The Best Advice You’ve Ever Received (A Collection of Reader Submissions)

The recent post What Should You Think About When You Perform? elicited some really insightful comments, and I was reminded of how much valuable wisdom is shared by the readers of this blog. And not just related to performing better, but being a better musician too.

I’m always intrigued by stories like that, and am a sucker for books like The Way They Play or David Dubal‘s Reflections from the Keyboard, so I decided we should have some fun and turn it into a contest (yes, there are prizes).

The rules

Enter the contest by leaving a comment below in which you share something impactful you learned from a teacher and/or artist you’ve studied with. Whether it’s something that helped you become a better musician, better performer, practice more effectively, warm up better, etc., please tell us about the impact this has had on you – and don’t forget to tell us who the teacher/artist was.

Sometimes we learn really profound things from books, interviews, and videos, so feel free to share those too.

You may enter as many times as you wish (each comment counts as an entry), but the contest ends in 7 days.

The prizes

In one week, at midnight EST on Saturday, March 31st, entries will be tallied up, and three winners will be selected at random.

All three will get advance pre-release access to the soon-to-be-released Performance Anxiety Crash Course (a.k.a. All the stuff I share with musicians who call me up at the last minute requesting help for a big audition or performance).

And the first prize winner will also get a 50-minute coaching via Skype, plus a mystery gift (it’s a mystery because I haven’t figured out what it’s going to be yet, and because mysteries are fun).

That’s it! Now go scribble something in the comments below before the motivation wanes (because it’s a whole lot easier to do it now than later). It doesn’t need to be anything mind-bendingly profound. Just something that stuck with you over the years.


Winners of the random drawing were Margot Kenagy (3rd), Irene Charrois (2nd), and Laurel Ann Maurer (1st).

Many thanks to all of you for sharing your stories, quotes, and wisdom. It was great fun reading through the comments as they arrived, and there was a lot of great stuff to absorb!

Ack! After Countless Hours of Practice...
Why Are Performances Still So Hit or Miss?

It’s not a talent issue. And that rush of adrenaline and emotional roller coaster you experience before performances is totally normal too.

Performing at the upper ranges of your ability under pressure is a unique skill – one that requires specific mental skills, and perhaps a few other tweaks in your approach to practicing too. Elite athletes have been learning these techniques for decades; if nerves and self-doubt have been recurring obstacles in your performances, I’d like to help you do the same.

Click below to learn more about Beyond Practicing – a home-study course where you’ll explore the 6 skills that are characteristic of top performers. And learn how you can develop these into strengths of your own. And begin to see tangible improvements in your playing that transfer to the stage.


100 Responses

  1. My teacher, Gordon Sweeney (Toronto SO, ret.) said to me once in a lesson: “young man, you should always put your music stand up high enough so that you DO NOT have to see the conductor”. As any orchestra musician knows, it’s not always advantageous to be watching the (much better paid) idiot at the front when he gets lost in his narcistic gyrations in your favorite Stravinski ballet finale.
    His wise words have saved me a lot of stress and confusion over the years.
    n.b. One can watch the windmill at the front when appropriat 😉

  2. What really inspires me is something Franz Liszt reportedly used to tell his students: for every hour of practice at the piano, spend three hours reading and studying the score.

  3. Best advice for performing I ever had (from Henk Ekkel, professor of piano at Utrecht Conservatory, Netherlands): relax physically and just listen as carefully as you can.

  4. When you’re playing, whether it’s practising alone or playing in the presence of others, listen, listen, listen! This is something my Mom told me as I was growing up studying music. As an adult, I realize that it is some of the best, if not thee best wisdom she or anyone has shared with me about the art of making music!!

  5. If you look at your ipod, your cd’s, all the most treasured parts of your music collection, you are seeing a part of yourself… the core of YOU as a musician. This is because at the end of the day music all is about listening and passion. So all those songs, the ones that you’ve listened to hundreds, if not thousands of times… well they are all apart of you and your musical DNA. Which means no one else has that same playlist… not really. No one has your exact taste, that particular mix of genres, of time periods, of melodies, of all those special moments that get your heart pumping.

    And I don’t know about you, but when I scroll through, reading those names, thinking about all those pieces… well, I am DAMN proud of that list.

    So the thing that pushes me forward is the thought that the music I create is (and always will be) a mix of all those amazing little pieces. That is what excites me. That is what brings me back on bad days… this idea that all the music I love might just come together and form something new and amazing….

    *Laugh* Almost gives me goosebumps sometimes. Anyways, not something I learned from a teacher but an idea I think worth sharing.

  6. It was at the time of studying Music Kinesiology with Rosina Sonnenschmidt that I got an insight that has helped me ever since and that I hand on to my students (so it might be that credits go to Rosina, or maybe somebody else – the concept “fell into my mind”) : to see that MUSIC is a cosmic phenomenon – ever present – in a multidimensional way; me playing some music therefore is but one tiny opening into this cosmic dimension, one way of making audible what already is there – always has been – always will be.

    In my case this has helped to release a burden that came with the demand to be perfect; it lowered the need to make it impeccably – while at the same time I paradoxically gained much more freedom to actually do it as well as I could do it – and even beyond.

    Thank you for your fabulous blog!

  7. Best advice: Performances should be enjoyable. If it’s not, then you weren’t prepared to perform, you only prepared well enough to get through it. You can’t relax and give of your all if you’re not comfortable and prepared.

  8. Harold Gray, my teacher in graduate school, once gave me this feedback about a Chopin performance: “That is not at all the way I would play that, but it works.” Keeping an open mind to new ways to play old pieces has created more peace in my playing and teaching.

  9. As a musician, in my teen years, many people have inspired me to excel in
    my musical talents. Whether it is from my Jazz instructor, to my mom. Many
    people have inspired me. But the saying that someone told me before she died was: If you could show off one talent to the world, and to God, when everyone is watching, what would it be? If you love music, then by golly show everyone that you do. Then, you will succeed.

  10. Feel the music. Even dance with it if you like. Before listening to the other performances of the piece, try to enjoy it by yourself. Every piece needs to be discovered. Find your true taste!
    This is one of the best tips from my teacher, Kaveh Keshavarz, from Iran.

  11. A while ago, I had the opportunity to listen to The King’s Singers perform live. I learned a lot from just watching them perform. I think the most important lesson was to be absolutely connected with the other performers. Whether it’s looking at them from the corner of your eye or leaning in the same direction, always know where everyone else is and you’ll stay unified.

  12. An advise originally coming from a famous violinist but passed to me via Erika Haase says: Start working on extremely difficult passages from the very last note of these passages. Take small steps, add few notes at a time, pay attention to how easy it feels, playing from that note to the end and observe the planned or “right” fingering.

  13. David Darling makes a big deal in the Music for People workshops: “Silence is your friend.” This is true whether we’re performing pre-composed music or improvised moment. Start from silence, honor silence when it’s there (the rests), honor the spaces between the notes. This completely changed my approach to phrasing. Now I listen to the silence (short though it sometimes is) between phrases.

  14. Thanks Dr. Noa, I am loving these comments so far. Mine came originally from our community musical group’s conductor, a trumpeter who quoted to the group from a small book by professional French horn player, Froydis Ree Wekre. It made me rush out and get the book, “Thoughts on playing the Horn well.”
    The quoted page was titled, “Anyway!” It recommends that you imitate the physical inhibitions that bother you during performance, and practice under those hard conditions ANYWAY– for example, eat crackers before practicing if you tend to get a dry mouth, do some aerobic exercise before playing if you tend to get a racing pulse, or play standing on one foot if your legs shake during a standing solo.
    I come back to thinking about that one word ANYWAY a lot, so that even if I haven’t practiced in those harsh conditions, I can convince myself to get past them.
    Added benefit to me: because that trumpet player introduced me to that horn player’s writings, it opened up a whole world of new musical inspiration. So I highly appreciate “cross-training” through writings aimed at other instruments.

  15. The advice; “Small and Slow.” When learning a piece, don’t try to play it all the way through the first time. Start with one note, know how it feels to you as you play it, where it are on the instrument, where it is on the score, visualize it, hear it in your head, and when you have it, add a second and really get that one. Then add another and keep adding a note or two at a time. Really have them. By the time you’re done, you’ll own that piece. (Keeping in mind that it takes 21 days before the mind takes you seriously about really knowing a piece.)

    As for the slow part, always practice slowly, expecially when it’s something that is faster than your technique is able to handle. Practice it slowly enough that you don’t make mistakes because your mind doesn’t know a wrong note from the right one and it learns what you give it.

    Amateurs practice until they get it right, professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.

    The advise is from Howard Roberts.

    1. I am a 15 year old beginner-advanced flute player. This just made my day, it makes total sense. ”Amateurs practice until they get it right, professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong”, brilliant and true.

  16. I had the honor of studying with the great flutist Julius Baker. During one lesson, I was having trouble playing a series of fast notes that started low and ascended. My tone would crack and I couldn’t get it smooth. He said”change your tone”. It was like a light bulb went on in my head and it changed the way I approached music ever since. To know that I could find a different tone color to execute a passage. Well that was great. But to take it further and explore how a color can enhance the feeling of the phrase or the entire piece has been life altering.

  17. My first piano teacher, Marlene Berndt (Hoffman Estates, IL) wrote a sentence of simple advice on a piece of music that I have kept through the years: “Slow practice will give you confidence.” I have applied this principle countless times, not only in my own practice, but also with students and with groups that I have conducted. Slow tempo is the tool for sorting out many kinds of problems in music learning. I often say to students, “The metronome is your friend!”

    Mrs. Berndt also taught me to memorize from the back to the front (i.e., memorize the last phrase first, and then tack on the previous phrases in reverse order). This effective method helps my groups and me to overcome the fear of unfamiliarity with the latter sections of songs.

  18. During one of Julius Baker’s masterclasses, he said to the audience: “You have to work on the flute, the music and yourself”. Realizing that we are all human and that there must be attention paid to the person. Not just the technique if playing. This was a great moment for me. When I teach, I try to take into account the whole person. Everything is connected. We are not machines. I believe that in order for music to have ” connection” with others we must have connection with ourselves.

  19. I whined like every violist when first introduced to the Bartok Viola Concerto—“It’s too hard.” But my private teacher at the time, Ellen Rose (Dallas Symphony, principal violist) said:

    “There’s no such thing as hard…only time-consuming.”

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