Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Habits of Excellence in Music

Welcome to the North Main Music blog! Through this blog, we’ll be sharing with you tips on improving your musical performance, instrument maintenance, and interesting articles we have discovered that discuss issues around music education and how music impacts our everyday lives.
Seeing as it’s the start of a new year, and many of us begin a new year with a resolution, often to break a bad habit or adopt a new one, this first blog post is about some of the habits of excellence that can lead anyone to greatness in their music studies. Enjoy! And as always, we welcome your feedback and comments.


Madi C. Pineau at Fall 2013 student concert. Photo: Sid Ceaser.
Are you driven in your musical pursuits? Do you love to excel? Whether we’re practicing or performing, all of us musicians are striving for excellence. But do music students always understand what excellent musicianship entails?
After years of striving for excellence in my own music career, working with top musicians, and observing incredible musicians, I realized that there are universal habits that enable people to achieve excellence in music. As Aristotle would put it, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit." 
I’ve seen time and again that when we embody these habits in our study of music, excellence becomes our ‘default setting’ in rehearsal and on stage. These habits are not traits that a select few are born with--they are habits that anyone like you and me can cultivate.
1.     Have the end in mind. Everything begins with the end—the goal or the vision you want to fulfill with your study of music. If you don’t know what the end is, then there’s no way of getting there, is there? It’s important that you form clear goals of what you want to accomplish with music. What is the end you envision? What are your personal goals and dreams for yourself? Your dreams remind you of exactly what you want and can drive you to practice every day.
2.     Play/sing what you love. When you do something you love, it’s like you have unlimited fuel that keeps you going—day after day. What types of music, or specific songs, do you love to play? If you’re not sure what music you love yet, then what is something you are most eager to try at the moment? Your passion and interest are fuels that will drive you towards excellence.
3.     Work harder than anyone else. I don't know of anyone who has achieved excellent results who hasn't worked hard for them. A big component of excellence is hard work. Sheer, unadulterated hard work. We can streamline processes, choose effective strategies and steps, but ultimately the hard work will still have to come in. Fortunately, if you are doing what you love (step #3), work wouldn't even be work at all.
4.     Make use of every moment. Every moment counts. Excellent people know that time is highly valuable. There's this quote by Donald Trump that I love. He said that time is more precious than money, because you can earn back money, but you can't get back time. That is absolutely true. So try to maximize every moment. If you have some pockets of time, take out your instrument and practice.  Note that this habit doesn't mean practicing 24x7. Making use of every moment also refers to knowing when to rest and rejuvenate when it's needed, because this will help us walk the longer mile on the path of excellence.
5.     Take action to achieve your results. Achieving excellence in your musical studies means being a proponent of action. Whatever we do or don’t do will determine how much we can grow or succeed as musicians. If we want to attain excellent results, we need to take the equivalent actions to reach the results we want. So, instead of just thinking about practicing, pick up your instrument and do it. Don’t just dream about playing in front of an audience, sign up to perform at a North Main Music student concert, or seek out an open mic night near you.
6.     Continuously upgrade yourself. Learning to play music never stops. There is always something we can do to become better. Excellent musicians are always learning, reading, exposing themselves to new knowledge, new people, new contexts and honing their skills. We need to always be leveling ourselves up to achieve excellence. 
7.     Ask for feedback. No matter how much we practice and try to improve, we will have blind spots, and we can’t improve on things that we are blind to. Asking for feedback from your instructor and peers is an effective way to improve. Sometimes you’ll get feedback that is predictable, but other times it won’t be, and often times it will lead to an epiphany on some level.
8.     Positive attitude. It takes time and diligence to acquire the skills of an expert performer, and all of us deal with triumphs and stumbles as we progress. Remember to stay positive by setting specific goals, maintaining a degree of detachment, and fueling your motivation.

Adapted from 7 Habits of Excellence on www.themusiciansway.com/blog and 7 Habits of Highly Excellent People from www.dumblittleman.com.