In this series, I’ll do my best to help you understand what it takes to be an excellent musician and give you as many techniques as I can to take you to the top.
You’re about to see two sides of me. One side is called tough love. That side of me is here to challenge you. The other side is your biggest fan. I want to see you succeed at whatever you desire and this side of me is here to help you see the cloud’s silver lining.
The Power of Clarity
I coach a lot of musicians and I can tell you that the number one thing in the way of achieving their goals is that the goal isn’t clear. The language they use is sloppy and filled with fear and unrealistic expectations.
If I were to ask you, what’s your number one musical goal? Could you tell me on the spot? Nobody I’ve ever asked this question to has been able to answer it with any kind of certainty. My question to you is this: Do you just hope that it will happen? Or are you going to make it happen?
If you just hope it will happen, quit now. Because there are thousands of musicians–and more musicians are being made all the time–who are going to do whatever it takes to succeed. If you are going to make it happen, then “how” are you going to make it happen? Do you have a clear written-out plan? Is your plan specific with no question about what to do next? Or is your plan vague?
I’ll help you conquer these roadblocks to your success later. First, I want to help motivate you to want to change your ways.
Whatever your goals are (and I hope you’re beginning to think about them if you haven’t already), let’s take a deep look at what it takes to be the best at something, to be a master.
The key to dramatic improvement is deliberate practice. You need to have an understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses and then develop a plan to improve your weaknesses and master your strengths.
If you want to be a songwriter and you write great chord progressions but suck at writing melodies, then you won’t get very far. What amateurs do is continually work on the skills that they are already satisfied with because they are afraid of sucking at something. So they never improve their weaknesses.
This is really great news. Because it doesn’t take much effort to honestly identify what you suck at. Once you’ve done this, you have the map of mastery. Just travel to all of the distant lands that you’ve never been to and get to know them. Explore their terrain and have conversations with the people who live there.
X Marks The Spot
Knowing your weaknesses is powerful in many ways. First, it gets rid of any delusion about what you can accomplish by just wishing. Knowing you suck at something brings your attention back to reality. If you have big dreams of being a Grammy winning artist, that’s great. But it won’t happen if you can’t produce Grammy worthy material.
Second, identifying your weaknesses creates a clear target. Knowing that your ear needs improvement gives you a direction. Clarify that even further to “I have trouble identifying minor 6ths and recognizing chord positions” and you have a target that could possible be eliminated in a week or two.
Pleasure and Pain
What will your music sound like a year from now if you don’t identify your weaknesses? What would your music sound like if you weren’t allowed to play with your strengths? What will you music sound like a year from now if you do nothing and continue to play at your current level? How would you feel if your favorite musician heard you today and then heard you a year from now after you had done nothing to improve? What kind of musician are you–what kind of person are you–if you know what needs to be done but don’t do it?
Now, stop for a moment and consider what your music would sound like if you had no weaknesses. How would you feel knowing that you did what needed to be done and mastered your art? How does it feel to be the kind of person that never gives up and makes their dream a reality? What does your music sound like now that you have turned your weaknesses into strengths? How has your experience of music changed? What caliber of musician do you play with now?
What are you waiting for?
- Write all of your musical weaknesses down on a sheet of paper.
- On another sheet of paper write down your musical strengths.
- Tape these sheets of paper somewhere you will see them every day.
- Set aside as much time as you possibly can to master your art.
- Download my turbocharged practice schedule.
- Practice, practice, practice.
Now that you know what to do, you have no excuse not to do it, do you? Make this small commitment (it will take about an hour) and follow through. Later, I will discuss how to crush potential obstacles before they occur, how to find shortcuts to your goals by modeling other musicians, how something as simple as your language could be holding you back, and much more. Please join me in making 2007 the year of exceptional art.
How To Be An Expert
The War of Art
James Leng says
My biggest weaknesses are story telling, playing guitar and singing at the same time, (which I may not need to do now that I’m switching to pop/r&b) and having inspiration, perhaps because of lack of collaborators. Any suggesions on how to overcome these problems?
Robert Steel says
Last year I read a book that really changed my approach on practice. I highly recommend it to everyone. It is called “Effortless Mastery” by Kenny Werner and it was recommended to me by a close friend who plays jazz in South Louisiana(sax and drums). I play guitar but he knew I was really struggling with my practice time and running in circles with some frustration in my lack of growth.
The book is full of great advice and meditations (these meditations REALLY help me prior to gigs), but below is the advice that really sticks out to me and really changed my practice schedule.
Kenny and some of his colleges were at a party and one of them sat at the piano and everyone was amazed at how well he had mastered his craft and they were eager to find out his practice secrets. So one of the other pianists asked him what he practiced and he gave them a glimpse into his routine. Here is the direct quote from the book
“He said, “I practice the minimum.” He meant the minimum amount of material, not time. For me, this was a complete confirmation that focusing on a small amount of material, getting inside it, investigating all its variations, running through it in different keys. In short, mastering it was what separated Bill Evans from so many others. It was his pathway to mastery.”
This book is geared towards ridding you of your fear to play, your fear to be good, your fear of what other people might think of you.
Robert Steel says
To comment on the first comment on this page. I understand your struggles, because I share them. Here’s what helps me. I can’t say it’s the answer, but it helps me.
Typically if you can’t sing and play a song at the same time you don’t have it down on your instrument to where it is ABSOLUTELY effortless and mindless. Get the guitar part down so that it is so ingrained in your hands that you can sit and play it and carry on a conversation with someone without missing a beat. Once you have it down to that degree, then start incorporating the singing. As time goes, it becomes easier and easier.
Practice to a metronome, because it not only helps your timing, but for some reason it just makes you practice way longer on one piece over and over. Your hands just don’t seem to want to stop when a metronome is clicking.
Graham English says
Thanks for the comments guys! James, I second Robert’s advice. And I also recommend Effortless Mastery, a must read.