Winning on stage

Volume 120, No. 3March, 2020

Dr. Don Greene

Even though I’m an eternal optimist, I know that mistakes are inevitable. Live musical events often happen in less than ideal conditions. There are many factors involved that can result in random accidents and unforced musical errors.

Accidents are unwelcome events that happen due to external circumstances in the physical world. They just happen. However, many musical mistakes in live performances and recording sessions can be anticipated and hopefully prevented. Prevention requires a better understanding of these unforced errors and exploring potential ways to diminish them.

Some of the mistakes that musicians make on stage or in a recording session are not accidents. These mishaps are created consciously or unconsciously by individual performers, and what they do, or fail to do, in the time leading up to the performance. A lack of readiness, confidence, focus, emotional stability — and especially a lack of personal power — will cause you to create mistakes in reality. For example, you might entertain thoughts about the worst possible scenarios long before you show up to the gig. These potential errors will more likely happen when thought about beforehand.

So what takes your personal power away? Many things, including fear, doubting yourself, not trusting your talents/training/abilities, negative thinking, feeling helpless, or claiming that things are out of your control. Those ideas argue against your own personal power and ability to make the right things happen. Arguing against your capabilities will negatively affect your inner drive, self-confidence, and perceived competence to accomplish the things that you need to do to be successful.

You can strengthen your personal power by being accountable for all of your thoughts, beliefs, emotions, actions, and results. Taking full responsibility for all of these things is not easy. It takes a paradigm shift from thinking that many things are out of your control to believing that you are solely responsible for bringing your conscious intentions into reality.

Choose to focus on doing your best regardless of external circumstances, or anyone else around you. Realize that your real power does not come from outside of yourself, but from within. It is fueled by a strong desire for excellence, with confidence in yourself beyond any doubt.

Decide that you are going to take full responsibility on a daily and continuing basis for everything that you have control over. Focus on the specific activities, projects, tasks, thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that will lead to performing your best. These include your physical and mental practice habits, your daily routine, are well as diet, exercise, sleep, and rest.

Once you become accountable for everything under your control, you can stop looking for excuses or someone to blame for your mistakes. When you’re willing to acknowledge your role in making mistakes, you will make less of them. Imagine ahead of time just the way that you intend the performance to go. Create it flawlessly in your mind first then realize it in reality.

When you’re speaking to friends or colleagues about the upcoming event, use only optimistic language. Don’t even joke about anything other than doing your best. Commit ahead of time to being responsible for everything that will be under your control at the event, and accept the rest. Arrive at the venue early. Get ready. Focus on performing your best. Trust yourself, as well as your talent, training, and experience. Once you start, keep your mind in the continuing present moment and on the music.

Dr. Don Greene, a peak performance psychologist, has taught his comprehensive approach to peak performance mastery at Juilliard, Colburn School, New World Symphony, Los Angeles Opera Young Artists Program, Vail Ski School, Perlman Music Program, and the U.S. Olympic Training Center. During his 32-year career, he has coached more than 1,000 performers to win professional auditions and has guided countless solo performers to successful careers. Some of the performing artists with whom Dr. Greene has worked have won jobs with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Concertgebouw Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, San Francisco Opera, Montreal Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, National Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem, to name just a few. Of the Olympic track and field athletes he worked with up until and through the 2016 games in Rio, 14 won medals, including five gold. Dr. Greene has authored ten books including “Audition Success,” “Fight Your Fear & Win,” “Performance Success,” and most recently “College Prep for Musicians.” In 2017, Dr. Greene was named a TED Educator and collaborated with musician Dr. Annie Bosler to produce the TED-Ed talk “How to practice effectively…for just about anything.” The video went viral and received over 25 million views across Facebook and YouTube. For more information, visit, and