How to be a Great Musician in 5 Easy Steps.


IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD (Photo credit: Anduze traveller)

Achieving greatness is a common theme amongst musicians at all levels.  It is on the minds of the musicians I see who are in school and working night and day to have flawless technique. It is expressed in the frustration of those players who have played on the freelance circuit for years when they had dreams of landing that big symphony job. It is everywhere!  “Greatness” is a value that many classical musicians use to motivate their hard work.  So let’s take a look at how the issue of achieving greatness.


1. To be great requires a clearly articulated definition of what greatness means to you as an individual. You must define in explicit term what greatness means. For example, if you equate that greatness = fame, then what kind of fame? Fame in your city, your state, your country, the world? Fame in your instrument alone? Fame amongst all the other instruments?  For each aspiration, we do ourselves an injustice by being vague. No matter how difficult, clearly define your definition of greatness. Don’t ask for outside input, just ask yourself. You may find that you do not fall within the same aspirations as your friends or colleagues. That is perfectly okay. What is right for you—is right for you.


2. Take a very close stock of all your strengths and weakness. Some may find this next step a bit overboard (but then the truly great don’t typically conform to standard norms right?).  Make a list with two columns: Strengths and Weaknesses. Be incredibly liberal about each. This isn’t just about your performance ability; this is about your entire person.  This is an incredibly private document that only you should be allowed to see. This is the forum  for you to be incredibly honest with you. Keep writing until you can absolutely think of nothing else to add to either column, sleep on it, and add more the next day.  Greatness comes from the combination of all aspects of your life. This activity can help you take stock of what you can be proud of and own as your strengths and where you need to focus on improving.


3. Build a community of supportive people. There is a reason for the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” You can be the most impressive virtuoso in the world, but if you are alone in the practice room, no one will ever hear you.  You must relentlessly build your network of friends, colleagues, mentors, professional contacts, students, and contractors.  No one is too insignificant for you to get to know. If you are shy or reluctant to meet new people, take advantage of the self-education materials out there about how to be a better conversationalist and how to improve your social networking skills.


4. Carve your niche. Though we want to do it all, we can spread ourselves too thin to be truly great at one thing.  The phrase “Jack of all trades, master at none” comes to mind here.  Understand what part of your musical life is the most important and engaging to you. Once you’ve discovered it, run with it and never let go!


5. Lastly, be authentic in what you do. Go beyond technical mastery. Search for meaning and purpose in the music you want to share with others. Be genuine and make sure the audience knows what you are trying to tell share with them. Do whatever it takes to help them understand where you are coming from. If you love a particular piece because it reminds you of someone you love and lost, then share this bit of yourself.  Plainly tell them where you are coming from. This will forge the kind of connections with your audience that will last far longer than any one-hit wonder virtuoso.  On your rise to the top, make sure to be authentic in all that you do.

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