technical details into the back of your brain and trust that they will be there to serve you. They will be if you’ve done enough work. Trust in yourself is a critical component to all of this.

Then of course you have to trust the other people with whom you are playing. In fact, my trio recording with Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland in 1992 was called Trust. I wrote a tune called Trust because that was so much of what I learned from them early on–to trust myself.


Once you trust yourself first, that trust will permeate into everything you play.

That trust will breed confidence, and confidence can be contagious. Real confidence will spread and rub off on to the other people who depend on you.

Confidence, trust, courage, embracing risk, and wide-open ears are all necessary elements of playing jazz at the highest level. Combine all of that with a subconscious technical command of your instrument, and you have the makings for freely exploring the far reaches of what is musically possible for you.


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Psychologist, Performance Improvement Executive, and Musician
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