How to Recover From a Baaaaaaad Performance

You just played the last note in a performance, and you know you messed up. It was bad. You let your nerves get the best of you, and the longer you played, the worse it got. You want to go straight home and lick your wounds. But you can’t just run out the back door. There are people approaching you already … with smiles on their faces. (Why????) What to do … what to do.

  • Accept compliments and congratulations graciously. Even though, to your own ears, the performance sounded like a disaster, most listeners in the audience wouldn’t have noticed your slip-ups. Just nod your head and say thank you.

    But then, when you get home …

  • Allow yourself to feel bummed out. While you might be tempted to protect your ego by dismissing or rationalizing any negative feedback (whether inside your own head or from others), resist the urge. Allowing yourself to feel the pain now can act as powerful fuel to prevent yourself from doing that again in the future. Go ahead and mope, but not for too long.

  • Aim for a sense of perspective. Once you’ve given yourself a chance to process your feelings, now it’s time to take a step back and figure out what on earth happened. Was it simply a bad case of nerves? Did you spend enough time preparing? Did you create a good playlist?  Be honest with yourself.

  • Set clear goals. When you think you’ve pinpointed the root of the problem, then you can determine specific areas on which you need more work. Write them down.

  • Create a plan of action. For example, maybe you had trouble transitioning from Part A to B. I’ve done that … gone back and repeated Part A accidentally (more than once!) and I seemed to be unable to get out of the loop. My mind just couldn’t seem to remember how to begin the next part. For that, practice playing the last phrase of Part A with sliding into Part B until it becomes part of your muscle memory.

  • Ask for feedback. Play for a fellow dulcimerist to get that person’s input. Maybe they will see a section that seems to trip you up, and suggest an alternate arrangement. Not only will this give you vital information that can help you improve, it will charge up your motivation.

  • Jump back into the frying pan and perform again. If the bad performance was simply a case of shaking so bad you couldn’t press or strike the right strings to save your life, start again by playing for just one person, then two, later three, and eventually a room full again.

Don’t let one bad experience set you back into a permanent, negative mindset. Use the experience as a unique opportunity to learn, strengthen your core self, thrive, and face the next challenge. Thomas Edison once said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed to always to try just one more time.” As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, "How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?" Edison replied, "I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps."

Keep on keepin’ on. You can do it.

Happy dulcimering,



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