Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right – Henry Ford


Ford in 1919

Henry Ford is guilty of many things and one of those things is some great quotes.

Ford’s idea that self belief is central to everything we do is crucial. Without belief we can achieve a goal, we are destined to stay in a state of perpetual stagnation. We are held back in our comfort zone for all eternity, destined to attempt nothing and fail at nothing. Safe but devastatingly boring.
When I said this thought provoking quote to a class, one perceptive young man piped up “Does that mean I’m going to climb Everest?!” My response was, “Do you want to climb Everest?” He waited a second and said “Yeah!” He looked around laughing and smiling at the class and a few sniggers ensued. I asked him another question. “When do you want to climb it?” He looked puzzled and started to frown. “Tomorrow? Next week? Next month?” He looked more awkward and then disengaged.

Everest. I am not going there. 

We can do an awful lot of things if we have a strong desire to do so or if we know exactly why we want to do it. If we don’t, then we will never believe we will achieve it.
Okay, so what if what is on offer does not feel like exactly what we want?
In any of these life changing “Everest challenges” there is a key desire, a key inspiration. These “Everest” Style challenges in my experience of tutoring and coaching are more about proving something to ourselves and/or to others.
Some people find a great deal of satisfaction from planning a goal as tangible as a walk along the Great Wall of china or running the London marathon. Sometimes when we achieve the incredible goals we set ourselves, they are very clear for ourselves and others. That is pretty important. I know people who have set themselves such goals and this has then developed and nurtured a true belief in themselves. I know a girl who had never run a marathon and then set the goal and achieved it at the age of 42. She’s gone from strength to strength and now owns her own business as an advertising consultant.

Branson reveals details of yet another adventure-based goal

The goals we set ourselves don’t always have to be in the direction we want to progress our lives towards. Richard Branson often plans crazy, seemingly unconnected publicity stunts, often putting his life at risk. Is this just an advertising signal to the world or is there more to it? I think he is sending a signal to himself and indeed the universe that he is ready and needs to have that self-belief reinforced and reinvigorated.
They just need to be meaningful to is and the people around us (if that is important to you)
Sometimes we need to look at what inspires us and make a goal around that. I’d love to be a singer in the world famous acapella group, the Swingle Singers. It is unlikely to happen so I set a target of starting my own barbershop quartet and planning to sing a concert. I’ve achieved it and it’s time to set another goal. My goal was small but it has increased my belief in what I can achieve. I know know I can achieve more now. My inspiration is to sing as a member of a group in front of an audience. My goals tend to be in that area, i.e organise and sing with my Barbershop. The barbershop goal was measurable by me and my friends and felt right. One day I might sing in the Swingle Singers. Maybe I don’t want it enough? So Mr Ford, I’m sitting on your fence.
What would dare yourself to dream?
For lots more depth about inspiration and confidence, take a look at the confident performer website. You can download a top ten tips guide for free! 
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What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?


Robert H Schuller – The man behind the quote

About 4 years ago, I was met by the beery breath of a drunken man at the bar. He opened his mouth and said, “You know, I could have been something in the music industry” I was intrigued. I asked him why he might think that. He said that over the years, he was always able to predict what might be a hit, just from the first few bars. Being in his mid 60s, he had predicted that the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd would all be famous long before the prophecy came to be true. He said he would have loved to do that in the business.

So the question was, why didn’t he become something in the music industry? I asked him this and he thought long and hard and couldn’t really say why. I asked him what he had done to try and get into the music business and he just looked blank. Going very quiet indeed, he took his beer away from the bar. I suspect the answer to what action had he taken to realise his dream, was, none at all.

Why didn’t he at least try something to at least make his dream a possibility? I suspect that it was the fear of failure. When we follow our dreams, we fear that we will fail. That fear is so scary at times that it can stop us from trying. In fact it can be so paralysing and after a while, we stop trying anything at all.

In a world of constant media noise, where photoshopped, bearded startups rule the roost and pulled-pork hipsters, cashing in on kickstarter projects date beautiful and successful musicians thriving on our screens with songs we have heard before; it leads to the only conclusion that we are at a point where most of us have stopped having dreams altogether. As musicians, is there any point in trying to get a record deal? Is there any money to be made in music? There are so many questions and so few answers.

The only answer is for our dreams to become more and more bizarre and outlandish. Only then will our true inspiration be revealed. Our true inspiration lies in doing the things we love in a way that suits who we really are. We need to serve the community to which we truly belong with our inspiration. So, it is time to relaunch the question with a refreshed inspiration. ‘What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?’ Some things are worth failing at, after all.

What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail? Robert H. Schuller

For lots more depth about inspiration and confidence, take a look at the confident performer book.

Now on Kindle  $4.99 in the U.S.A or £3.99 in the UK

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The 4 approaches to auditioning


There are times in our musical or performing lives when we have to audition to get the parts/places or opportunities we would like. It can be a bit of a minefield and for some of us, it can be so nerve-wracking that we avoid auditions altogether. What is it about auditions that makes them so scary? Is the experience we see on X-Factor typical of all auditions?

I have written some examples of the approaches people have to auditions. Some are comic but I then pick out some key powerful tips at the end of the article.

  1. The Gung Ho Auditionerdance_by_temycroco-d3huxtt
    Just be Gung Ho about the whole experience and tell yourself it is like a lottery. There may be dozens of people going for the part and the odds are large. Pick the audition piece that you love because you don’t know what they are looking for and maybe the audition panel don’t know either. Don’t worry about what the panel have asked for in their audition criteria. Just go out there and give it your best shot and say F*** It if you are not successful.
  2. The Forensic Auditioner
    As a forensic, you believe that you can eliminate any possibility of chance in the audition process. You find out exactly what the audition is for. You ring the institution regularly before the audition and get as much information as you can. You find out intimate details of the part and prepare yourself specifically for what is required. You look carefully at what you could use as an audition piece and pick something which will be clever and 100% suitable for the audition panel. You make sure that your audition piece is EXACTLY what they are looking for. You take time to find out about the panel members and their background and prepare questions for them on the off-chance that you will have an opportunity to ask them. Taking great care to please the panel with what you are performing is crucial for you. The adage, ‘Remember that the panel are the only official judges of your true talent.’stays with you. If they reject you, it is because you are not good enough in any way. If you are not successful, you put your energies into finding out WHY you were not successful to avoid facing disappointment. You take create care to only apply for other opportunities once you have fully resolved WHY this occasion was not successful. It is essential that you do not move forward until you know every reason they rejected you. You do not pass go, you do not collect £200.
  3. The Overview Auditionerlandscape-1209249_960_720
    You take the time to find out who you are and what it is that you do. What music or performance material do you like to perform – is the key question for you? What really motivates you with your music and performing is at the centre of your approach. You know why you do music and you only do what makes you happy.
    Looking at a range of different audition options and starting to build a diary of which ones you might like to go to is a key principle. You like to build a plan of different directions and options you might like to go in. You realise that you could book a series of different auditions with different courses/venues/possibilities so the audition is only one option among many. Only going to the auditions which you feel are right for you, or could be right for you is the best approach. By putting your art first and working on talking about what you do and why you do it is key. You pick your audition piece because you feel confident performing it and it roughly fits the audition requirements. Naturally you have questions ready for the audition panel.
  4. The Random Auditioner

    One of the best ways to avoid disappointment is to only pick random things to audition for. You live your life in this way. As long as you have a funny story to tell about your audition, then it will be ok afterwards.  If you find something which you do not care about, then go for it! It will be a laugh. If you find a good solid 100% appropriate opportunity to go for, avoid it like the plague. Or if you feel it would be stupid to avoid such a good opportunity, then you do not take it seriously. You don’t look at the audition requirements and you certainly do not prepare properly. Having an excuse for why you were not good enough is important. If on the off chance you have prepared, then you will turn up late because this gives you yet another excuse for why you didn’t get the part. You may not know you are keen on self-sabotage. Do make sure that the part has no value. If it has no real value to you, then how can you be disappointed if you fail? If you do not get the part and yet secretly, you wanted it, start to run the opportunity down to your friends saying, ‘The part was rubbish anyway’

So which one did you identify best with? If you, like me, found that there were various parts you resonated with from all 4 approaches, then hopefully it will give you a clearer idea of what you really want to do.

Tips from my 4 approaches:

Tips from the Gung Ho Auditioner

1. Know that auditions are a little bit of a lottery. So book a number of auditions to get experiences and maximise your opportunities. Know that auditions are not the only way to get work.

2. Pick music or audition pieces that you love but do make sure that this will be appropriate for the part or opportunity for which you are auditioning. Check the requirements.

3. Saying F*** it to yourself after the audition can be quite a powerful thing. Try it, you may like it and it may help you relieve tension! It will also help you prepare for the next part. If you fall off a horse, get straight back on.

Tips from the Forensic Auditioner

4. Finding out exactly what you are auditioning for is important. Do you actually want it? Do not waste time auditioning for things you do not want or will not help you progress to where you want to go.

5. Finding an appropriate audition piece is important but if you have to prepare something which is totally outside your area, then this could be a sign that the part may not be right for you.

6. Finding out about the interview panelists is ok but not worth spending huge amounts of time over. Time spent practicing and finding other future auditions and opportunities is valuable.

7. Having a few good questions is valuable but there is no need to ask questions for the sake of it.

8. Rejection is nothing personal. Understanding what the panel was really looking for is something you may never know. If you can get feedback and you want it, get feedback. If not, just ask yourself, ‘What did I learn from this experience?’ and move on.

9. Dissecting an experience in great detail is rarely worth it and can be demotivating. Again, just find out what you needed to learn and then find the next opportunity and go for that.

Tips from the Overview Auditioner.

10. Understanding who we are is indeed a valuable thing. Knowing what we want our art to say and how we want to say it is part of the process. Answer the question, ‘Why do I like what I do? and what does it mean to me?’

11. Building a plan which includes a number of different approaches is really important. Centring any plan around ONE audition is not a good plan. You need to learn from auditions and you’ll need experience, unless you are Billy Elliot.

12. Know the real reasons why you are going for a particular audition. It is ok NOT to audition and say no to some opportunities. Ask yourself, ‘Is this right for me?’

Tips from the Random Auditioner

13. It is ok to be disappointed. Some of us have elaborate plans to avoid even the possibility of disappointment. Remember it is ok to go for something and not get it and then say, ‘I was gutted about not getting it’ It is ok to be upset. We are upset because we care. There are only two outcomes to a bad experience: Firstly, that we find out more information about how to be more successful next time about a specific opportunity and/or secondly, we have more idea about other opportunities now.

14. Always prepare what you need. Stay focused for an audition and what you need to be able to demonstrate. If you find yourself being distracted ask yourself, ‘Why do I want this? What does it mean for me?’ Then make a cup of tea and get back to preparing.

15. Be early for auditions and plan your transport accordingly. If you find yourself stalling or procrastinating, ask yourself, ‘Why do I want this? What does it mean for me?’

Is X Factor typical of all auditions? I don’t think so. The audition process is often private and a true process to find the best. X-Factor is about entertainment for people at home. All about sensationalism whether it hurts people or exploits them. It is there to sell advertising.

So, what will you audition for and why?

You may also like to read about how to avoid the top ten musical mistakes people make in my free E-Book. Click here to download it now.

Read more top tips and structured approaches for building confidence as a performer in How to become a confident performer.

Now on Kindle only $4.99 in the U.S.A or £3.99 in the UK

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New Year’s Musical Resolutions – DAY 3 of 3 – Choirs, Demos and Community

Why not join a choir?

  1. Join a local choir. Sometimes all we want to do is to sing and to meet people. Being in a choir is a wonderful way to meet new people and experience a real community spirit. Having conducted the Chippenham Rag and Bone Community Choir,  we have had some amazing people join and come along to sing with us. It is a great opportunity and you can give as much or as little as you like. Type in local choirs into a search on Google.Which local choir could you join?
    What sort of music would you like to sing?

    Would you like to be challenged?If you would like to gain more tips then why not download the free E-Book “Avoid the 10 Most Common Mistakes made by Musicians” from https://www.confidentperformer.co.uk/

    Recording a demo is easy. Even on your phone.

  2. Record a simple 3 track demo to get gigs. Already got an act? Record 3 rough songs and put them on sound cloud and or a CD and take it around to pubs that have music. The mistake that many musicians make is to get far too precious about demos. Most venue owners just want to know what sort of style you play and to see what you look like. When I used to play in a blues band, just going into a pub with a cassette tape of our rehearsal was enough to get lots of gigs. Chatting to people when you give the tape over is more important than anything.What songs would you put on your demo?
    How simple is it to record those songs?
    Who could help you?

    If you would like to gain more tips then why not download the free E-Book “Avoid the 10 Most Common Mistakes made by Musicians” from https://www.confidentperformer.co.uk/

    Performing in the Community

  3. Sharing your gift. Before Christmas, the Chippenham Community Choir sang at an old people’s home just across the road from where we rehearse. The performance was somewhat impromptu but we were able to sing all of our material and people also had a wonderful opportunity to join in with us on the carols. The feeling of being able to give something back is tremendous. The audience were also so very accommodating which was lovely and reassuring for all of us singers. Most old people’s homes are very welcoming for musicians and music with which the residents can join in is always a winner. It certainly set me up for Christmas.Which places could you contact?
    What could you play? 
    If you would like to gain more tips then why not download the free E-Book “Avoid the 10 Most Common Mistakes made by Musicians” from https://www.confidentperformer.co.uk/If you help with performance confidence, you may wish to read my How To Become A Confident Performer book 
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New Year’s Musical Resolutions – DAY 2 of 3 – Bands, Lyrics and Emails

On Day 2, we are looking at more practical ideas to get your musical aspirations back on track. Some of us may not be ready to get out there right away as a front person in a band. So, maybe these tips will be good for you?

Joining a Band

  1. Join a band. Sometimes, you just want to get playing right away. Starting your own band is quite a bit of work but joining an established band is much easier. You may have to audition but once you are in, you are in. There are plenty of places to find out about musical opportunities. Check out vacancies on sites like http://www.find-a-musician.comWhat kind of band would you like to be in?
    Are you looking for a style change?
    Are you looking for some good company?
    Are you looking to gig every week or less frequently?

    If you would like to gain more tips about networking then why not download the free E-Book “Avoid the 10 Most Common Mistakes made by Musicians” from https://www.confidentperformer.co.uk/

    Writing Lyrics

  2. Write some lyrics. Use the notes function on your smart phone to write some lyrics for a song. Do you ever get the creative urge to write some song lyrics? I know many people who just seem to write lyrics at the drop of a hat. Why not write a set of lyrics and just go for it and write the melody too? What would it be like to write a song with somebody else? I have many friends who are excellent at writing lyrics and working with them on a song is always great fun.Do you have some newspapers you can get inspiration from?
    Do you have a friend whose situation you can write about?

    Can you write lyrics on your Smart Phone?
    Do you have a train or bus journey you can take time to write notes?
    Can you get a rhyming dictionary if you are stuck?

    If you would like to gain more tips then why not download the free E-Book “Avoid the 10 Most Common Mistakes made by Musicians” from https://www.confidentperformer.co.uk/

    Emailing/Messaging Musician Friends

  3. Send some catch up emails/messages to musicians you know. If you are trying to get back into performing, then send some emails or texts to musicians you normally work with. Just a polite friendly contact is a great starting point. Sometimes when we get busy, we drift off of other people’s radars. So a subtle email sent just asking how people are getting on is a great subtle way. A great place to start if you are looking to get back into performing with people you know and trust.Who will you contact first?
    Who is local to you?
    Who is gigging most in the area?

    If you would like to gain more tips then why not download the free E-Book “Avoid the 10 Most Common Mistakes made by Musicians” from https://www.confidentperformer.co.uk/

    If you help with performance confidence, you may wish to read my How To Become A Confident Performer book 

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New Year’s Musical Resolutions – DAY 1

January 2015

It is time to start your 2015 Musical Journey

Are you looking to make Musical New Year’s Resolutions? If you are a musician, doing something musical in 2015 is probably high on your priority list. So, whether you are a beginner musician or an established musician looking to get back in, what are the best New Year’s Resolutions to make? Over the next 3 days, I will share with you the 10 best Musical New Year’s Resolutions which will give you an incredible opportunity for 2015.

A musical Soirée

  1. Plan a casual musical get together with your friends for an evening in January. The first month of the year is a low one in terms of things to do and the long dark nights make people reluctant to venture out. Nobody has any money, so inviting a few music playing friends over to play a few songs makes for a cheap night’s entertainment. Plan a little running order so that people know what to expect. It is also important to make sure that everyone gets a fair chance to play. People may join in and the boost you feel when you get singing or playing in front of others is incredible! All you need is a few drinks and a few nibbles and you are sorted! It is a brilliant way to build your own confidence. 

    What songs would you play if you organised such an event?
    Who would you invite? 
    Whose house would you use to host the event?

    If you would like to gain more tips then why not download the free E-Book “Avoid the 10 Most Common Mistakes made by Musicians” from https://www.confidentperformer.co.uk/

    An Open Mic Night

  2. Get a song ready for an open mic night. These days, there are many open mic nights around different towns and playing one song at such an event is a great way to expand your contacts and opportunities. Picking a song, preparing it and making it ready for an audience is an exciting process. Playing at open mic nights is the first step to getting regular paid work and also an incredibly good way to build your confidence.Which open mic nights are close by for you?
    What music would you play?
    Could you play as a duo?

    If you would like to gain more tips about setting up to play at an open mic night then download the free E-Book “Avoid the 10 Most Common Mistakes made by Musicians” from https://www.confidentperformer.co.uk/
  3. Recording Yourself With a SmartPhone

    Record yourself playing a song. Get practicing your favourite song and then use your smart phone to record it and then upload the video to Youtube. Post it on SoundCloud or something similar and then leave links to it on your Facebook page and see what people’s comments are. It is brave thing to do but so many artists started out like this since the birth of YouTube and it definitely strengthens you in terms of confidence. Some comments people leave are encouraging and some are not. It is all useful for developing as a performer.

    What song would you record?
    Where would you record it? 
    Who could hold the camera for you?

    If you would like to gain more tips about setting up to play at an open mic night then download the free E-Book “Avoid the 10 Most Common Mistakes made by Musicians” from https://www.confidentperformer.co.uk/ 

If you help with performance confidence, you may wish to read my How To Become A Confident Performer book 

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Starting a Music Course with Confidence

Starting a Music Course can be Scary

Starting a new music course can be daunting. At every step of my musical education, I worried if I was going to be good enough and whether I would be able to stay the course. In this short article, I am going to explore some of the fears of starting a music course and offer some solutions which will help.

All the way through taking my very first piano lesson, going to secondary school music lessons, attending my first school choir rehearsal, starting GCSE Music lessons, enrolling on A’ level music, auditioning for the Guildhall School of Music, starting a music degree at University, having my first piano lesson on my degree, starting a PGCE music course and starting a Masters Degree course, I realised that all were cause for major anxiety. I had many sleepless nights before each event and a dull sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach for most of them. Luckily things have changed in the last 5 years and even when enrolling on a Jazz Summer School this year where the tutors were top professional Jazz players from London, I reminded myself of my main purpose, to learn and get better and I felt better.

In my job as Curriculum Coordinator for Music Performance at City of Bath College, we enrol 60 new musicians each year. Many contact the college wishing to have their minds put at ease about approaching their first day.

In my experience musicians tend to worry about:

  • Not being liked
  • Other people being brilliant or at least better than we are
  • Not being good enough
  • Looking silly in front of others
  • Getting chucked off the course
  • Being judged
  • Looking uncool
  • What teachers might think of us
  • Being asked to demonstrate an area of weakness i.e.
  • Singing
  • Improvising
  • Sight-reading
  • Playing in front of others
  • Playing something that is too hard

The list goes on…

A nervous interviewer

How can we overcome first day nerves? – Picture by Ronnie Tucker

Remember that nobody is brilliant at everything. When starting a course, it is very easy to start comparing yourself to others and feeling inferior. Over the years, I started to see that some people show off their skills immediately. What I began to realise was that people show off their best piece and in some cases, it is the only impressive party piece they know! I remember watching a fellow pianist play some Grieg and being totally blown away. Upon telling her how impressed I was, she said that she was really wanting to ask me if I could teach her how to improvise the way I did! You never know what others are really thinking and it made me realise that everyone has something of value to others. There are many more strategies to change the way you feel about your musical ability in The Confident Performer Book.

Uni is expensive. Remember because you are paying, you are the customer.

Paying fees makes you the customer :
It is important to remember that when you are enrolling on a course, you are coming to college/university to learn. Lecturers and teachers are paid in order for you to learn. Their job is to make you succeed. I often refresh this thought when I go on courses that I pay for! In today’s climate, the large sums of money students pay, change the way students think about their courses. Besides, lecturers like good students. Good students are interested and they are reliable.




Be honest and interested and you will be liked by those who are worth knowing. Ask lots of questions about what music other people are playing or singing.  Be complimentary about their playing where justified. Never make up false praise, you will only make friends that you will lose quickly. There is a tendency for people to try and make friends with as many people as they can at all cost when they start a course. Giving people false praise in order to appear popular is a bad idea on so many levels. It rarely works out being long-term friendship. Be yourself, be honest and be interested in other people and you will find friends that will last. There are many more tips on making connections and dealing with egos in the Confident Performer book.

It is ok to be reserved.

It is ok to be a little reserved at first. I was incredibly shy when I started my music degree and I was sometimes in awe and overwhelmed by those who appeared very confident. Sometimes other people’s overactive egos are merely a cover for a feeling of lack of self-confidence. It took me a long time to realise that truly confident people often say little and are not always the life and soul of the party. Take time to find out what people like to play and what their musical tastes might be. I have met people I still jam with today in this way. Introversion is not a handicap, it is a gift which generates different focuses. I found that I was able to focus on arranging vocal music for my vocal group which gave us an outlet to be extroverted in a comfortable way. Other people who are naturally extrovert do not always have the patience or focus to arrange music with attention to detail. What is your introverted skill?

Make mistakes and allow yourself to learn. It is impossible to look confident in front of others, all the time. Know that there will be times when you will be called upon to demonstrate something to the group or play something difficult that you will not be able to play. I have lost count of how many times I had trouble playing a piece of music. Be gracious and calm about not being able to play it yet. Remember that if you could play everything that you were going to be asked to play at the beginning of the course, there would be no point in doing the course!

On another note, always pay attention to what the course will require from you. Finding out what is coming up on the course and what you need to practice is the best way to minimise surprise. If in doubt, phone the uni or college to find out what the course contains before you start. So many students do not find out details and wonder why they struggle with the unexpected. There will be times when you will find yourself outside your comfort zone and just remember to smile if you get it wrong. It is ok!

Allow time to practise. 
It came as no surprise that the musicians who practised often and worked hard, seemed to do better at college and when I became a keyboard player in a blues band. I realised that making excuses for not practising was really no way to proceed. My Father always says that when you are trying to achieve something, be honest when assessing your efforts. Did you really work hard enough to achieve them? Did you give them enough time? I realise that over the years, I did not give enough time to practising and yet I lied to myself about how hard I thought I had worked. It was obvious that others were working harder than me. Do you work hard enough? More tips about practicing can be found in the book.

Also remember that your course is made up of a number of different elements. Sight reading, improvisation or whatever you fear most is probably going to be only a small part of any course. See the bigger picture. Ask yourself, “How much of this activity will contribute to my grades?” I would often calculate this when I had to perform a difficult piece of music in a concert. The answer 4% takes the edge off the worry!


Get to know people’s names

Appearing professional. One of the single most powerful things you can do in the music profession or indeed any profession, is to learn people’s names. Using names as soon as you know them is the best way to establish acceptance from others. It changes how others treat you. For me, as an intrinsically shy person, it took me years to be able to learn a name and then use it immediately. It is such a powerful tool to use in any profession, especially music. Working with other musicians is a time when you need to quickly relax others and yourself so that you can get on with the task of making music. Learning names develops rapport in a quick way. I have also noticed that managers use this tactic to help take control of a situation and instil trust in others. It may be a good strategy if you are expected to lead a band or conduct a group. What would you do with the new found respect of somebody who learns and uses names quickly?


Jamming can make your future. Remember that the people we meet are the people we can work with in the future. There are always opportunities to make music. Take opportunities to jam with the people on your course. Sometimes I jam and make music with my colleagues in our spare time. This is often a way to change my perspective in a creative way and make you feel better about some of the tough situations you may face. Opportunities from some of these jams can be exciting too. I have played many one off gigs with acoustic duos, accompanying singers which have come about from a fun jams. Many of these jams lead to very profitable careers on occasion. Jaques Loussier started jamming Bach at parties as a bit of a musical joke and then made a career out of it. 

So in short:

  • Prepare a list of things you are good at and remind yourself
  • Remember that you pay fees which makes you the customer
  • Show interest in others’ music
  • Learn the names of other people on the course
  • Go for the long goal of good friends not quick friends
  • It is ok to be reserved, there is no need to become extrovert
  • Remind yourself it is ok to make mistakes and learn from them
  • Allow real time to practise
  • Allow yourself to learn and be the beginner again
  • Plan to jam often. Good things will come from this
  • Find out about the course and what is required from you
  • Put a difficult task into perspective in terms of percentage of the course. Your feared task may have very few marks attached to it
  • Plan to have fun on the course
  • Be you. It is ok to be you.

Find out more at www.confidentperformer.co.uk 

Have any questions about starting your new course?

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Am I too old to learn to play music?

  1. MusicForYouSummerSchool2013-1“You cannot teach an old dog new tricks.”
  2. “When you get to my age, you stop learning.”
  3. “Learning is a lot easier when you are younger.”

These are all phrases I have bandied around when I talk to older people about learning music later in life. However, on a Music For You Summer Jazz school in August 2013, I met Sharron Stolarczyk, who by her own admission, came late to playing music at the age of 58 and would certainly disagree with all 3 of the opening statements and is living proof that a musical life begins after 40.  

Sharron with The Skipton Community Orchestra

Whilst interviewing Sharron about her experiences of being a later learner, I played the devil’s advocate and asked her whether she learned slower now, than she did when she was younger. Her response was a resounding NO. She said that as she had gotten older, she discovered so much more about HOW she learns. Knowing the way she learns, has dramatically improved her approach and the subsequent progress she made. I was keen to know how Sharron learns now and she described the process which works best for her.

1. Spend some time with a smaller group of musicians where the basics of the music can be worked out.

2. Spend a greater amount of time practising on her own, knowing that what she is practising is right.

3. Go to a full band rehearsal to practise the music in context.

As Sharron explained, until she had found the right way to practice which worked for her and decipher the music, much of her time as a younger learner was completely wasted.

At this point, I asked Sharron about her musical learning experiences as a younger person and she admitted that she had received traumatic piano lessons for a very short time. These lessons did not go well and Sharron’s teacher complained to her parents that she was not practicing. It is interesting that some teacher’s assessments of a students’ musical ability takes little of the individual’s preferences into account. Much later on, Sharron came to realise that it was not her musical ability which was at fault but the fact she was more suited to playing the flute. That was also the instrument that she really wanted to play! Personal preference is a real natural motivator in a student!

Sharron With Dales Jam

Bad experiences in our early years often lead us into believing that we are not musical and that thought can stay with us for our whole lives. Sharron was led to believe that she just wasn’t musical. Some teachers can only teach a certain ‘type’ of pupil and subsequently quickly dispatch students who do not fit into this perfect model. The reputations of such teachers are often perceived as being very good because their results with a very select ‘gifted’ few, are so impressive. Music is for everyone.

Sharron is incredibly busy with her musical projects these days and as a result, was not able to make the Excellent Jazz Summer School this year. She plays with Skipton Community Orchestra  and Dales Jam  and told me about an incredible film project she was involved with. The project was commissioned by the BBC in 2013 and came to fruition in March of this year. Very exciting for any musician.

I asked Sharron what were the problems that some older learners experienced in bands or on courses. She answered immediately. Some older people make themselves old before their time. They tell themselves they cannot do things and then they start to think and act like they cannot learn new things in a new way. She found working in a band with younger people, absolutely refreshing and a real inspiration and kept her young. Structured practising was also easier for her now she knew how she learned she could practice in the best way for her.

The Half Lotus Position

Our older minds and bodies are often more willing to give us what we need to learn than we think. Many years ago, I spoke to an experimental psychologist about later learning. John Barrett was inspiring. He had worked with older musicians (ages 65 upwards) and realised that their learning ability was only 4% lower than that of a 10 year old. He also told me about his tuition on the sitar. He never thought he would be able sit in the half lotus position at the age of 70 but after 3 weeks, his flexibility increased and he was able to learn without an hindrance. This is news to me. Should I try now?

The evidence supports the fact that we are able to learn at any age if we allow ourselves time and patience to get better. I find her outlook and approach, refreshing. She lives in a musical place where she was constantly on the edge of her comfort zone. It is the thought I took with me to this year’s excellent Music for You Jazz Summer school. I followed her lead and I put myself outside my comfort zone in all areas and pushed myself beyond where I would normally. I will tell you all about it in my next post!

There are plenty of tips in my Confident Performer Book too.

So in short, if you are a later learner,

  • Work out HOW you learn best and structure your practice for you.
  • Put yourself outside your comfort zone to learn faster.
  • Learn from younger people to see how they approach difficult sections.
  • Join a group to bring structure and purpose to your learning.
  • Become involved in some cool projects along the way.
  • Remember that your early experiences of music do not define your musical ability ceiling.
  • It is never too late to learn anything.
  • Our bodies can improve and change if we exercise them.
  • What will you learn?
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Injuries and Poor Musical Technique

If it hurts, then you are probably doing it wrong.

Back pain from poor playing posture

Playing a garden party piano gig on a slightly inclined slope for a couple of hours seemed like a good idea at the time. However, the day after, my back went into an agonising spasm which left me unable to walk for the day. As the old adage goes, if it hurts, then you are probably doing it wrong. This experience is not uncommon and some of the stories I have heard, leave me to believe my experience was fairly tame! The drummer and author of Musician’s Hypnosis Sam Brown recalled taking a 3 week holiday from playing and then playing 2 hour sets for a Carribean Steel Band without warming up. His wrists ached terribly for weeks. One of the key contributors to my Confident Performer Book is the Piano Recitalist and Piano educator Stephen Marquiss He recalls:

I used to get something akin to “tennis elbow” when I was at music school, which I now believe to be related more directly to posture, which in turn is related to poor self-esteem…all a bit of a weird vicious circle…

singerOne of my singing colleagues got so over excited singing and screaming at a Metal gig, that he started to spit blood and had to miss the next 3 gigs as a result. There are some cases where musicians should know better but clearly if the teaching and effective technique is absent, then beginner musicians put themselves at serious risk.

Being a general classroom music teacher or lecturer of music, I often find myself in a position where I am coaching people on a variety of different instruments. The weight of responsibility for the health and well-being of the musicians in my care can be heavy. As a teacher, I often have to guide drummers or students on an instrument I do not play myself and I am sometimes at a loss as to the safest way to approach a problem. The advice and guidance I offer could at best be inaccurate and at worse, cause long-term damage in the musicians I am looking to nurture and develop. In such cases, my advice is always to stop right now and get help.

In general music education, musicians do not have 1 to 1 instrumental tutors and their reliance on my instruction is of prime importance. The cost of 1 to 1 tuition can be unaffordable for many young people and the responsibility on general music teachers is great and the reliable knowledge base of information is sometimes hard to find. Who do we ask for information? Can we trust the information we get from those we ask?
Over the years I have built up a strong base of teachers whom I know can ‘talk the talk’ and ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to reliable, safe and sustainable technique. My advice is to seek advice from those who perform regularly and remain healthy in their approach. Those of you who have read my interview with Lee Risdale will know how much I rate teachers like him to provide excellent reliable information on singing. Excellent musicians and teachers like Lee, Sam Brown and Rob Brian (Drums) Duncan Kingston (Bass) Richard Perkins (guitar)  who have proved themselves in their field are well-known to me in the South West of England but for new-comers, it can be a scary prospect. To say that Youtube does not always give informed information is a little bit of an understatement.

The Musician's Body Book

The Musician’s Body Book

Recently I was recommended to read a book about the well-being of musicians entitled, The Musician’s Body. The book is very well researched and fuses the expertise of an orthopaedic surgeon, Jaume Rosset i Llobet and music education specialist, George Odam. The book tackles voice and many instruments, giving tips, suggestions, activities and exercises to help any musician. It is accessible and yet very scientific with its very helpful diagrams. I found it particularly valuable for us ‘general music teachers’ as it uses some interactive quizzes at the end of each chapter which can be used with groups of learners.

So what should I do if I am having health problems related to my playing?

I would always say this to any musician, ‘Seek the advice of a doctor’ Your health is

Always see a doctor if you have any issues with health and playing music

too important for you to take chances. If you have ongoing problems related to playing then book yourself some lessons or even a lesson with a reputable player and teacher. Even just one lesson can help a great deal. If you live in the South West, I can give you some contacts for excellent instrumental and vocal teachers. Definitely read the The Musician’s Body as it is an excellent resource for your musical career. If you need more general guidance about developing confidence as a musician, you will find my book or Ebook, How To Become a Confident Performer of particular use.

So if you find that you are battling with health problems associated with your voice or instrumental playing:

  • Seek medical advice
  • Beware Youtube videos as you may learn harmful technique
  • Book at least one lesson with an expert instrumental/vocal teacher
  • Always strive to update your knowledge on healthy approaches with your instrument or voice
  • Buy reference books such as The Musician’s Body for physical and psychological issues related to musical related health problems
  • Rate the sustainability of your own musical technique and always seek to get better
Posted in beginners, Confident Singing, Improving Your Confidence, performance strategies, Sustainable Healthy Playing, Teaching Music | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What do you make of this performance?

Samuel T. Herring

Samuel T. Herring shows the focus that belief brings

What would it be like if you had 100% belief in what you were doing?

A month ago, my friend and colleague Ben Angel (Lead singer from The Bohemian Embassy) showed me a video performance on Youtube which has really had me thinking about it ever since. In an age of reserved minimalistic singer songwriter performances, this guy, Samuel T. Herring, hit me and nearly 2 million other web surfing people, squarely between the eyes and ears. I experienced the incredible passion and focus of this guy’s performance and I was left thinking, ‘What is this guy singing about? I don’t know, but I know he means it’

A powerful performance is nothing new to me. I grew up in an age where Queen were king and Freddie sang full-pelt at Live Aid. I remember the library footage of Joe Cocker singing ‘With a little help from my friends’ with a vocal tone that would give Robert Plant a run for his money. I recall the archive footage of Janis Joplin singing at Woodstock, giving everything she had. So the performance from Future Islands front man was incredibly powerful but had something different about it. The intense focus of his performance and the incredible belief were 100% mesmerising. His voice is a voice which I would not immediately say was a classic voice but it speaks to me. There is something incredibly honest, open and uninhibited about Samuel T. Herring’s performance which connects with me. His dance moves shout out, ‘Hear what I have to say’ The band (Future Islands) have a different kind of intensity which just seems to enhance the impact of the singer and his performance, something akin to the relationship between Jim Morrison and The Doors. I am not sure what my conclusion is about this amazing performance but I do know I want to see more from these guys. I know that watching somebody perform something they believe in whole-heartedly, is life-affirming. See them in London Hyde Park on July 3rd 

What are your thoughts?

Post a comment below.





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