The 10 Most Impactful Things We Learned in 2015

The new year is typically a time for looking forward. For embarking on new paths, and creating new habits.

But in doing so, it’s easy to miss an essential step in the looking-forward process. That of looking backwards.

We know from our experience in the practice room, that repetition on autopilot isn’t particularly effective. That saying “I’ll get it next time” without reflecting on what just happened, and what we plan on doing differently next time, won’t lead to the results we’re looking for. That the best performers tend to engage in more reflection, which leads to more effective planning for the next repetition, practice session, and performance.

Similarly, an annual reflection – where you take stock of the last 12 months – can be a very helpful exercise to ring in the new year with. Specifically, to look back at the last year and ask three deceptively simple questions:

  1. What worked well? 
  2. What didn’t work so well? 
  3. What are you going to a) keep doing, or b) do differently? 

To that end, here’s a little look back at 2015 here at the Bulletproof Musician. Namely, below are 10 of the most impactful things we learned in the last year. Which ones will you continue to utilize and build on in 2016? Which haven’t you tried, but might find useful in addressing some of the things from 2015 that you’d like to improve upon?

10 things we learned

#1: Great teachers all have different and unique teaching styles, but there seem to be some key commonalities in their approach (which we can emulate).

19 Things That Great Teachers Do: Insights from the Approaches of Three Renowned Artist-Teachers

#2: Being a musician may sometimes feel like a 24/7 proposition, but it’s important to mentally detach from our work on a regular basis. That doesn’t make us any less serious about our craft, but in fact, the opposite.

Pre-Performance Apathy (or the Importance of Mentally Disengaging From Work and Practice)

#3: There are multiple ways to to memorize music – but some are more efficient than others.

The Two Most Efficient (and Two Least Efficient) Memorization Strategies

#4: The best performers don’t just work on the things they do well. They focus more on their weaker areas, do more planning before each repetition, and engage in more interleaved practice.

How Do Experts Get Even Better? 5 Lessons From the Practice of Expert and Intermediate Athletes.

#5: It’s never too late to learn how to practice better. The savings in time and frustration are worth the effort.

Research-Tested Practice Strategies That Will Help You Learn New Pieces Faster

#6: For more effective learning, it seems that pausing a few moments between repetitions helps us make the most of each one.

For More Perfect Practice, Try…Longer…Pauses

#7: Students’ growth isn’t just a function of their talent. It’s also related to our belief in their ability to learn.

The Perils of Aiming Low: How Our Expectations Can Shape Our Students’ Learning & Performance

#8: The effectiveness of rehearsals is related to how much time everyone has put into their own part before the rehearsal even begins.

Do You Rehearse to Practice or Practice to Rehearse?

#9: To practice more effectively, it can be helpful to do our thinking out loud. Crazy though that sounds at first. 

Why Thinking Out Loud Could Help You Become a More Effective Practicer & Problem-Solver

#10: Sometimes the weirdest things seem to help. Or at least might be worth trying to see if they really do work.

A Simple Technique to Prevent Choking under Pressure (Which Sounds Like it Couldn’t Possibly Work)

What’s next?

As I look back at 2015, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a tiny part of your world on Sunday morning. That, and the ridiculously tasty cinnamon raisin peanut butter which has been a revelation…and constant drain on my willpower…but I digress…

What I mean to say is, I have no idea what 2016 will bring, but through all the inevitable ups and downs, here’s wishing you a happy, productive, memorable, and truly stupendifying1 year!


  1. Not really a word, but should be. Maybe if I put it out on the internet often enough it’ll turn into one?

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 a few tweaks in your approach to practicing. Elite athletes have been learning these techniques for decades, so if nerves and self-doubt have been recurring obstacles in your performances, I’d love to be your guide, and show you how you can integrate these into your daily practice too.

Click below to learn more about Beyond Practicing – an online course where you’ll learn the 6 skills that are characteristic of top performers, and begin seeing tangible improvements in your playing that transfer to the stage.


13 Responses

    1. Great summary! Thanks. Your blog is the one I never skip.

      But a minor gripe: I cringe reading the word “impactful”! I’ve never heard anyone say this, though I have seen it written in other places. It sounds awkward, and suggests some kind of violent assault. My spell-checker doesn’t recognize it as a word.

      Why not the much simpler and more direct “significant”, or “important”, or “useful”, or “best”?

      But, that’s a quibble. The whole blog is useful to me, improving my practice routine significantly.

      Hope this note has been “impactful” to you!

      1. Hi Christine,

        Thanks for the note – I hadn’t thought about that angle of the word. Maybe it’s one of those newfangled words that’s been invented and will sound less awkward with time…

  1. Happy New Year, Dr. Kageyama! Thank you so much for your insightful blogposts! I have learned so much from them and am beyond thrilled that you are the featured guest for the Minnesota Music Teachers Association Convention in June. See you then! Best wishes!

  2. I have shared your posts with my flute students so many times this year. They give us new ideas to try and spark some very insightful conversations. Many teachers just teach the music but your posts help me teach preparation and the performance itself. What a shock it was to learn that the winners of past performances could be most accurately picked by video only with no sound! And the post about the importance of the stage entrance encouraged me to have them practice walking on stage- something so simple but that has such a big impact on the first impression. So many of your posts apply to more than just music and help me build not just good musicians but wonderful people too. Thank you!

  3. Thank you so much for you wonderful writings, they have been a source of inspiration – and of motivation – throughout the year. Many happy returns!

  4. Hello!
    First time commenter, but long time reader. And by long time I mean I’ve been reading obsessively every day during my 9-5 whenever there is a dull moment, and I was wondering if I could pick your brain about item #2 on this list, as I feel like I have been reading your blog ~too much! I’m in my off season as a performer, picking back up next week (and very impatiently waiting, as it is), so I’ve spent a lot of time just reading about it, and trying to apply the lessons I am learning in my head, rather than actually physically applying them. As I began typing this, however, I realized how mentally exhausted I am from thinking about performances, and practicing, and memorizing, and movement.. the list goes on. Do you think it’s important, even in times when performing and practicing isn’t at its peak, to disengage from music a little? Could reading about it instead of actually working hard at it (I’m meant to be doing actual 9-5 type work right now, but there isn’t any, so all I end up doing is reading more articles and blogs and follow-ups and research studies) be just as bad as overdoing it on practice? (If so, I need a new thing to google at work – any suggestions? Haha.)

    1. Hi Sam,

      I think it’s totally possible to get burned out a bit from reading. An important part of being able to really engage and dedicate oneself fully to something is recharging one’s batteries by getting away. In much the same way that we can be more productive at work when we’ve taken the time to sleep and get away from work, I think we can do more in the practice room and on stage when we’ve also been able to take strategic breaks. As far as what else to google at work, I think the better answer might be to step away from the computer altogether! I’m not one to talk as I spend way too much time glued to screens, but I have a feeling that getting outside, or even walking around the room a bit may do more to recharge our batteries than anything we could find online.

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