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Five Beliefs or Thoughts that Hold Back Musicians

Many people believe that artists, particularly musicians, are bound to suffer for their chosen paths in life. Legendary jazz singer Nina Simone used to think of music as having being both a gift and a burden in her life; however, and similar to French cabaret singer Edith Piaf, she had no regrets. Why do musicians tend to hold themselves to much higher and demanding standards when compared to other artists?

When you look at the lives and careers of famous painters, you can see that many thought very highly of themselves, even to the point of extreme arrogance. Spanish painters such as Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso had incredible self-confidence that helped them to achieve great artistic heights. We do not see this as often with musicians, and one explanation in this regard is related to the visceral experience of music composition and performance. The reality of music is that it can be extremely complex; this is something that all other artists acknowledge.

Mastery of music is not easy. Achieving greatness can be frustrating for music students who may not understand why they can’t sing, compose, or play instruments with the amazing ease and skill of their favorite artists. At Prodigies Music, our programs focus on teaching music theory for early learners because we know this can be a difficult subject to tackle later in life. Other early music education programs are centered on a highly social approach, which is wonderful and enjoyable, but when students later encounter music theory they may be turned off by the academic challenge.

When we accept that musical composition and performance are not as easy as they sound, we can exclude incredibly gifted musicians who were born with otherworldly talents. Prince Rogers Nelson, the Minneapolis musician commonly known as Prince, was one of these outliers whose lives were destined to achieve greatness in music; he was the type of artist who started playing piano by ear as a child and continued picking up other instruments as if they were old friends. Other instruments that Prince mastered during his lifetime included:

  • Clavinet
  • Bass guitar
  • Moog synthesizer
  • Drums

Prince was able to assimilate music theory with amazing ease, and his passion enabled him to tirelessly play guitar and compose melodies for more than eight hours each day. His fascination with instruments inspired him to play all of them on his debut album “For You.”

It is hard to imagine Prince messing up a rhythmic guitar chord, but it surely happened more than once in his life. This was a man blessed with enormous self-confidence in addition to skill, so he probably corrected himself on the fly and quickly moved on from mistakes. Those who worked with Prince will tell you that he was not the type of musician who doubted himself. He did not need to believe in himself because he believed in music.

Musicians, educators, parents, and students are all bound to deal with issues that hold them back. Doubt and lack of confidence can be highly detrimental in the music world. There is more behavioral psychology involved in music instruction than many people realize, and this an aspect of learning tackled by the Prodigies Music curriculum.

Instilling certain behaviors from an early age can go a long way in preventing the following setbacks from taking place:

I Can’t See Myself Doing That

Like many other activities in life, music presents a correlation with drive and ambition, and it happens to be very similar to athletics. Casual basketball players who are not very tall may not see themselves pulling off a power dunk with both hands; in 1986, however, Spud Webb of the Atlanta Hawks won the NBA Slam Dunk contest with a height of 5’7″, beating the defending 6’8″ champion Dominique Wilkins. Webb has mentioned that he felt athletically gifted as a child, but it took him years of daily training and practice to achieve his vertical leaping abilities. The training routines Webb followed during his career have been adopted by quite a few casual players around the world, and they have been able to reach their dunking goals after months of working out and practicing.

Piano students who tell themselves they will not be able to nail Liszt’s La Campanella because it is far too complex will accomplish exactly that; this is an unfortunate error in thinking because it does not take into consideration that Liszt spent years composing and rehearsing that piece. There is something even more complex than music to master: language. For most people, learning a second language takes years, but this does not stop them from striving to get better each day.

I Will Never Be That Good

This is a very common negative belief; it is not as toxic as the one mentioned above, but it can definitely hold you back. It is easy for a student learning classical guitar to think that she will never be as good as Andres Segovia, and she is probably right. The same student may even think that she will never be as good as Bonnie Raitt, and the same conclusion will be reached. The problem with these incorrect assumptions is that they are highly immaterial; a couple of Bonnie Raitt’s songs consist of just a few strumming chords, and at least one Segovia piece is a simplified version of a Bach composition for violin. These are musical pieces that many guitar players can learn and perform without losing sleep; once they master them, they can move on to pieces with greater complexity.

I Keep Making Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. It is unreasonable to think that musicians would be exempted from this human condition. The problem with making mistakes during singing or instrumental performance is that we make a big deal about them, and this is directly related to the cringe aspect of dissonance. Just keep in mind that constant practice will lead you to making less mistakes over time.

You may not always be able to control all mistakes. If you are the one making mistakes, they can be corrected; however, there may be external factors impeding your progress, and this may be more difficult to control, but not always impossible.

Always Playing It Safe

Many great musicians are known to have taken major risks with regard to their art, career, and lifestyle. We are all expected to take risks from time to time, but we can also say that musicians are bound to expect more situations in which they will have to take risks.

Early music education conforms to traditional molds such as teaching music theory, but subsequent education encourages students to explore, improvise, and take certain risks, especially in terms of performance. Some perceived risks may be unfounded; for example, there are musicians who only compose or perform in their bedrooms or garages because they do not want to take the risk of signing up for open mic night at a local venue. The risk is minimal while the anxiety is high, and this does not make sense in the end.

I Need Better Instruments

You would be surprised to learn that many of the world’s most famous guitar players prefer cheap instruments:

  • Derek Trucks of the Allman Brothers: He plays an old Silvertone guitar he found at a repair shop.
  • Kirk Hammett of Metallica: When he recorded Metallica’s first album, Hammet played a knock-off Stratocaster.
  • Laura-Mary Carter of Blood Red Shoes: Many British musicians start off playing guitar on cheap Teisco guitars imported from Japan, and quite a few refuse to let them go.
  • Beck: Similar to Derek Trucks, Beck cannot resist the charm of vintage Silvertone guitars that used to be sold on the Sears catalog.

Instruments enable musicians to play sounds, and that is all they do. It is more important to become proficient with the instrument you play now; in fact, it would be better for you to continue to play the same instrument and eventually fall in love with it.


Thanks for checking out the Prodigies Blog! Here is a MUSIC FREEBIE, Just For You: To celebrate the Holidays, we’ve got 8 Famous Holiday Songs in our colorful and easy to read format that you can download FREE! We know a lot of teachers and students are missing out on Holiday concerts this December, and we hope this brings a bit of musical mirth your way this month. Feel free to share the sheet music with your classes or your colleagues!

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