Category: Functioning As A Musician

Do You Have Musical Talent?

Is talent something we are born with, or something that can be developed in anyone?  Maybe a bit of both.

David Shenk wrote about this on the the Genius Blog: The Genius in All of Us.

How can we explain the vast differences in musical ability? How can one species produce Paul Simon and William Hung? Are we born with musical talent, or do we develop it? Let’s sort through the research:Continue reading Do You Have Musical Talent?

Artist Burnout

Is the new model for success in the music business leading to artist burnout?

At least in for some artists, this may be the case. The money isn’t in the albums anymore, it’s in the performances and merchandise. Instead of going out on tour in support of a new album, artists are finding it necessary to always be in the public eye.

The strenuous nature of this type of exposure can lead to physical problems such as vocal nodes, hip surgeries, and cancelled tours due to exhaustion. In other words – artist burnout.

CD sales no longer are not what they used to be and many live shows are physically exhausting dance extravaganzas.

If  artists burn out at an early stage in their careers, how will they continue to perform (and make a lucrative income) in their later years?

In an article on, Paul Resnikoff writes:

So what’s going on? Meat Loaf thinks this is what the modern music industry is doing to artists. Instead of embarking on grand tours to support lucrative album releases, the collapse of the recording is forcing artists to be ‘always on,’ constantly gigging, recording, and making appearances.

Add the intense demands of digital, and artists are frying themselves. “That’s the problem with a new artist,” Meat Loaf recently observed. “They don’t sell records like they used to.”

“So they’re forced to do a lot more than just tour. TV shows, interviews, all that talking and doing extra stuff between shows, that’s when you rupture your vocal cords. Overwork, over-tired and then bam.”

Toya Glasgow, an R&B-focused blogger, pointed to an appallingly overworked Rihanna. Back in 2011, the non-stop, never-take-a-break rush included a full tour and upcoming album. “Rihanna has been overworking herself like mad. She’s been touring excessively with not much of a gap in between so-called breaks. When she does get a day or two off, she uses it in the studio to finish recording her upcoming new album.”

“It just seems like she’s working herself into the ground just to meet the deadline… Is all this excessive workload causing Rihanna to become ill?”

And remember, these are the wealthiest, best-supported, most mainstream artists around. So what about everyone else? For developing and less-lucrative acts, touring now seems closer to a survival exercise than a good time. And part of the reason is that selling recordings (ie, pressed CDs) on tour is no longer a viable option. “That kept a tour going,” one source with experience in the van told us, while pointing to newfound pressure on less-lucrative items like specialty vinyl, hats, and yes, t-shirts.

Check out the original article for more on this topic.

Annoying Rock Star Behavior

You may not be a big rock star (yet!), but … someday.  It could happen.

Now is the time to either learn how to treat your fans the way they should be treated, or start practicing how to be annoying as only a star can be.

Here from Rolling Stone are a few things you could start working on now.


1. Show up ridiculously late
Rock stars aren’t accountants, and nobody expects them to take the stage at the precise moment listed on the ticket. We get that. A little late is good, even. It gives everyone time to park, deal with will call, wait in the bathroom line and get a beer. But some artists routinely take the stage two, three or even four hours late; Lauryn Hill, we’re looking squarely at you here.

2. Exclude key band members
Some bands have members who just don’t feel like being rock stars anymore. We understand that. When Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones decided to scale back their lives and get off the road, we would have all preferred to see them with their bands still. The shows suffered from their absence, but people have a right to quit. A band isn’t the mafia.

3. Play too much from the new album
We have no issue with bands playing a ton of their new material. It does, however, get annoying when you pay to see an artist and the vast majority of the show is new stuff, especially when that material is a pale imitation of the old stuff. There’s a certain expectation when you buy a concert ticket (especially to an arena show) that you’re going to hear songs from throughout an act’s career. It’s just hard for people to fully appreciate music they don’t know very well.

4. Only perform the hits
The flip side of Number Three. Some artists have long catalogs of great songs, but their concerts tend to fall back on the same 15 songs they’ve been dragging out for decades. It’s like eating 10 chocolate bars for dinner; it’s not satisfying. You need to balance it out. Sure, the crowd loves to hear hits and you want to do anything you can to hold their attention, but you also need to challenge them a bit.


For more great tips, check out the full article on

Organizing a Band

I recently found an interesting article on organizing a band and dealing with the changes that come along in this business of music.  The excerpts below touch on a few of the topics covered and how to deal with them.

Music is a business. You have to decide how seriously you want to pursue your personal enjoyment versus making money. This is not to say that you can’t have both and sometimes if you plan carefully you can have a rewarding experience in every way.

Music is all about entertainment. I am not suggesting you get a monkey and organ grinder. Act like you have an interest in what’s going on. Have confidence. You’re probably much better than you think.

Don’t get locked into the same old music. Some songs are treasures and you will want to play them forever. Put some new stuff in there every once in a while to challenge yourself and keep things fresh. There is nothing more frustrating to hear a good band, and years later they are doing 80% of the same old stuff.

5 Tips to Improve Your Musical Performance Technique

Author: evan

This week we’re going to look into some tips on how to improve your technical agility. One of the main abilities a musician must have is to have command of the technical aspects of his/her instrument.

Tip #1: Play everything slowly

“Slow is the same as fast”. Maybe you’ve heard of that phrase. I’d like to interpret it as understanding that all movements that you make while playing rapid passages must have the same relaxed feeling as though you were playing slowly. What better way to do that than practicing slowly?

You’ll have to practice slowly and do NOT increase the tempo at any time! Breathe relaxed, concentrate but don’t let your muscles stressed or tight in any way. Practicing slowly give you a chance to hear the music exactly, listen intensively and therefore make your brain learn it “inside-out”.

Tip #2: Concentrate on problem areas

Learn to isolate difficult passages. Listen into them. Figure them out harmonically, mechanically and rhythmically. After your practiced the difficult passage, connect it back to the music a few measure before and after. This way you are “de-isolating” the passage back into the music.

Tip #3: Remember, it’s about making music

Once a new student came to me for lessons and played a few things for me that he’d been practicing up to that point. He commenced to play an exercise in a very technical, non-emotional fashion. I stopped him and asked why he has played like that. He answered, “Well, it’s just a technical exercise. It has nothing to do with music.”

So, I said, “OK, so throw it in the trash!” The point here is that we have to understand something. We play a musical instrument. We do it to play/perform music with it. In order to get the best performances out of ourselves on a consistent basis, we have to “practice performing”. So it is imperative that every time we practice, we should make music.

If something has NOTHING to do with music, we shouldn’t practice it. Think about it. When you practice your major scales, why do you do it? Possible answer are “To better my technique”, “To gain mastery of my instrument”, “to learn to hear the major key”, “to improve my intonation” , etc.

Such answer as “because it’s my homework” or “because my teacher said so” are weak answers and they are NOT going to inspire us to make good music. We need better answers. If an exercise is boring you, ask yourself “Why am I practicing this?”

Look for an answer that is going to motivate you! If you don’t come up with one, LOOK for one! Call a friend, ask your teacher, send ME an email! Do something! Give yourself good reasons and the HOW will take care of itself.

Tip #4: Practice with rhythmic variations

If you’re practicing even scale material, instead of repeating an exercise over and over again the same way (and possibly boring yourself), try playing it with different rhythms.

For example, I’m playing:

  1. C – D – E – F – G – F – E – D – C. All eights. Play it 3 times.
  2. Then play it as a dotted eighth and sixteenth rhythm. (Or swing eighths) 3 times
  3. Then play it as a sixteenth and a dotted eight rhythm (reverse swing) 3 times
  4. Then play one group of eight note triplets and a quarter note. 3 times
  5. Then the opposite – a quarter note then a group of eighth-note triplets. 3 times
  6. Then mix this set – 1 group eighth-note triplet, quarter, quarter, eighth-note triplets. 3 times
  7. Then the opposite mix – quarter, eighth-note triplets, eighth-note triplets, quarter. 3 times
  8. Then play the original rhythm from the beginning. 3 times.

What does this do? You’ve played the same exercise 24 times without it getting boring. You’ve learned to hear this combination of notes in different rhythms, which aids you to hear deeper into the notes. The speed of the fingers between the notes has varied, eventually strengthening your technique.

I guarantee that if you practice your technical exercises with this method, you’ll reach desired results faster than you have had in the past. You’ll accomplish a lot more in less time.

Tip #5: Learn how to take a break

Practicing 6 hours a day, 7 days a week can be great if you have time to afford yourself this luxury. If you do, my advice is DON’T DO IT! After spending so much time to learn new techniques, new repertoire, new whatever, you can destroy it all by practicing too much!

The brain can only take in some much information at a time and it does it best “piece by piece”, in small relaxed dosages. Even then, the brain needs a rest. Saxophonist Phil Woods has been said the he always plans a day NOT to practice. This day for him is Sunday. He goes fishing. He even stays away from music on this day.

It’s good advice to follow. Plan a day right now that you will NOT practice. Learn to relax. Do something else on that day.

Evan Tate is a Faculty member at the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich, a Julius Keilwerth saxophones endorser, podcaster and author of the book “250 Jazz Patterns” and more. You can contact Mr. Tate at

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