Jason Haaheim: On Practice, Talent, Motivation, and Playing the “Long Game”

Am I talented enough?

What if I’m not good enough?

Did I wait too long to get serious?

If you’ve ever struggled with questions like this, you’re definitely not alone. I think everyone finds themself up at night wrestling with these at some point or another. Usually after one of those weeks (or months) where you’ve tried every trick in the book, and it still feels like you’re never going to get off the plateau and make it to quarter note=88.

Of course, these questions are like psychological black holes, drawing you into an endless loop of doubts and discouraging thoughts. Which not only feels crappy, but puts you in a headspace that makes it harder to cultivate those little micro-epiphanies that get you to that next rung on the ladder.

So…what should we be asking ourselves instead?

Meet Jason Haaheim

Jason Haaheim is the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra’s principal timpanist. But he took a rather unconventional route to winning that job, as it came after 10 years of working full-time as an engineer and researcher for a nanotechnology startup, where he had to squeeze all of his practice into the hours before and after work.

Given that his late start, academic history, and career trajectory don’t scream future principal timpanist at the Met, he shares how he changed his trajectory, and what led to (paraphrasing a bit here) more improvement in 3 years than the previous 17 combined.

In this 70-min chat, we’ll explore:

  • The question we should be asking instead of “Am I talented?” (10:54)
  • Why it’s a problem to conclude that picking something up easily and quickly is evidence of “talent.” (14:21)
  • Whether he ever had doubts about his ability to win an audition. (17:01)
  • The “profound” psychological advantage that enabled him to persevere. (18:04)
  • The two unhealthy mindsets we get trapped in – and a healthier third option. (19:30)
  • How he accepted (even embraced) failure; and a Stars Wars reference. (20:02)
  • A thinking fallacy about auditions that needlessly increases the pressure we feel (20:25)
  • An internal Met survey which confirmed that most audition winners are older and have done more auditions than you’d think. (20:52)
  • Why he thinks it’s healthy to ask yourself the scary question “What am I going to do if this doesn’t work out?” (23:20)
  • How to be less attached to wins and losses. (24:14)
  • How he dealt with the fear of “What if I’m not good enough?” (31:14)
  • How the word “passion” is overused, and how the kind of passion that facilitates excellence is actually “excruciating.” (37:51)
  • Why self-recording is one of the cornerstones of his practice process. (39:36)
  • Dealing with “imposter syndrome,” and whether it ever goes away. (40:52)
  • How he broke down the elements of musicianship, into tangible things he could work on. (49:33)
  • The importance of prioritizing the fundamentals, even though the “artistic” things are more fun to work on. (50:38)
  • Time management as an audition skill – and a Harry Potter reference. (54:06)
  • Jason’s post-audition process – what he did right after each round, which helped him stay more focused during the audition itself. (58:18)
  • Is it a good idea to record your audition? Even if it’s frowned upon? (59:27)
  • How he used “extreme condition” training in the last week or two before an audition to make auditions feel more comfortable by comparison. (60:17)
  • A book he often recommends (1:02:46)
  • The rep he hopes every timpanist gets to play someday (1:04:10)
  • And where you can get a hamburger with cheese injected directly into the patty. (1:06:37)

Noa: So you've had this atypical path to an orchestral career. Not completely unprecedented. I think you found some folks-

Jason: Right, yeah.

Noa: But just in case some listeners or some readers aren't familiar with the story, I'd love to hear you tell your version of, kind of like the cliffs notes version.

Jason: Sure. So I definitely got a late start in music. The short version was basically all because I met a girl when I went to summer camp in high school and I was trying to impress her because she said she was going to all-state orchestra and she was like, "You're going too, right?" Because I'd like played in this talent show at the summer camp. I was just playing drums. And I was like, "Oh yeah, yeah, totally. I'm definitely going to the all-state orchestra." And then I asked my friend who was actually a good trumpet player, "So what is that? What's all-state?" And he explained and from that point I was like, "Oh yeah, okay. I should probably like start taking percussion lessons."

Jason: And I did. And through the course of that year, I really started to enjoy it. I'd never really had any specific lessons in percussion. I had some piano lessons when I was in middle school. I kind of kept playing piano but not seriously. And so at this point, I mean I was already 16. This was between my sophomore and junior year of high school. And that year I auditioned for all state. Sort of miraculously got in. I mean, considering what a late start I had gotten. But I was motivated, you know.

Jason: And that summer at all-state I really, I mean that was kind of like the first exposure to orchestral music, environment, playing, everything. I remember that, like the first tuning A, right, that was special. I'd never heard that with that proximity with string instruments before. Our high school didn't have an orchestra. And so I was like, "Ohh." And that was kind of like one major ignition point.

Jason: That being said, my dad taught high school physics. I was always interested in physics. I was kind of planning on going to college to study that. And so that in many ways remained the plan. I knew I loved music and when I got to this small liberal arts college in Minnesota called Gustavus Adolphus, I was planning on being a physics major, realized along the way that I was still loving music enough that I'm like, you know, let me try and double major, let me see if I can do that. It was tough just given the way the credits were and classes were conflicting, but I made it work. And so I graduated with a double major in physics and music, but still thinking, this is really just, it's a passion but like more of a hobby.

Jason: And honestly it was because, I mean I can see in retrospect what I was doing was placing the concept of orchestral music and its players on this unattainable pedestal. I had been buying into this sort of previous and false notion of talent, that it was something you were either born with or not. And that certainly owing to my late start and certainly because of the fact that I wasn't identified as some sort of wunderkind when I was six, It was like, well, this path is off limits to me.

Jason: And I mean, that basically continued. So then I went to graduate school for a PhD in electrical engineering at the University of California Santa Barbara, and was doing that, was really missing music, was playing in the university orchestra. And one of my friends in the orchestra just said, "Hey, you know, you really seem to dig this. Have you ever considered doing a summer festival like Aspen?" And I was like, "What's Aspen?" I just, I had no idea. Because liberal arts colleges, you're not in that vein. I hadn't seriously studied rep before. I didn't know what excerpts were. I didn't know how auditions were run. But I looked at the requirements. It's like, well, you need to send in a CD. So I did. Got in, again, sort of miraculously.

Jason: And that summer was another big turning point for me because that was where I got to see musicians that I respected, that I knew of, in real flesh and blood. And participate in rehearsals, hear them make mistakes. Started to see that, oh, there's this like possible path from where I am right now to where that could be.

Jason: And basically when I got back to my degree at UC Santa Barbara, I just kind of had to admit to myself, I'm like, you know, my heart's just not in this. I can do this, I'm reasonably good at it, but this is not what I love. And it was at that point that I also had a job offer from this small company, a nano tech startup company in Chicago. And I also knew that the civic orchestra was in Chicago. And so I kind of thought to myself, oh, excellent. And this could be a geographically symbiotic arrangement.

Jason: So I started the job. Enjoyed the job. I actually worked at that job for 10 years and as tech jobs go, it was really great. There was a lot to like about it. The whole time, I sort of knew like this is not my first love. And so through the course of being in civic and along that time realizing, okay, so if I'm going to get serious about actually doing this for my career, I need to start thinking about auditions, how to audition. And really seek out some of the best players out there to get training, lessons, performance psychology coaching, like all of this stuff. That was kind of where started to turn around for me.

Jason: And from that point I spent about the next six and a half years just kind of pursuing that almost maniacally. But like going to work every day, day job, and practicing in the morning, practicing in the evening. Going to civic rehearsals. Traveling on the weekend.

Noa: You did those two concurrently then?

Jason: Absolutely. Yeah. And, you know, it's funny because now when I have students that are like, "Oh, I'm so busy," I'm like, "I hear ya, but I know you can do this."

Noa: I know you've written about, I think there's like five books on your website, Talent is Overrated, to The Talent Code, to all the others. And so just to play devil's advocate though, because I'm sure there might be some folks who are thinking, you know, that's a really inspiring story. Gives me hope. And it kind of illustrates that if I find ways of practicing and developing skill more effectively, maybe I could play better than I give myself credit for at the moment. But I think then there's sort of like the devil on the other shoulder that says, well, you know, maybe this guy Jason just had this latent ability and talent that he didn't realize until later in life. Do you know what I mean?

Jason: Oh, sure. But you know, this is a very interesting question. And so I've recently actually started collaborating with Anders Ericsson, the guy who was kind of the godfather of the research field and who wrote Peak and largely on whose work a lot of these books were based. And I think there's a very easy answer to that basic question.

Jason: If talent were something that could be measured and codified, you would be the richest person in the world if you'd figured out how to do that. If you could look at like a five year old and be like, I know for sure that this person is going to be the next like amazing hedge fund manager, we're going to cultivate that. We're going to bet on that. And when we're going to right now have this kid sign a contract to be at our bank or whatever, you'd be the richest person. The fact is that if it is not possible to identify this trait when you're young or less young, or a teenager, or in your twenties or your thirties, then it's not that it's meaningless, is that we really need to redefine what we're talking about.

Jason: You could ask any of my teachers from when I was starting piano lessons when I was nine, I guess probably, 10, somewhere around there. "Is this kid going to be at the Metropolitan Opera someday?" They'd be like, "Pft, are you kidding me? No, not a chance." You could ask my high school teacher that same thing. He'd be like, "No, nope. Almost certainly not." You could have asked my teachers at Aspen and they'd be like, "Probably not."

Jason: So if there's nothing manifesting along the way, then that whatever quantity, whatever thing that is, it either doesn't matter, or we all have it. Because I think you can take that question and flip it on its head and say, well, maybe there's something latent in everyone or latent specifically in Jason, oh, he just discovered it late, and I would argue then, okay, yes, it's also latent in everybody else. Because if nobody could see it when I was young, then I'm going to assert it's actually there in everyone. And you can't prove me wrong, right? I maintain, everyone's got it or no one's got it. And in that sense it's like, yeah, some seven year old, eight year old out there thinking about music ... I can't disprove whether or not they have talent. That's my basic answer to it.

Noa: I think what you're saying in that too is that since we can't identify in a five year old or even a 20 year old, who's going to Aspen or whatever, then spending too much time looking for it or trying to figure out if it's there or not will actually take people away from doing the things they need to do to get better, which is really the only thing we can control anyway.

Jason: It's utterly misdirecting. Absolutely. I couldn't agree more. In fact, I mean I'm. I'm adamant about having people that work with me and having my students ask themselves not, "Am I good enough?" No, "Do I have talent? Am I talented?" But rather, "Am I willing to do the work?" I firmly believe that the willingness to do that work and the dedication to that over the long haul makes all the difference in the world. That is your trajectory. And what was so clear in my case was that when I finally got smarter about what I was doing and how I was practicing, how I was approaching auditioning and then performing, and it's mental aspects, I accomplished more in the next three years than I had any proceeding 17. Was that because I was talented? No. Or yes, but only if you accept that everyone has this ability to refocus and really start approaching things a different way.

Jason: There's this really interesting study that's in Anders Ericsson's book Peak, where he talks about chess players and specifically grandmasters and tournament players. You've probably encountered the same research, but they were looking at the question of how IQ relates to tournament performance among chess grandmasters. There was this kind of thinking that like, well, okay, so the more we've looked into this, the less we understand what talent is. Like there was there kind of this old paradigm of you're born with this thing and there's great people, and then there's everyone else. And of course, over time people started to track that down and deconstruct it and it starts to fall apart the more you look at it.

Jason: They thought, well, okay, at least there's this IQ thing, and we've got a test for this and what does this measure? Well even there, it turns out that the more you look at IQ, the less clear it is, what it's measuring. There's a lot of bias built into the test. There's a lot of demographic, ethnic factors that it doesn't account for. There's all this stuff.

Jason: But even among that went when researchers tried to account for that and when researchers were essentially normalizing against those factors, they went in thinking, we're going to study IQ and we're going to see that there's this correlation between like high IQ people are amazing chess grandmasters. What they found was an inverse correlation. Actually, the higher IQ players tended to do worse in tournament settings, and they could not figure this out. And the more they looked into it, they realized, oh, what's happening is basically the coasting effect.

Jason: Like the higher IQ ... You know, anybody who works in music ... And I think this is, pushback I get sometimes when I'm talking about this, especially with students who have been told, "You're so talented." Anyone who teaches, especially younger students, will testify to the fact that it is obvious that some people pick things up faster than others. No question.

Jason: But what does that really mean? So in this particular study, the researchers were finding that the higher IQ players picked up the rules of chess faster. They had a quicker grasp on strategy and like how you can kind of plan moves ahead and all of that. And they're like, "Great, I'm talented, I'm a great chess player, I'm good." And then they coasted.

Jason: And their peers who didn't pick it up as quickly had to work harder and they had to develop a better practice process for chess. And that process over time got them to put in more hours and put in more effective hours so that years and years and years later they had built up better structures around not just being good at chess but learning and constantly improving at chess. And that explains that correlation.

Noa: And I think that indication of talent that's based on how quickly one picks up something or how naturally one happens to be in tune with the demands of that particular skill is tempting to focus on as an indicator of talent, but that doesn't seem to really correlate with longterm potential in how trainable one is or what one's ceiling might end up being at the end of the day.

Jason: Right. I think of it a lot of times, you look at some of these like multi-day races, right? Something like the Tour de France or something like that. Where it's like this is happening over so many days, it's so long, and it would be like looking at the starting line and being like, well that guy's bike is like three feet further forward. Is that an advantage? Yeah, I mean, I guess so. Over the duration of what it's going to take to win this race, does that really matter? No. That just goes out in the wash. That's how I tend to think about this and that for that person who's got like the three foot head start at the starting line, they're like, "Great, I got this, nailing it, I'm in the lead," and then okay great, but what do you do from there?

Jason: It's so much more about how you put in that time and how smart you can be about it. Because again, by every measure ... A lot of teachers would have looked at my path and my trajectory and been like, "Oh, no, no, no. That's not gonna work out for you." But it can.

Noa: I think it's easy to look back in hindsight and see things too and draw together connections that aren't always apparent in the moment. Were there moments during the process of going from not practicing very effectively to practicing more smart where you did have doubts or was your mindset always kind of around this notion of, "I don't know what my ceiling is, I really love what I'm doing. I just want to keep getting better?"

Jason: Honestly, it was almost exclusively that from the moment I went into it. And this is something I talk about a lot in masterclasses because it's something that is, I'm not going to say it's unique to me, it's more obvious in my case, but I think it holds kind of an important lesson for just about anyone doing this.

Jason: And that is that, essentially I went into this wanting to do it but not needing it. After a few auditions I realized I had this profound psychological advantage compared to some of the guys I'd be seeing after the audition. A, regrettably, it is still in the timpani world, mostly men, hoping to change that, we're making some progress. But you know, we all get along pretty well. And so inevitably after prelims, semis, finals, however far somebody would get, we would end up at the same bar afterwards, compare notes, catching up. I would see folks there who just kinda like were at the end of the bar and just were cradling their head in their hands. Like, "Oh my God, I just, I don't know how much longer I can do this and keep this up."

Jason: And I really felt for those folks. And I also realized like, man, I'm actually set up pretty well here. I'm able to play the long game. I'm in this because I want it, not because I need it. My life does not depend on the outcome of this next audition or the one after that or the one after that. It gets back to this much bigger issue of sort of my philosophical approach to all of this, which was embracing the process and detaching from any specific outcome.

Jason: I think a lot of times people can easily fall into this duality of either like, "I'm 100 percent committed to this and my life depends on it," or, "I'm a nihilist, whatever, I don't care." Right. I don't think either of those are a healthy mindset for, either for auditioning or performing, frankly. I think there is a third path that's essentially saying, "I love this. I want to do this. I can commit my energy and my resources and my time to this. I'm also realizing that my life doesn't depend on this. I am accepting failure and that there will be a lot of failure. That failure is an essential tool." That was one of my favorite lines from The Last Jedi. When Master Yoda comes back and he's like, "The greatest teacher failure is" I was like, yes, thank you, Master Yoda. That's gonna happen for anybody and it is a fallacy to go into any of these auditions or performing situations thinking, "I'm going to nail it perfectly." There's no such thing. It's a fallacy to think, "This is completely under my control." You can go in and play very close to your best possible imagined audition and get cut for reasons that are beyond your control. That's just life.

Jason: When I got to the Met, for reasons that had to do with things going on in the orchestra, in the opera company in 2014, we were doing a sort of internal survey of ourselves and ended up conducting a study in the orchestra. And one of the questions was, "How old were you when you won your job at the Met and how many auditions had you taken at that point?" And so, given 100 people, this was a fairly good statistical sample and it basically proved exactly what I was expecting to see, which was not that everybody win a job right out of school. I think a lot of people go into it thinking that, a lot of people go in thinking like, "Okay, I'm gonna graduate from Juilliard, graduate from CIM or whatever, and then it's gonna be great. Or maybe I'll do my masters and then I'm going to win a job right after that."

Jason: And that's just not what happens most of the time. We hear about that a lot, right? Because those are sort of the exceptional cases and they're exciting and it's great for schools to be able to promote that. It's not the reality most of the time. Most of the time people are winning bigger jobs in their late twenties and early thirties, after having taken 10 to 20 auditions.

Jason: And seeing those results, I was like, well yeah, of course, this totally matches my own experience that it takes a while to get good at that as a skill. It takes needing to embrace that failure. And if you can then really just dedicate yourself to that process of improvement, knowing that if you invest in a good process, good things will happen as a byproduct, but that you can't always control what those things are. You don't know who's gonna be on your audition committee. You don't have mind reading skills. You don't know what exact aesthetic or sound or whatever they're looking for. That may change day by day. And it does. Like at the Met, we have different people on the jury different days sometimes. So it's really impossible to know that and it just doesn't make sense to fixate too strongly on that. To get too dedicated to that idea of like, "Oh, it all depends on this moment."

Jason: And so for me, I mean, getting back to your original question of how was I approaching this and did I have doubts about this, if anything you could characterize the doubt as me being willing to accept, "this might not work out." I think it's healthy for people to think about that. Just when you consider the sheer numbers of people graduating with music performance degrees and the scarcity of jobs available, you would be insane not to ask yourself the question, "What am I going to do if this doesn't work out?"

Jason: Luckily, I already had something I was doing that I was quite happy doing. So my efforts in this didn't have an expiration date. I could keep going as long as I want it to. Which, again, in retrospect, I can see my advantage was not that I was talented. My advantage was that I could do this as long as I needed to and that I was improving along the way pretty dramatically.

Noa: So I want to talk about that process of improvement, which you've also written about, but this notion that there's a third path of being completely invested in this thing that you care deeply about, but also detached from the outcome, which is I think what successful athletes also have to do. You want to hit the shot and you want to win the game more than anything, but you can't be so attached to it that you have all that pressure and stuff that gets in the way of actually executing.

Jason: Absolutely.

Noa: Which makes a lot of sense. It was something that actually helped me even in grad school, just this idea that the only thing you control is the process of improvement and of staying focused and performance, et cetera. And you can't control whether the audience responds or whether you get the jury's vote or any of those things.

Noa: But this is much more difficult, obviously, to internalize than it is to understand and grasp. When you work with students, is there anything other than going out and get a nanotechnology job that you enjoy, I mean is there anything that you have found that seems to help them embrace that mindset? Is it like a timing thing where maybe as you get closer to graduation you start detaching more and more and focus more on things you can control? How does that work for your students, or even for your friends?

Jason: Great question. I'm thinking of like five simultaneous directions to take that answer. The first one is I would say this, I don't think it's helpful to talk about an audition, in the singular. I think an audition exists as a component of this much larger process that you're stepping into. It is so rare that the first audition you ever take will be, "And that's when I won my job." Right? Again, it does happen, because any bell curve is going to have outliers and some really statistically marginal cases, but that is not helpful to fixate on for the majority of people. If you're thinking about, then, this auditioning process that's going to happen over years, which it will, for most people, then for me the question becomes, "Okay, how can I set up my life in this broader way so that, I know these things are going to be coming up. There is a lot I can be doing just in terms of my mental preparation, and physical preparation, and time management."

Jason: I mean, it's such a huge aspect of this, right? To amplify my results and really make this the best possible process I can, knowing that I can't control the outcomes for these events, but I can fully control my process. Right? Take that the next step and it's saying, "Okay, well ..." I should make a little side tangent, this is particularly acute as a problem for percussionists and timpanists, because once we graduate, once we leave school, we're just like yanked out of the womb right? We're depending on these places to have space, and rooms, and all this gear that we need to practice. This is not a problem that effects string players, or wind, or brass, but we're like, "Oh man, now I got to buy all this gear. Where am I going to practice? I can't practice in my apartment, certainly not in New York."

Jason: There is all this other planning and logistics you have to go through to figure out, "How am I going to make this a sustainable life path?" I absolutely encourage students to think about what are other interests you have? What are skills you possess? What things beyond just being in the practice room get you excited? Because it's worth spending a little time with that. I think that for two reasons, first of all, I went to a liberal arts college. I'm the walking embodiment of those values. I could go on about that for hours. More than just believing myself that that is a way to craft a fulfilling and interesting life, having many disparate interests, and sort of a big, broad-based education, it's just pragmatic.

Jason: As musicians, it's going to be a tough road if you really do only do one thing ever and always, and wall yourself off from other stuff. I think as musicians, first of all, if you are good at practicing, if you are good at this process that Anders Ericsson called deliberate practice that has all of these very specific attributes and a lot of it is about being very methodical, and diligent, and systematic, dare I say scientific. Right? In many ways, deliberate practice is just the scientific method applied to practicing. If you're good at that, you can translate those skills in to all sorts of other places.

Jason: Literally at my job in Chicago, this nanotechnology company called NanoInk we were looking for a process engineer. This is a job in the tech field where you're basically in charge not of any one component of a tool or a chemistry synthesis process, but rather the big picture. You kind of have to audit it and make improvements in the whole thing. I was making an argument to some of the managers in the engineering department, like, "What we really need for this is a good musician. They are inherently good at all of these things. They don't need to know the details about organic chemistry. They don't actually need to know anything about how the sensors on this one tool and instrument work. They just need to be really good at this process."

Jason: I encourage students to think more broadly about that skillset, and how it can be applied. For most people, there is going to come this point where they're out of school and they got to keep paying their rent. Not only do they have to maintain their level, but they got to keep getting better. Most people are not at that level straight out of school. In my view, a lot of this has to do with this life engineering that needs to happen and how can I really set things up to support the embrace of this process over a longer period of time after that? I think once you identify some of these things you can do, whether it's working backstage at David Geffen, whether it's doing some arts management, whether it's marketing, whether it's teaching lessons, freelancing, all the various things that we can do. Having that as something that you can support yourself and be sustainable over the long run means that you can start to tackle that fear.

Jason: The fear is the ultimate thing that we all deal with, right? It's this, "What if I'm not good enough? What if this doesn't work out? What if I just lose and fail?" It's like, "Okay, fine." That was how I was approaching this. I was thinking, "This might not work out. I might not ever win a timpani audition ever." I was accepting of that. It's a much more almost Buddhist approach to the philosophy. It's like, existence is suffering. This is the fear thing. Once you accept that, it saps it of its power. Truly, I was looking at this outcomes and I was thinking, "Okay, I might not win any of these auditions. I can keep going, as long as I can keep auditioning and this might not work out, that's okay. I have a good job. I'm happy to do it.

Jason: Moreover, I'm still getting to do music. I'm getting to do music because I'm doing it every day. I have this process that I enjoy." Sort of the corollary question to the first one I mentioned, which is ask yourself not are you talented, but rather are you willing to do the work? If you're willing to do the work over the long time, that's going to be really helpful. It's going to be the measurement of whether you love the process. Doing the work is sort of the measure of your commitment to the art form. The other question in that is, you know, if you yourself are having doubts about this, say you've just graduated school, 24 or something like that, ask yourself, "If I knew 10 years from now, whatever I'm aiming for, a big orchestra job, a teaching gig somewhere, whatever.

Jason: If by that time it hadn't worked out, would all of that work have been worth it?" For me the answer was, "Unequivocally, yes." Because I like the process. I just like doing this. If I could do it in my own practice room and then be freelancing around Chicago and playing gigs here and there, I love doing that. Did that mean I didn't care about doing anything else? Of course not. I wanted to do it at a higher level. I wanted to be able to do it full-time. That's what was driving me to put in all that time and effort. But I was also realizing, "Yeah, my life is not going to end if this doesn't work out." That, you know, it's a longer answer to your simple question, but that to me proves hugely physiologically advantageous, and helped clarify for me a lot of what's helpful in having other people approach this thing too.

Noa: I don't know if that's actually that simple of a question. I think it is a really important, meaningful question. Even your question of, "Will it all have been worth it if you didn't get that title position, or that principal job, or that orchestra job." I think it's a scary one for a lot of us to ask. I ended up asking a similar question when I was in grad school. It was all worth it up to that point, but for me, I realized it wasn't me to continue to doing it. That wasn't going to be who I was as I was starting to discover.

Jason: Isn't that amazing though? Right? Because you have agency. We all have agency. There's not railroad tracks in front of us saying, "You have to do this. If you fail on this specific track, you're worthless." Anybody at any time can pick up and do something else. That's up to us. We get to make that decision. That's what's amazing about this. There is no destiny that's saying, "If you don't do this one thing." I find this, I think it's especially difficult too when you've got parents applying a lot of pressure, or you know, these things that can happen. It's real. I get it. I was fortunate to have really supportive parents who were going to be happy no matter what I was doing. They were like, "Whatever you're doing, you're into it, and you're happy doing it, 100% support." That helped me think about this, being like, "Well, it's kind of up to me. What do I want to do, what's going to make me happy?" At any point, asking that question and being like, "Oh, well I actually don't see myself doing this." It was really illuminating. Interestingly enough, you had this experience.

Jason: For me, that experience was being in grad school in the sciences, and being with some of my good friends who were incredibly passionately dedicated to that. I got to see them working on it at that level. I got to see what their process looked like in real time. I'm speaking specifically of two friends of mine. Tim and Tom. Tim ended up as a particle physicist who was part of the project that discovered the Higgs particle. This was one of the biggest discoveries in the last 100 years. It was the enormous super collider over in Switzerland and France, which discovered this. He was part of that team. It was huge.

Jason: In his world, in the world of science, that's like winning a job in the Met Orchestra, right? My other buddy Tom did essentially the same thing on this project called Ligo, which discovered gravitational waves. Another huge discovery. Are those two guys talented in physics? Yes, so was I, so could everybody be, or nobody is, right? But did they work at it like crazy? Absolutely. And I could see it back then. The difference between Tim and Tom and Jason being in grad school was that I was feeling this pull to music, because that's what I wanted to be doing, and I could see in them this like just intellectual fascination and passion about that. It carried forward, and now 15 years later this is where we are.

Noa: I don't feel comfortable often with the passion word because I think it's overused and it gives us the wrong idea, but that's what I found, you know? I was here with my friends that I'd known forever, I got to actually see them on a daily basis at Juilliard and what they were actually up to. A lot of them were really into what they were doing. I realized I wasn't. I had just been doing it. It occurred to me that I was always going to be frustrated at my sort of underachieving given that I knew I wasn't willing to geek out about it and go to the library and study the score. I wasn't willing to go to the lengths that I knew I needed to in order to...

Jason: Isn't that interesting? I absolutely agree with you. I think the word passion is overused, and I think what gets missed is that people need to understand that the kind of passion we're talking about is excruciating. It's grueling, right? This is one of the main tenants like when Anders Ericsson describes deliberate practice. It's not fun. It's not ... It's just not easy. It doesn't mean that it's not rewarding. It doesn't mean that it can't be joyful in certain ways, but it's not like, "Hey, this is a blast." It is really hard. I think this actually gets to one of the other aspects. When we were talking earlier and I was thinking about this pedestal that musicians are on often, to the outside perception, and what it seemed to me when I was young. I was going to concerts, the Minnesota Orchestra, and I was watching these guys play, [inaudible 00:37:52] one of my idols sitting there playing timpani. It seemed so unattainable because I was so aware of my own imperfection, my own failings, right?

Jason: Part of the reason this passion is excruciating is because it requires this incredible, constant, intense self-criticism. That can metastasize into something very nasty, right? I think one of the, again, aspects of the mental discipline involved in that is keeping that in check and keeping it as a useful tool where we hold the mirror up to ourselves, sometimes literally, right? A huge cornerstone of my practice process was self-recording. I think a lot of people don't immediately like to do that because they're like, "Oh that makes me feel bad. I don't like to hear myself play." I always respond with, "I've got bad news for you, because that's how you sound. You better get used to it, and you better embrace that, knowing that that can be improved." The thing is that never ends. To this day, I am perpetually slightly dissatisfied with my own playing, thus it will always be and as it should be. That is, in a way, what keeps driving us because we're never done.

Jason: I think a lot of that, the excruciating part of that passion is recognizing that. It's taking a high-powered microscope to all of our warts, and technical deficiencies, and lack of turning this phrase the way we wanted to or whatever that is and just accepting it and sort of merging those two things together. I think it's also interesting that to me, I think this is different for different people but just about everybody I know deals with the imposter syndrome to some extent and that feeling just like, "What am I doing here? I just conned my way into this." Right? Even that kind of never stops and it exists at all of the different levels of music, the Met Orchestra, and everybody arrives at that feeling. It's kind of natural when it's your first week or month in the orchestra. You'd expect it to go away. It never totally goes away.

Jason: I think part of that comes from that pedestal, partially this false notion of talent, partially almost subconsciously thinking this whole time that there's this thing I want to be doing that is perfection. I go to those concerts and it's transcendent, or those performers. That's what I want to be. I hear that and it's so amazing. Then I hear myself, and I'm practicing. My own process is focused on identifying all of the things that I need to improve. Then when those things merge, it creates this cognitive dissonance where you're like "Well wait a minute. On the one hand, there's this thing that I have been labeling as perfect. On the other hand there is me that I know to be deeply imperfect. These can't be co-existing so there must have been a mistake. This must be a paperwork, you know, somebody didn't get the memo right. Any minute now I'm going to be told, "Yeah, sorry the committee voted, we miscounted some, you know." That's always been an interesting thing for me. I keep that in mind every day basically.

Noa: I just want to be respectful of your time.

Jason: I can stick around longer.

Noa: Okay. Because I'd love to ask you about the process.

Jason: Yeah.

Noa: Kind of in two ways. It can go either direction if you want, or both. I'm curious about the micro-level of your process in terms of the deliberate practice in terms of what does each day look like, what does each moment when you're problem-solving look like. But also more on the macro level in terms of how do you prioritize what to work on in the limited time you do have, and when does metronome work come in, when does course study come in, when do you start doing mocks, how does it all fit together in terms of aiming for successive improvement on auditions, but also on a day-to-day basis?

Jason: Yeah. Where we were just at was talking about, okay, you've got all of these things under your control, and then others aren't. You banish fear just by trusting yourself, by realizing that this is not life or death. You're not going into combat. It's going to be okay. If the process is something you have control over, then what is that process? On my blog, when I give master-classes, then I really get into what Anders Ericsson has written about as the process of deliberate practice. This is something that people can study and identify that has a lot of these core attributes. That could be a whole other two hour conversation. Breaking down what that has meant for me, in a way, so I think about this like ... Basically I'm seeing this chart in my head. A lot of times this is the way I conceptualize this stuff, and I'm going to try and explain it.

Jason: It is, merging the idea that our process is about improvement, that we need to break down what that's going to mean, that that's going to have a variety of different priorities, but that that is also geared toward getting us to perform at the peak level as often as possible. That performance is a necessary and beautiful part of the craft that we have on our instruments. And that our process ought to also be designed to build up that trust we have so that we can go into those performances as confident as possible. Part of that structure involves, again, this graph that I'm thinking of, this picture, where at the very top of it is a flat line that is perfection. That doesn't exist in the real world. This is a concept. It's abstract. It's something Plato would write about. Below that is basically this thing that is, it's a little more ... It's a little amorphous.

Jason: Sometimes I call it your current perception of excellence. Anders Ericsson writes about it and he calls it the mental representation. It's abstract, but in many ways I think it's the most important thing that we do as musicians in refining our craft in that it's like the goal post. What are we going for? Taking a side-step, my process involved a lot of self-recording over many years. I have tapes of myself playing one of the most requested timpani excerpts in all auditions. [inaudible 00:45:28] first movement. I can hear the progression of that excerpt over time. That charts this direction on this graph of this improvement. You can hear it. This is only a minute long, and you listen to these 20 things in sequence and you hear exactly the shape that improvement. In the beginning, there's some pretty big jumps. The further along you go, it's ... The slope is getting shallower. It's kind of going up toward infinity, getting closer and closer and closer.

Jason: Asymptotically is the word in geometry, right? Every little bit of incremental improvement is taking more and more work, but that's the fun of it. At each point along the way, in that first take, I was keeping notes for myself and I was like, "Well this is the best take that I have so far, but I can hear how this is going to be better. For the next one I'd like to improve this, this, this, and this." Like, literally my concept, what I could hear in my mind's ear was some amount above that, but it wasn't perfection. I hadn't evolved my ears yet. I didn't have the perception to even be able to know what that sounded like. That's this kind of moving target that goes along with this. It's always somewhat above our current best. My current best I basically define as what I can achieve in the practice room. This environment where there is no pressure, there's no nerves.

Jason: This is me at my best, under ideally warmed up conditions and everything else. We've got thIs structure now, there's perfection, there's the mental representation, our perception of excellence, there's where we are below that that's pointing the direction to what we're striving for. The final that's on the bottom is what comes out on any given day, what comes out in any given performance part of the audition. It's always going to be somewhat compromise relative to that best situation in the practice room, for all of the reasons that people are acutely aware of. Maybe your flight was late, you got into the city, you didn't sleep well that night, they changed your audition time. Who knows, right? Any number of these things. Again, for me, it was like accepting that structure and then knowing "What can I do to try and get all of those things as close together as possible? How can I design my process...

Jason: ...to make sure that my best in the practice room is getting really close to the best thing I can hear. And how can I make sure that my best on any given day is as close as possible to what I'm getting in the practice room.

Jason: For me, like I mentioned already, that involved and enormous amount of self-recording. It involved breaking down the sort of elements of musicianship into tangible different projects I could work on. I put this together in a graphic that's basically like these three legs of a stool with a pyramid on top of it.

Jason: And I'd use this as a tool working with students just to try and clarify that the legs of this, time, rhythm and intonation are absolutely essential and fundamental. That if any one of these legs is weak or broken the whole structure falls over and it doesn't matter anymore. It would sort of be like if a tennis player like Roger Federer with all his grace and skill and prowess double faulted on every serve. We would have never heard about him, right?

Jason: So in these things you can have the most amazing beautiful timpani sound in the world your stroke could be incredible; all this stuff. You're phrasing is beautifully considered. But if you come in and play Beethoven 9 you should be A and D and you tune a tri-tone, you're cut I'm sorry. You're just not getting out of prelims.

Jason: What I found for myself and what I find with a lot of students I work with is that the higher levels of this structure, the things above that are a little bit more fun because they're more artistic. Right? They're more of what we think about when we think, "I'm an artist and this is musicianship." Above that you then have, at least in my formulation you have clarity and evenness. Beyond that you have phrasing and then tone and style and energy and all of these other things. The things that win you the job. The things that really make you the musician that you are, but that need to be supported by all this other stuff.

Jason: In my experience it was all about the lower parts of the structure took so much more time. It's just harder. It takes so much time to develop really impeccable time and rhythm and a great ear for intonation. And the chops to be able to play evenly and cleanly. And it's this thing that I encounter sometimes where I think there's this I know there's this fallacy that floats around out there that ... I was just having a conversation with a student about this the other day. And they were like, "Oh, well you know there's this one recording of an orchestra that was like really clean but kind of soulless and another one that was kind of ragged but it had a lot of energy and passion. And I like that one." And I was sort of like, "Wait, let me just be clear here. I wanna make sure we're not talking about this as if there is mutual exclusivity between these two things." Like that's a crazy idea, right?

Jason: Technique exists to enhance musicianship and the phrasing and what we have to say. And I think about it sometimes like if you were a visual artist ... when I'm talking to timpanists about like, "Okay, you gotta practice, build up chops so you can play cleanly and evenly." It's not because we want to sound like robots, it's not because we only wanna draw straight lines but if you can't draw a straight line you can't sketch a compelling picture. If it's all a bunch of scribbles you're not going to be able to see anything. In my experience that stuff took so much more time to refine. And I think that's true for just about anybody on any instrument.

Jason: Well it also turns out that in that structure, as you build up from the bottom to the top you're going from the objective to the subjective. The objective things can be measured. Time, rhythm and intonation can be measured. That's part of my self-recording process. That's part of what I spent a ton of time working on. Which is not to say that the upper parts of it don't matter. Of course they do. That's really what forms your musical identity. But it's that I think a lot of people get a little too tilted in that direction in terms of their priorities. 'Cause it's more fun. It's more fun to sit there and talk about sound and style and this recording and the phrasing and everything else. It's not fun to sit there and just grind away and shed and listen back to it. And be like, "Oh, yup. That's still rushing, that's still dragging. Okay I'm still tuning that fourth a little bit wide." But that's the process. That's the excruciating part of the passion.

Jason: So for me it was really about being honest about those priorities and putting much more of my energy and effort into where it needed to be.

Jason: I loved in the Harry Potter books when Hermione like had way too many classes and she was given that little watch, that Time-Turner thing which let her stop time and then go off and do all this other work, right? And I've often thought about how like really as an auditioning skill, time management itself is essentially like this magical amulet like that. When an audition list goes up like everybody has the same amount of time to work on it. And nobody has a perfect life. Nobody is just sitting there with 18 hours a day that they can just practice the whole time and live no other life commitments. Especially as you get older, you have commitments and family things and jobs and appointments and just all this other stuff, right?

Jason: Navigating that and figuring out how to make the absolute most of the time you have to me that was kind of like the Hermione Time-Turner. Taking what would be 6 weeks before an audition and by being really efficient about that time, turning it in to what was like effectively like 12 weeks. And moreover, and then using those 12 weeks in a way that was prioritizing all of these elements of the structure I was talking about, really honing in on the things that were gonna matter the most in terms of the impression I was giving and focusing on that stuff.

Jason: The final thing I want to say, in terms of really figuring out those priorities, mock auditioning was what it was all about for me. I went in with a certain perception of how I thought I sounded and was being heard. And I'd play these mock auditions and I would record them and accept all feedback graciously and then go back and listen to myself and take notes and transcribe the whole thing. And I had to be like, "Damn, they're right." I spent all this time thinking about my sticks and the mallets and the sound I was making. While that's all important, I neglected the fact that I was totally rushing this one section and that everybody could hear it. Everybody who wasn't a timpanist or percussionist at all because these are all musical variables that we have in common. So that was kind of the final piece of it is really making mock auditioning a cornerstone of my preparation.

Noa: So it sounds like even with the time management it all came back to making sure you were evaluating yourself based on the reality that was illustrated through recordings and mocks. And that's how you decided, if I'm understanding correctly, 'okay this is what I most need to spend my time on; I want to spend time on these other pyrimad things but I'm realizing that the three legs of my stool are not realiable enough-

Jason: Right.

Noa: Under pressure that I have to kind of pull myself back to focus on those.

Jason: Absolutely! And I mean, just to be clear, if I were myself listening to this I'd be like, "Yeah, yeah wait but, but!" To anyone whom might be thinking this, it is absolutely true that a recorder cannot tell you everything. Right? Even the best recorders like the Zoom and the various things out there are not gonna give you the perfect realization of your tone and how your sound is in the room. That's what you rely on the human beings for. That's the next level of defense for your own process. But it sure can tell you a lot about time, rhythm, intonation and clarity.

Jason: Yeah, absolutely for myself that was critical. I would add a level of this being that when ... again, when I first started taking auditions it was a disaster. I had no idea what I was doing. I hadn't gotten any kind of coaching on this stuff. And it was ... I was just basically, completely delusional. I was going and thinking, "Yeah, I'm awesome! I'm the timpanist in the Civic Orchestra and I'm gonna totally knock this out of the park." And I didn't even get through my first excerpt and they were like, "Thank you!". And I was like, "What happened? Did I win?" And the proctor is like, "No. You did not win. I'm sorry. That's not what just happened here."

Jason: And it took me awhile to figure this out but I eventually got to this process for that, that was go in, play the round, walk out, immediately go back to the green room or the lounge or wherever we're sitting down, put on my headphones and just write out my perception of what just happened. A chronological kind of moment by moment run down of, "This went pretty well. I noticed this. I noticed this, this happened." This was really helpful for me also because during the audition I knew that I could just be in the moment, be aware and just execute.

Jason: There was sort of like this little awareness buffer going on in the back of my head. Just logging all the things that were happening but making no judgments real-time. That was all gonna happen later, right? So I'd sit down, I'd write out this whole like perception of what was going on and then I would close my notebook and hang out. Just chill.

Jason: Later, I would compare my perception of this to the reality that was in my recorder. And this is interesting, for most of the timpanists and percussionists I know record their actual auditions. Like bring a recording device in with them to record the audition. It radically transformed my process when I started doing that. For the following reason. I listen to the first time I did that and I realized my perception was way off from reality. Like the things I had thought had gone pretty badly might not have been as evident in the recording. But some of the stuff where I was like, "I nailed it." I listened back and I was like, "Oh, I was taking that 15 clicks faster than I intended to because my heart rate was way elevated."

Jason: That, in turn, got me to practice and prepare for the auditions in a different way. So that like one of the things I started employing the week or week and a half before the audition was sort of ... what's the name for this ... it's sort of like extreme condition training but like I would have everything set up for me to play a mock audition in my own practice space. I would get home from work, put on my running shoes and go like run a mile as absolutely as fast as I could. Get back and I'm just like panting, sweating, heart rate is elevated and sit down and play.

Jason: And like see how that comes out. And the first handful of times I did that, that was a super mess too. But then eventually I got used to doing it under those conditions and with that pressure and not feeling great, so that then I could get into the actual audition and be like, "Oh, this feels pretty good. Okay, not too bad."

Jason: But it was also that same way to compare my perception to the reality and just as a side note for any of the orchestra invitation letters it was like, 'no devices permitted on stage' or whatever. I was like, "Yeah, whatever." I just really thought like this is way too important information for me to have as part of my process of continual improvement to sacrifice not having that there. I mean, just frankly as a word of technicality, those orchestras have to put that in there because of the AFM recording laws and all this other stuff; but they're not gonna care, for your own learning purpose to have a recording of this.

Jason: It's easier for us 'cause we've got all this gear. We've got boxes and sticks and all this stuff. Whatever it takes. It's just really, really valuable information to know how your perception of that performance situation compares to the reality.

Noa: Right. Well this idea of feedback being an essential part of the improvement process or deliberate practice in any case not just when you're practicing but for the most important moment of demonstrating all the work that you've done. Yeah, it makes a lot of sense.

Jason: Possibly the most important aspect of deliberate practice. I love the ... I'm blanking on the name of the guy that said it but the idea of practicing without feedback is like bowling through a curtain. You're just like throwing this ball and like you hear some pins fall down you're like, "Uh, alright. Whatever, I guess." You know?

Noa: Yeah. Maybe that's a good place to wrap up. And just for the record, how do you pronounce your last name?

Jason: Oh, good question. It's pronounced Haw Hime.

Noa: Haw Hime. Okay. And just for fun, any other favorite books that you know think everyone ought to be reading or should read?

Jason: There's this one I found just a couple of years ago by a guy name Charles Duhigg called The Power of Habit. Have you seen that one? Yeah. I love that because for me it kind of clarified after the fact but then gave me a resource to give to students for how to translate some of these ideas into practice, right?

Jason: I think it's one thing to talk about what you should be doing. You learned about a lot of these things too, "Well I know I should be eating better and exercising." and everything. But actually establishing the routines and the habit to do this is tough. That's the excruciating part of the passion, right? Like it's not ... it wasn't easy for me to be getting up a couple of hours before work every day and putting in a couple of hours into the practice room and then going to work and being at work for 9 or 10 hours and then coming home and doing that again. That became habitual and this book is all about how we can craft and rewire habits at almost like this neurological lizard-brain level of ourselves to make sure it actually happenings in reality. Instead of it just being sort of good intentions. That's one I really enjoyed; The Power of Habit.

Noa: And is there a piece that everyone ought to have a chance to play if they get the opportunity that you think is really fun and cool or...?

Jason: Oh man. That's a tough question to answer. In a way whenever I get asked like, "Oh, what's your favorite piece?" It's like whatever I'm playing at the time. A lot of the ... It's like-

Noa: That's the best answer.

Jason: Yeah. And like a lot ... for example, last season at the Met we did Parsifal. I had never done it before. That whole experience was transcendent. And while I was doing it I was like, "This is the best." And while I was playing it I was like, "This is the best timpani part." In the bigger picture, I mean, in music we all spend so much time focusing on symphonic rep because like 'duh' that's where all the jobs are and we kind of need to and know that stuff. It's been such a treat being at the Met and having all of these treasure chests to open up and be like, "Oh, I didn't even know!" like all the stuff was there.

Jason: You spend time in a symphonic career training and like how much Verdi do you get to play? An overture maybe here and there? How much Massenet do you get to play? So for me a lot of this has been finding some of these timpani parts in opera repertoire that are kind of glorious in their own right. But then for me, have this extras dimension of integrated drama. For me that is one of these things that I just love about my job.

Jason: The fact that so many composers wrote for timpani and opera with very dramatic intent. If somebody's dying or getting stabbed, timpani is usually gonna be involved at that moment and so having in mind the story and what's going on and understanding how I can shape that moment both in terms of the execution and the dynamic and the sound and the color and everything to really emphasize that ... I hope that every timpanist that's listening gets to play some opera at some point because it really it hammers home what a remarkable instrument it can be in that orchestral sound.

Noa: I love that post you wrote about the characters, the two different moments where...

Jason: Yeah, yeah like in the two different Puccini operas, Tosca versus Boheme. Yeah, right.

Noa: And whether it's Minnesota, Chicago or New York is there anything that someone really ought to eat if they find themselves in that neighborhood?

Jason: We were just talking about this. I'll answer this two ways. There's the break-the-bank way and then there's the more moderate way. So I was just back in Minneapolis 'cause I played a festival up in northern Minnesota in Brainerd actually, in August called the Lakes Area Music Festival.

Jason: But just a couple of weeks ago my girlfriend and I took my brother and his finance out to dinner at this placed called Travail Kitchens in Minneapolis. It's kind of a fine dining experience but it was also like super creative and inventive. They had this thing where they had a little like butter cream dip but it was on this spoon and then they dipped the spoon in liquid nitrogen and then they froze it and then they filled others! Just kind of one of those things, right? It was off the hook. It was 25 courses that kind of situation.

Jason: If you want the budget version in Minneapolis there's called the Juicy Lucy. That's a hamburger where the patty has been injected with cheese. It's like the claim to fame of Minneapolis. Chicago for a treat one summer we went to this restaurant, Alinea which is the Chef Grant Achatz; people may have seen him on Chef's Table. An equally like revelatory food experience.

Jason: And then, Chicago has so much great eating. I loved a lot of the places on Devon Avenue on the north side there's like a tone of south Asian and Indian cuisine up there. Here, I don't know, there's so much.

Jason: I will say this, just the other night we were as a sort of celebratory dinner for those of us that were serving on the negotiating committee for the orchestra we went to Eleven Madison Park. That was incredible. It deserves all three Michelin stars it has. It was completely outrageous and amazing. Other than that ... trying to figure out where my favorite pizza slice would be ... I really just love Little Italy for some reason it's right there, it's super cheap...

Noa: Have you been to Motorino on Columbus and Eighty-

Jason: Oh, yeah! I love that too! I love that but that's like even fancier. Just like the bottom line, it's 4:00AM and you've been out and you need a slice like Little Italy really hits the spot.

Noa: In my head the one thing that immediately came to mind when I started thinking about this food question was, have you ever been to Bloomington?

Jason: Like Indiana?

Noa: Yeah.

Jason: Oh yeah, yeah.

Noa: There's this mom and pop donut shop by the cemetery called Cresent Donut. Cresent spelled not like you would expect. But in any case they have these amazing glazed twist donuts. There sort of famously unfriendly because I think they don't sleep. But best glazed twist donuts ever.

Jason: That reminds me of The Donut Pub at 14th Street. Sometimes I love being on the express train at 96th because sometimes I get a craving like, "Okay, I've got to go down there." It's open 24-hours a day. It's deadly but those are some great donuts here.

Noa: Good to know. I'll have to check that out.

Jason: Yeah.

Noa: Well, great. Thank you so much Jason.

Jason: Thank you man. This was really fun.


[1] I alluded (:57) to Jason having found other folks who had very different careers (from stockbroker to NASA research chemist) before winning their orchestral jobs – he names a few names in his science vs. music cagematch article.

[2] Jason mentions Anders Ericsson (8:14), who has spent decades researching the science of expertise, and cultivating a body of work that has been extremely influential to coaches, athletes, teachers, and musicians alike. His most recent book is Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

I think you’ll also enjoy this Freakonomics podcast episode with Ericsson, titled: How to Become Great at Just About Anything

[3] Jason notes that imposter syndrome can exist in professional orchestra settings too (40:47). Here’s an article on what this is, and how to deal with it: The Five Types of Imposter Syndrome and How to Beat Them

[4] Jason recommended The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg (1:02:46) – which was also recommended by Boston Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga in last month’s interview.

[5] I mentioned liking Jason’s article on how the same notes can play a very different role in communicating dramatic emotion in an opera (1:06:26). I think you’ll like it too: “I Love You!” Should Sound Different From “And Now You Die!”

[6] 1:06:37 is around the point at which the interview devolves into talking about food (I think we may have recorded this around lunchtime…)

[7] 1:06:54: Jason describes an “off-the-hook” dining experience at the restaurant Travail Kitchen in Minneapolis

[8] 1:07:38: Jason references the “Juicy Lucy,” a cheese-injected hamburger, which is available to lucky Minneapolis-ians. Here is a guy who ate 9 of them (from 9 different places) to deliver a verdict on where to get the best one (warning: don’t watch the video if you’re trying to cut back on calories): Who Makes the Best Juicy Lucy in Minneapolis? I Ate at 9 Spots to Find Out

[9] 1:07:50: Now we start talking about food in Chicago, and Jason mentions going to Alinea.

[10] 1:08:20: Jason mentions a celebratory dinner at Eleven Madison Park (NYC) with colleagues.

[11] 1:08:58: I bring up Motorino – a pizza place specializing in Neapolitan-style pizza (NYC, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines).

[12] 1:09:15: Then I start thinking about the open-24/7 Cresent Donut in Bloomington, IN, which makes the best yeast donuts ever. IU students are so lucky…

[13] 1:09:43: Jason counters with The Donut Pub (NYC), which is also open 24/7, and I’m now totally determined to check out…

Where to find (or work with) Jason

Jason’s website: Jason writes interesting, helpful, and entertaining articles on practicing on his website:

Articles on deliberate practice @jasonhaaheim.com

Jason’s timpani-focused master’s program: If you’re a timpanist, you might be interested in the timpani-focused master’s program that he’s launching at NYU. Where the curriculum is built around deliberate practice and the concepts he writes about on his blog. The application deadline is Jan 6, 2019 (for 2019-20), and you can contact Jason here, if you have any questions.

NYU Timpani Guild: Master’s Timpani Focus

A five-day timpani intensive and deliberate practice bootcamp (for all instrumentalists): Jason will be teaching a 5-day workshop in Minneapolis, July 1-6, if you’d like to do a deep dive on deliberate practice and audition preparation. Not a timpanist? No worries – the deliberate practice bootcamp is open to all instrumentalists. The registration deadline is June 1, 2019, and you can send Jason your questions here.

Northland Timpani Summit

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

For most of my life, I assumed that I wasn’t practicing enough. And that if I just put in the time, the nerves would eventually go away.

But in the same way that “practice, practice, practice” wasn’t the answer, “perform, perform, perform” wasn’t the answer either. In fact, simply performing more, without the tools to facilitate more positive performance experiences, just led to more bad performance experiences!

Eventually, I discovered that elite athletes are successful in shrinking the gap between practice and performance, because their practice looks fundamentally different. Specifically, their practice is not just about skill development – it’s about skill retrieval too.

This was a very different approach to practice, that not only made performing more fun (and successful), but practicing a more satisfying and positive experience too.

If you’ve been wanting to become more “bulletproof” on stage and get more out of your daily practice too, I’d love to share these research-based skills and strategies that can help you beat nerves and play more like yourself when it counts.

Click below to learn more about Beyond Practicing, and how to start making every day a good practice day. 😁


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Discover your mental strengths and weaknesses

If performances have been frustratingly inconsistent, try the 4-min Mental Skills Audit. It won't tell you what Harry Potter character you are, but it will point you in the direction of some new practice methods that could help you level up in the practice room and on stage.