BOOK REVIEW / In Brief: The Secrets of Musical Confidence: How to Maximise Your Performance Potential - Andrew Evans: Thorsons, pounds 7.99

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The author, a psychologist and musician, founded Arts Psychology Consultants, which offers specialised counselling to those involved in the arts and media (who are often in need of it). This book summarises the experience of 20 years dealing with the problems of musicians.

The author acknowledges a debt to Eric Berne, whose Transactional Analysis has provided a valuable model for understanding some of the hang-ups which prevent players from achieving their best, but he has also drawn on Zen. In the puritanical Western world, we are so conditioned to believe that concentrated effort is the only way of acquiring skills or performing well that we forget that trying too hard can tense our muscles into knots: awareness of the music rather than concentration on technique produces the best results. Evans makes helpful suggestions about reducing tension and dealing with stage fright, even giving advice on what to eat before a performance.

A musician's life is not an easy one. The hours are inimical to marriage and family life. Travelling can cause considerable stress, especially when jet-lag is involved. Surveys suggest that 60 per cent of orchestral players reach a point in their careers at which they find themselves unable to play. The freelance musician is particularly vulnerable to stress, perhaps feeling that he or she can never take a holiday in case a job turns up. Evans not only gives excellent advice on how to cope with emotional stress, but also guidance about planning and promoting the musician's career.

This is a self-help book packed with information, and full of perceptive, non-doctrinaire psychological guidance. Every musician, from schoolchild learner to established virtuoso, should find it valuable.