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The Two Skills You Need To Succeed in Both Music and Life

It’s amazing to me how much music resembles life.

Everyone knows it and it’s a cliche - the old saying about music taking over where words fail. But I think it’s more than just the emotion behind it.

After experimenting with writing my own music, playing with others, and teaching, it became clear that two things are required regardless of skill level, age, instrument, or style. Two essential skills are the foundation of success both as an individual and with others.


Anyone can learn to play notes off a page. Like following the directions to assemble furniture. But what’s the difference between releasing the power of music to your listeners and sounding like a robot? Listening. Understanding both the overall picture and the nuances. The rests and tiny pauses. Where volume and power and push are appropriate and where they are not.

The older I get, the more I am struck by how necessary this is, particularly with one’s own family. Insight and understanding are never gained without listening. Creative thought and flexibility suffer without it. Empathy requires it. Relationships die in its absence.

True listening is perhaps one of the most impactful things we could do in our time. To crumple up and toss away all the unnecessary noise and options, to simplify and sit, then get up and run with our eyes fixed on a single point. It is still so very true that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. But all this listening comes easier when our days, our weeks, and our seasons are a bit more disciplined.


Being able to keep a consistent rhythm, not so much like a ticking clock, but like a heartbeat that the rests and notes and yours and others’ parts flow in and over and under, is the foundation for a musician.

Rhythm is built into all corners of creation. The way our hearts beat and cells renew. The ebb and flow of hormones, the tides and seasons, the times for rest and activity. The predictability gives us something to be creative and spontaneous against without tipping the scales toward chaos. I notice a big difference between the days I follow a plan and the ones where I wake up figuring I’ll just wing it. Then I impatiently manage everyone’s conflicting desires and requests, and chide myself for failing to learn my own lesson once again.

I Was Born This Awesome

We say we believe that everyone needs to put in the hard work to reap the rewards, but in the back of our mind, there’s always those people we are certain were born awesome. Success fell in their lap. They slid out of the womb on their knees, belting out a glorious tune, destined for greatness. They smiled their beautiful smile, flexed their natural biceps and were paid for posing perfection.

So we give ourselves a pass.

In our heads, we see all our cool ideas that never came to fruition. We believe in the right things.

So we sit back and give ourselves a pass.

But rhythm and listening require more from us. These are the most consistent things in music and life. And consistency is not something we are born with. Children do not naturally regulate themselves. This requires discipline.

But once you’ve logged enough time as a musician and human being, you realize the freedom that discipline brings. The release comes when we aren’t focused on how to use our tools anymore, but on the creating itself, on the power and beauty it puts forth. We witness the kind of change that only intentional consistency can bring. Others are reassured by the predictability and can add their parts with confidence.

So keep at it. Approach your music learning and daily life with curiosity. Set the rhythm. Keep listening so you can change the tempo if need be. To hear what other people are adding.

But whatever you do, keep the beat going.


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