Why do some people succeed others don’t?

It’s a good question and after 15+ years of teaching I believe I can answer the question to some degree.  Here are a few of the reasons:

1)The person picks an instrument or craft and continues working in the same manner as when they first began.  They are unconscious that they are practicing the wrong things or in the wrong manner.  In addition, the same tactics to break through one area are not necessarily the same tactics to use to get to another level.  A common statement I make to students is, “Practice and Performance are not the same thing.”…I might practice something in a manner I’d never perform it.  Sometimes people practice in a manner that won’t help their performances.

2)The person is unwilling or too proud to listen to others feedback, critique and in some cases wider knowledge.  These type of people often interpret critiques as personal attacks.  Rather than taking an inventory after the feedback, they simply dismiss it and say that the person who offered the feedback doesn’t know what they are talking about.  These people then turn to another person until they get the response they seek, aka everything you are doing is sounding great.  I want to stop by telling you this-I HAVE had a teacher offer me feedback and I had that internal voice that said, “He’s wrong! I did it right, he doesn’t know what he is talking about.”….only a week later to realize that it was I that was wrong.  Not to say that your teacher, mentor or feedback mechanism is always right.  I would just say, you might want to listen and you might want to remove the internal voice that takes critique as an insult.

3)The person is set on being self-taught.  They take pride in knowing they did it all themselves.  Thereby robbing themselves of the ability to grow as musicians or persons.

4)The person concentrates on things that don’t increase their musical skills.  These can include but are not limited to too much time playing with instrument parts and setup, reading methods endlessly, obsessing about certain things (scales/speed) to the detriment of other skills, etc.

There is A LOT of overlap in these things and I’d say in summary it all comes down to a willingness to listen to someone other than themselves.

I remember in the last few years I’ve had two people in particular inquire about online lessons, they took a few lessons and either quit or I dismissed them as students.  This was because they spent the entire lesson explaining how they already knew the things I was asking them to do or why what I asked them to do was ridiculous.  I’m sorry but if you’ve been playing 3+ years and are still struggling with basic tunes or can’t construct a break to a three chord song then you need to listen to yourself LESS and others MORE.

There is often a disconnect between how much we believe we know and how much we actually do.  Music is a humbling experience, in some ways, it requires lots of suffering.  Suffering in that your work might need work, that your work has lots of flaws, etc.  That the thing you spent hours working on should be tossed in a trashcan and you should start all over again.  It’s not an easy pill to swallow, especially for some.

Many people will play music for 10 years and never hire a teacher, they will go on believing that everything they are doing is great and don’t want to listen to anyone stating otherwise.  Feedback and critique isn’t comfortable, it never is.  I’ve sat through sessions where my instructors tore my work apart bit by bit.  It was those sessions, while painful, are what caused me to grow the most.  Guess what? I’ve wanted to quit MANY times!!!

We should live in a society where we become comfortable with critique, we embrace it and ACCURATELY weigh opinions on our work.  We create a more fun environment where critique is just a method to grow.

As long as I’ve been teaching I can say without a doubt that the best students I’ve had, those who go on to have the highest skill level are ALWAYS good listeners.  The student that butts in every two seconds, complains about why they are doing this or that or has unreasonable perceptions about their abilities, they never get to the place they want to get to it.  At the end of the day, it’s no one’s fault but their own.  They will blame the teacher, they will blame the method, they will blame the instrument, the weather wasn’t right but the reality is, the problem is in the mirror.

So yeah, if you want to succeed here are some steps:

1)Be CONSISTENT with your work.  You don’t have to work 8 hours a day but you better not let too many days go by without doing the work.

2)At some point ask yourself if your method of working is the best/most efficient way.  Think through whether what you are practicing is helping you get to where you want to go.

3)Get someone else to offer you feedback on what you’ve done.  A teacher, mentor, a friend, the more the merrier.  Evaluate what they said for accuracy.  No, they want always be right but just maybe they could be.

4)Swallow your pride and give yourself permission to do something that’s not great, that’s not wonderful and everything you wished it to be.  Don’t be too hard on yourself either, you’ll get there

5)LISTEN to others, LISTEN to music, LISTEN above all


Jody Written by:

Professional Musician of 27 years. I've played Banjo and Acoustic Guitar on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry, and The Ryman Auditorium. I've also played in six different countries.

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