The one thing that’s brought me the most progress as a musician is not some clever technical tip.
It’s not about how I practice.
It’s my attitude towards new opportunities.
And I can boil it down to just one word…
It’s simply saying “yes” to every opportunity.
But this can be scary.
And that often leads you to make excuses for why you shouldn’t do it.
I’m going to show you just why it’s so important.
And I’ll help give you some of the belief that will allow you to put this “get out there and do it” approach into practice.
It makes me sad…
I can’t bear it when musicians hold themselves back unnecessarily.
But I see so many of you out there.
Waiting until later.
Waiting until you’re a little bit better.
Waiting until the time is perfect.
That’s when you’re going to get out there and do it.
Well, I’ve got news for you.
It’s not going to happen if you take that attitude.
Or, if it does, you’ll get round to it much later than you should.
And while you’ve been sitting there waiting for everything to be perfect, other people will have got out there.
They’ll have been imperfect. But they’ve done things anyway.
And they will have made a lot more progress as a result.
They will be much farther down the road than you because you’ve just sat there.
Because you haven’t gone out and said “yes” yet.
You need practice as well as theory
Now, theoretical knowledge is great. You definitely want some of that.
But at the end of the day, there is no learning without doing.
Imagine being forced to choose between two options:
- having all the theoretical knowledge in the world, but no experience putting it into practice
- having absolutely no theoretical knowledge at all but just getting out there and getting a whole lot of unstructured, unguided experience
If I was in that position, I would take experience over theory every time.
Now, the big barrier that gets in the way of getting out there and getting experience is usually feeling that you’re not ready.
Maybe you feel that you’re not good enough. That you’re just not even allowed to get out there in some way.
Or you might have the same little perfectionist tendency as a lot of musicians (myself included).
You always feel that you could do it now.
But surely it’s a good plan to spend just a bit more time getting it slightly better.
A little bit more perfect.
Then you’ll be happy to get out there and share it with the world.
That’s not good enough, though. You need a different approach.
Make “Yes” your default answer
This is the solution.
Even though you don’t feel ready.
Even though you feel scared.
You want to get out there and say yes to an opportunity before you’ve had a chance to think it through.
And you’ll find that, once you are committed, magical things start to happen.
Once you’ve committed yourself: “Yes, I am definitely going to do this” – you will work out a way to deliver the goods.
A way to make things go as they need to.
So, say yes.
If someone asks: can you play a gig?
If someone asks: do you want to take a solo on this tune (that you don’t know at all)?
Whatever it is:
Yes! Yes! Yes!
Here’s what it looks like in practice
In case you’re still unsure, here’s a story that might give you a bit of inspiration.
Way back many years ago, when I still had a day job in an office, I got a phone call one lunchtime, asking if I could play a gig that night.
And not just any gig. This was a solo guitar gig for a gallery opening.
The band that had been meant to come and play had had travel problems. They just couldn’t make it.
Now, at this point, I had never played a solo guitar gig.
Not once in my life.
I had no music planned.
But I said yes right there on the phone without hesitation.
And with no idea how I was going to make it happen in just a few hours’ time that evening.
I literally ran home to prepare. And I worked something out.
It wasn’t pretty.
And I wasn’t proud of what I ended up playing from a purely musical point of view. There were all sorts of problems and mistakes.
But it was good enough. It got the job done. I got paid at the end.
The measure of success is that you did it
The real result wasn’t that I played some amazing solo guitar gig.
The real result was that I’d said yes to something challenging, and new.
And then delivered on it.
As a result, I now knew that I could play a solo guitar gig if I needed to.
Only that morning I hadn’t known that.
The important thing for you to remember when you take this approach is that success is about saying yes.
And then following through on that promise.
It is not about how well you perform in the things that you say yes to.
Sure, it’s nice if that happens. But what we’re doing here is strengthening your ability to take action in uncertainty. In scary situations.
Because the more that you do this, the easier it gets.
And that’s going to mean that you take more of these opportunities. You get more chances to learn.
You put yourself in more growth situations, and you expand as a musician and a person.
When you really get into this, you move so much faster, great things happen.
I really hope you will start saying yes.
Again, and again and again.
If you’re up for this, make a start by just typing “Yes!” in the comments below.
Er …. yes?
That’s it! Go for it, Nell.
Great to see you committing to this, Mike!
Yes I love getting out there and playing and performing.
Awesome, Rick! Stick at it.
Yes! And I was undecided about going to a gypsy jazz jam tomorrow (I play violin) – Reading this has encouraged me to go for it! Play until they ask you to stop😎
So glad you’ve been encouraged to get out and play, Nick. Have a great time!
YES, OF COURSE, ALWAYS (nearly…)!
That’s great, Josefine! Rather than thinking I have to say “yes” every time. Always. I find it easier just to think about saying yes the NEXT time.
And when that’s done, I look to the next time after that. And keep going on that way – one at a time. It doesn’t seem quite as daunting as thinking about having to do it EVERY time.
Qualified yes. As long as I can actually do it. I’ve got the first verse down in scads of songs. So if I have to play ONE COMPLETE song with vocals tonight I could learn it and crash & burn, or if I have to play 5 songs by next week, yes. But not five songs tonight.
Is that the idea or am I still being too much of a chicken?
That’s great, Steve. It doesn’t have to be the complete package or the most advanced song. If one song is all you can do tonight then say YES to that rather than making the excuse that there’s no point just playing one song because you have to have all five for it to count.
Its true, go for it!
Thank you Mark for your encouragement!
Loved this post, thanks Mark. Very inspiring and I may even post one of the tracks from my new relaxing piano solo album on FB that I have been trying to complete for ages now.
So glad you found it useful, Nicky.
I was asked years ago to stand in for a friend who was to accompany a young student for their grade 1 violin exam. She became ill. I was doing quite a high level piano but had only been learning 2 years. The accompaniment looked within my grasp. Practice went well. Then nerves unseated me in the exam and the poor kid struggled on regardless. He would have been better off without me. So yes but not if it hurts someone else. I suppose a child is vulnerable in ways adults aren’t – they could risk playing with me if I collapse as does the band I play with.
Of course you want to avoid hurting anyone else. But there’s always unknowns that we can’t predict:
Would anyone else have been available if you hadn’t said yes?
Were nerves something that you knew affected you? Or was this an unexpected surprise?
You are absolutely right Mark. You dont have to be the best to get the gig. I said ‘yes’ to a gig about 25 years ago and continued to play that gig once a week until the Covid 19.
I totally agree with this – I met a girl once who just started out playing trumpet but regardless of her limited abilities she just joined every jam she could find. Nobody felt it was a nuisance and was nice to her, giving her some time here and there to solo on each tune. Then I saw her again about a year and a half later and the way she could play absolutely blew my mind. She basically taught herself jazz trumpet by jamming with buskers. Me in the meantime, I had locked myself mainly in my practice room and although I made some technical progress had learned absolutely nothing about performing with other people.
Great story, Dominik. Thanks for sharing.
Yes, yes, yes!!! As Molly had it…
We’re talking Molly Bloom here, right?
Yes YES YES–he’s right.
You will never know, what you can do
Until you show up, to do what you can.
Yes! Absolutely! Of course, I’d love to.
I’ve just been asked to join a ‘pop-up'(!) group that will perform within 10 days with minimal practice and rehearsal. My initial response was ‘you’ve got to be joking’, but I want to be a player who steps up, and I want to be asked again and again to join in with others; to be known as someone who says ‘yes’. And as soon as I said it, it felt right. Your article vindicates my choice!