Self-evaluation is indispensable for making progress, but constant self-criticism can sabotage our performance on stage. I’ve struggled with this for years, and performance psychologist Dr. Noa Kageyama helps us identify and take steps toward solving this nagging problem.
I know many musicians struggle with a common problem—they have a vision of where they want to go, motivation to practice today, but don’t know how to bridge the chasm.
Flow becomes an alternative path to mastery, sans the misery. Forget 10,000 hours of delayed gratification. Flow junkies turn instant gratification into their North Star—putting in far more hours of “practice time” by gleefully harnessing their hedonic impulse.
– Steven Kotler, The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance
We’ve been telling ourselves the wrong story about practicing music.
Practicing is like a job. We need to subject ourselves to tedious work in isolation to achieve future results. The most successful musicians have the work ethic to slog through the most hours. Those who succumb to instant gratification are lazy, undisciplined, and destined for mediocrity.
Sound familiar? This story is the source of frustration, guilt, and self-doubt among countless musicians.
We can tell ourselves a different story. This new story is more joyful, fulfilling, and effective for attaining mastery.
Surfer at Mavericks. Photo courtesy of Flickr/jacobovs
Stop trying to beat everyone else. True success is creating work that no one else can replicate. Don’t aim to be the best—aim to be the only.
When you’re truly unmistakable, the competition becomes completely irrelevant. You’re not the best option, you’re the only option
– Srini Rao, Unmistakable: Why Only Is Better Than Best
Keith Jarrett doesn’t have any competition. If you want to hear Keith’s play live, there is no substitute for the man himself. Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, Bill Frisell, Roy Hargrove, and Pat Metheny are have carved out their own categories. They are unmistakable.
Are these musicians objectively the “best” at what they do? It’s an irrelevant question. These renowned artists have stepped out of the world of measurement into a universe of possibility.
Graphic novel author and illustrator Kazu Kibuishi wrote a succinct description of the creative process that resonated with artists all over the world:
It’s widely assumed that there’s a trade-off between quality and quality—if you want to do better work, you have to do less of it—but this turns out to be false. In fact, when it comes to idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality.
Adam Grant, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
Courtesy of Flickr/Gwenn Seemel
I had an exhilarating and inspiring weekend with thirteen musicians for the maiden voyage of the Game Symphony Workshop!
The event brought together a diverse group of musicians, including professional orchestral players, band directors, university students, and amateur musicians. The two day workshop at Seattle Pacific University culminated with the premiere of sixteen original pieces. The performance featured an improvised film score, abstract soundscapes, meditative minimalism, musical settings for poetry, solo improvisations, and Soundpainting, a sign language for live composition.
I’m fascinated with how artists reconcile creating art with earning a living. Being a starving artist isn’t inevitable, but being passionate and skilled doesn’t entitle us to earn a living. The saying “do what you love and the money will follow” just doesn’t cut it!
As players and teachers, many of us obsess over what to practice, how to practice, and how many hours to practice. This often puts the cart in front of the horse.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Jason James
I want to share a writing exercise from composer, pianist, and author W.A. Mathieu. If you feel overwhelmed or frustrated with trying to measure success by someone else’s model, this prompt will help you define a personal musical vision.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/alexanderward12