Most musicians place artificial limits on their own growth. Without even realising they're doing it...
Part 1 – Are you leaving 50% of your performance on the table?
Think about when you watch a great musician perform, or when you listen to one of their recordings. How often are some of the magic moments technically within your reach?
How often do you think: “I could have played that”?
Technically, yes, you could have played it. But the ugly truth is simple – you DIDN’T.
Because some hidden barrier blocked you from achieving this thing that is otherwise within your potential.
If you can uncover that hidden barrier. Then you can work to remove it.
And once you’ve removed it, then your response to “I could have played that” becomes: “And I DID!”.
I want to help you to get to that point.
But first, a quick warning.
This is not some one-shot miracle cure
Once you’ve found and removed one hidden barrier, you’ll hit another a little bit further down the road. You’ll need to identify and remove that one too.
And they never stop coming.
There will always be one or two things that hold your playing back more than anything else. These are your limiting factors.
You can’t ever escape them entirely. But if you’re willing to address them, then you can get better at an amazingly fast rate.
And yet, most musicians never take this route.
The barriers are often things which are a lot more comfortable to ignore. And some of the biggest limiting factors are things many musicians aren’t even aware of in the first place.
We’ll get onto those in a bit.
Just understand that you can get better really fast if you’re willing to focus on clearing those barriers one by one.
What does it take to do this?
Glad you asked.
I'll give you some advice and some specific exercises to work on shortly – but we need to start off by looking at your attitude.
Pro vs amateur mindset
What makes the biggest difference in breaking through the barriers that hold you back is your mindset.
And musicians’ mindsets can be roughly divided into two groups: pro and amateur.
The pros choose to do the difficult work and tackle the most pressing problem. Even when it’s no fun, or when it makes them feel uncomfortable.
But they reap huge benefits as a result.
Let’s be clear. This is not a difference between those who make a living from music and those who don’t. This is about a specific attitude – all of us get to choose which one we want.
Turning pro is a choice – it’s free, but it’s not easy.
“Either you’re working to get better or you’re not working to get better. And everyone that’s working to get better is on the same level, they’re just at different phases of the journey.”
It's not about putting in huge numbers of hours every day. You could just have a few minutes to practice.
Turning pro is about a switch in attitude with the time you have. It’s resolving to do what’s important rather than what’s easy or tempting. And then showing up consistently and doing it.
There are plenty of full-time musicians who seem to practice every hour available but, although they’re making a living this way, they still have an amateur mindset.
It's not how good you want to be eventually, or how much time you dedicate to the task. It’s whether you’re really serious about maximising the progress you make.
But this is hard – really hard
And that’s why most musicians don’t do it.
You’ve got to be willing to spend some time looking for the things that are holding you back.
Often, you’d rather leave them buried in your subconscious and not acknowledge to yourself that they’re an issue.
Then you’ve got to take the actions that will allow you to improve these areas.
This often means doing things that make you uncomfortable.
Things which challenge your sense of how competent you are.
Things which don’t give you obvious big wins at the end of a practice session.
You have to trust that this is pushing you towards faster and more robust growth than other approaches. Even though it might not always feel that way.
The good news is that the more you push through the initial discomfort, the easier it gets. Over time you become more comfortable pushing the envelope and you can even start to enjoy it.
Albert Gray spent his life searching for the common factor that successful people share. Turns out it isn’t hard work, or luck, or even inherent talent. As he said in The Common Denominator of Success:
“The secret of success of every man who has ever been successful lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do."
If you're wondering why successful people like doing these unpleasant things, the answer is – they don't! Here's Albert again:
"Successful men are influenced by the desire for pleasing results. Failures are influenced by the desire for pleasing methods and are inclined to be satisfied with such results as can be obtained by doing things they like to do".
This is the pro mentality exactly. Pros do what it takes to deliver compelling performances.
Some pros just perform to friends and family.
Some get out regularly on the local scene.
Others tour the world playing at the highest levels.
But the essence of a pro is always the same. They remember what a lot of other musicians forget.
Practice is just a means to an end.
And that end is to give your best performance when the curtain rises.
This is a decision
Turning pro is free, but it demands sacrifice.
It’s uncomfortable and it’s scary.
Turning pro is not for everyone.
It's not for the 99%, the majority, the people who choose to remain amateurs.
Most amateurs are very happy operating in this way. They enjoy where they are right now and that's enough for them.
They constantly seek out new stuff - rather than doing the difficult work of breaking through the blocks that are right in front of them.
And that's absolutely fine.
But some amateurs want more.
They realise at some level that they're an amateur ... but they want to change. They want to play music at a higher level. But mostly, they just don't know how.
There's still hope for those amateurs.
You should know by now whether you’re currently an amateur or a pro. And which one you want to be long-term.
You need something more than just the usual passive content
All the training out there on the internet gives you NEW stuff without asking whether that's right for you.
And most of the time there's no way to check whether you’ve gone deep enough. Whether you've realised the full potential of what you’ve learned before you move on to the next thing.
This is why you want a genuine teacher instead of (or as well as) just passive online content.
Even this will only take you so far because you’ll still often miss the most important thing.
Most musicians share the same biggest limiting factor, and it's one that almost no teachers think about. And if they do, they don't know how to address it.
We're just about to find out what it is...