How to "Make It" in the Music Industry...

Courtesy of Jhoni Jackson

What defines a successful music career? Quality albums? Fame? Fat music royalty checks? All of that's right – but also none of it, too... 

Making it in the industry is no longer gauged by major label contracts, Grammys, and high rankings on the Billboard charts. Fame and fat checks are still a lot of people's dream goals, but there's more to success than that.

As independent musicians, the truest markers of triumph are sustainability and longevity. Read on for the basics of achieving both.

Make great music
First and foremost, right? There's no perfect recipe for an earworm or a hit, though. We can't tell you precisely how to write a good song everyone loves at first listen. What's deemed as good quality can be extremely subjective, and if it's chart success you're looking for, there are no absolutes for that, either. However, there are songwriting tips that can help boost your craft, augment what you've already got going on, or give you the creative confidence you need to go for it to begin with.

Certain song structures are more memorable than others. When A is the verse and B is the bridge, arrangements like ABABCB and AABA are most likely to be considered catchy. A curveball in the mix can help ensure it sticks. If you're having trouble with lyrics, research and study techniques that will guide you through the process.

Audience, structure, and content are all important elements of composing good successful songs. Learn as much as you can about all of them. And, above all else, study other peoples music. Learn at minimum four or five new songs every month. Study their chords, the melodic ideas and their structure. Learn as much as you can about what makes a hit song work.

Songwriting tips for boosting creativity can be learned. The Songwriting Source-book is excellent for learning these principles, and suggestions for beating writer's block are detailed here.

There are some arguments in favor of breaking traditional song structures, by the way. Consider the possibilities with that. Some may be beneficial, others may not.

Learn from other experienced players to gain tips for songwriters who are just starting out – as in writing their very first song – a mentor can get the basics to you plus offer you helpful insights.

Seasoned writers might want to consider trying a new strategy for faster songwriting: the top-down method, or others may be what you need to re-start your songwriting direction.

Grow your fanbase
Whether you're a brand-new band or a group of long-term players, these factors are key in developing a solid following. (And for those wondering how to get into the music industry as a band to begin with, growing your fanbase is the first step.)

Promote your music
Spreading the word about your tunes is crucial and marketing strategies for social media, as well as posters, flyers, and email newsletters is a must. The role of your local music scene is to help you, but that's not always the case. Learn how to market your music yourself. The book, "Getting Your Music Heard" is great for this.

Not only is your city's independent music scene generally a good a community that provides mutual support, but if it isn't too tight-knit it's a professional network that can help you land opportunities to grow your fanbase. Being an active member of a good local community means you'll meet all the right folks to help propel your career forward – talent buyers, venue owners, music writers, other bands, and more. If you're a newcomer, look to these tips to start getting involved.Hopefully your local scene is supportive.

Get press
A publicist can be incredibly useful, of course, but not having one won't disqualify you from getting press. Independent DIY bands thrive without outside help all the time. Learn the basics of getting press, including the components of a professional press request and who to send them to.

For those who are trying and not seeing results, consider the issues that could be holding you back. Additional tips – like developing rapport with the right writers – can be found online with a quick Google search. Take the time to research this. There will be all types of good ideas that you'll discover.

Booking shows and landing gigs
As a DIY band, you're probably booking your own shows. In many cases, you're organizing the whole shebang, from filling out the lineup to promoting the event. Learn how to get started with booking covers - there's a lot that a first-timer needs to know.

Again, involvement in your local music scene will be incredibly helpful. It's the best way to meet venue owners and talent buyers as well as connect with other bands you can call upon to play your gigs – or who might enlist you for their own.

If you're having trouble getting gigs, consider why. Make sure you're being professional in your inquiries; otherwise, you won't be taken seriously. Avoid mistakes like coming across as though you're someone you're not.

For those who are ready to tour (not everyone is), consider a weekend jaunt to test the waters. On a shorter trip, you'll still get to play new cities but you won't spend as much, and it gives everyone a trial version of what a longer tour would be like.

If you're hitting the road for a month or more, preparation is key – in making money, in not overspending, in making it all worthwhile.

To DIY tour like a pro, you've got to do plenty of research and raise funds in advance, among other crucial prep items. Read as much as you can about booking tours. There's a lot to understand. And, be clear on how you will get paid. Tours can bankrupt a muscial act into the dirt. So, be cautious about the payment details.

Keep a tight budget, both planned and in practice. This means groceries over gas station snacks and fast food, stinky couches and unforgiving floors over motels, and a per diem for every band member. It all might feel somewhat tedious and like a burden on your good time but, financially, the sacrifices are totally worth it in the end.

For some lesser known tips about what to pack, how to stretch your dollars food-wise, and more, check into what other local successful bands have done on their tours, the insight from various bands you can discuss your plans with will likely be invaluable to you.

Remember that merch can be a money-making life-saver on tour. Make sure you've got plenty ready.You do not want to run out of CD's or that cool t-shirt design.

When considering how to make money as a musician, you've got to expand your thinking beyond gigs, selling merch at those gigs and online, and record sales. Staying afloat financially as an independent musician means finding creative ways to monetize your music and skills.

Lucrative options include:
- Sync licensing
Getting your music in a TV show, commercial, or film can be a big earner for independent bands and artists.

Educate yourself on sync licenses first. Learn how to write songs that are more likely to be licensed for media usage. Keep an eye on listings to ensure you don't miss a great licensing opportunity. Read how award-winning songwriters who have numerous TV and media placements make everything work for them.

- Subscription services
It's like a paid fan club. Subscribers are charged a monthly fee to receive a minimum amount of merch, music, or exclusives on a regular basis. Successfully running your own could establish a constant flow of revenue.

- Related side jobs
Until you make enough money to be a full-time musician, you'll have to hold some kind of job to sustain yourself financially. Why not find one that puts your skills and savvy to use, then? You can apply at a venue: bartender, door person, and security are all potential gigs.

If you've got the know-how, you could work at a music shop or offer instrument repair. Depending on your proficiency, you could teach lessons for a fee. Another great way to earn income is as a session player. .

Maintain good mental and emotional health
When you think about how to make it in the music industry, you don't always consider your mental and emotional health. These more abstract aspects can have an effect on your longevity. If you avoid comparing yourself to others, celebrate your wins, and think positively, you'll be in better mental shape to continue pushing, even when things seem dire.

Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-bred music journalist currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she juggles owning a venue called Club 77, freelance writing and, of course, going to the beach as often as possible.

9 Essential Rockabilly Guitar Chords...

Courtesy of Total

Give your rhythm playing an authentic rockabilly vibe with these nine essential must-learn chords… 

Generally, rockabilly makes heavy use of the well-known I-IV-V blues progression. In the key of E the chords are E-A-B; in the key of A it's A-D-E, and 6th, 7th and 9th versions of these major chords (such as E6, B9 and so on) give a more authentic sound.

Try improvising around A6, D9 and E7, using the "A Major Pentatonic" scale. Add in a chromatic passing tone of the lowered 3rd (b3), for a more typical rockabilly sound. The  I-IV-V in the key of A is great place to begin since it is so popular within this style.

***Notice that there are shapes that are marked as 'for lead' because they are great for country and rockabilly style soloing, particularly if you use the trick of pulling off to the open second string. That said, you can treat them as standard chords if you prefer. It's up to you.

9 Rockabilly Chords:

How Much Does It Cost to Make a Professional Studio Album?

Courtesy of Max Monahan

How Much Does It Really Cost to Make a Professional Studio Album? Check Out This Breakdown of the Total Costs Involved...

You've got big dreams. You want to make an album that's going to change the landscape of modern music. There's just one little thing you need to factor in that doesn't have anything to do with the creative side or your magnum opus, and that's money.

Making an album isn't cheap, but costs may vary greatly. While you generally get what you pay for, you don't really need to spend an arm and a leg to get a good quality recording nowadays. Check out these price estimates for making an album with a full rock band instrumentation.

Gear: $700–$10,000
Depending on the style of your music, you may need to spend thousands of dollars on top-of-the-line gear, or you may be playing in a punk band where you're going to be throwing instruments and it wouldn't make any sense to invest a ton of money into them.

Extreme cases aside, let's make the case that you want decent gear that sounds good. There are a variety of ways to obtain said gear, and as with most purchasing options, you'll see an inverse relationship between reliability and convenience vs. pricing.

On one end of the spectrum is Guitar Center. Here you'll be guided through the process of your gear acquisition by a courteous young man in a black button-down who will tell you all about which tubes sound the "meatiest." Spoiler alert: he works on commission.

On the other end of the spectrum, you can take your gear hunt to Craigslist. This is where you'll find the real bargains, along with every nightmare you can imagine. Craigslist can be an incredible tool when searching for gear, especially old or rare gear at the absolute lowest prices, but you need to know what you're doing as the buyer.

No matter the price range, or the area you live in, there are always going to be scammers out there trying to take advantage. Depending on what gear you buy and where you buy it, your whole band's gear could cost anywhere from $700 at the bare minimum to (more likely) thousands of dollars.

Rehearsal space: $0–$1,800
Finding a place to rehearse is often one of the biggest struggles of band life. Many bands reap the benefits of their parents' garages or basements, but the industry that supplies musicians with lock-outs and rehearsal spaces capitalizes on bands' needs for a creative space without sonic boundaries. A good estimate of pricing for a rehearsal space with all the luxuries and amenities any band should reasonably need comes out to about $25 an hour.

Let's say the band has one main songwriter, and they need to learn all the new songs for the upcoming album. They might meet up three times a week for six hours at a time over the course of a month to be ready to record. This would run the band a $1,800 bill. A potentially cheaper alternative to this approach is to rent out your own rehearsal space for an entire month.

These prices vary greatly, and the application process is much more intensive than simply paying for a room by the hour. If you're a serious band with long-term goals, it may be very worth the investment. Of course, if Mom likes having you rock out in the garage, stick with what works and with what you can afford.

Studio time: $1,000–$40,000+
Yet another element of recording with incredible variance. For the true DIYer, recording can be accomplished with just $1,000 and a lot of time. This figure is all-encompassing of absolutely everything you'll need, starting with a computer ($500), which you probably already own. From there, you would use that computer to download GarageBand for $5 if it isn't already on your computer, and hook your computer up to an audio interface, which will cost about $200.

The last things you'll need for the ultimate DIY recording experience are some versatile mics like the Shure SM57, cables, and some brooms, chairs, and tape for those DIY mic stands. Throw in a decent pair of headphones so you can hear what you're recording, and you're on your way with a passable recording setup.

Recording will be a very different process if you have more money to spend. Professional studios typically come equipped with a plethora of expensive microphones, along with all the other recording equipment you'll need. Professional studio rates can range from as little as $50 an hour to upwards of $500 an hour. All things considered, the recording process can run you anywhere from $1,000 to upwards of $40,000 for an entire album.

This is where the bare minimum needed to produce an album cuts off. It's not recommended, but you could do all of the following steps yourself and not pay anything out of pocket.

Engineer: $200–$8,000+
The engineer is the person who physically sits behind the computer with the digital audio workstation and records the band. Engineers are also typically responsible for mic placement on amps and drums, and see an intersection of the role of "producer" of the album, although the titles are sometimes held by different people.

Rates for engineers vary greatly, and they can either charge the musicians by the hour or by the song. For big-name engineers or producers, the sky is the limit with the price tag, so you could spend anywhere from a few hundred dollars to many thousands tracking an album.

Mixing: $500–$5,000+
The mix engineer performs a variety of tasks on the track. They take the sounds recorded by the engineer, polish them, and set the levels to make the recording sound its best. In the interest of time and quality, you should hire a professional mix engineer whose work you've listened to and like.

However, if you're looking to get into mixing yourself, you can learn just about everything there is to know online and through good old trial and error. Mixing rates are very personal, and major label releases often shell out big bucks paying for top-of-the-line mix engineers.

Mastering: $300–$3,000+
The logistics of mastering are very similar to mixing. Mastering is typically performed by an outsourced third party who takes the mix track and polishes it to make it sound its best. The function of mastering is to make a track sound "loud" and full, even at low volumes.

Just like mixing, you can learn this on your own through experimentation and reading material, but typically, you would outsource to a third party whose mastering work you like the sound of. Also like mixing, getting a big name on the mastering credits of your album will typically cost a decent chunk of change.

Album artwork: $0–$2,000+
The cost of album artwork is a total toss-up. You could make the artwork yourself using construction paper and sharpie, or you could commission a painting for a few thousand dollars. Typically, bands end up somewhere in the middle of these two figures, shelling out a couple hundred bucks for a good graphic artist to bring their album cover vision to life.

Physical formats: $0–$4,000+
Every piece of the puzzle that goes into making an album is an investment, but physical formats are where the money actually starts to come back. The first step to creating a game plan for physical album formats is analyzing which formats your target demographic is going to be looking for. Vinyl? CDs? Or just digital formats?

If you answered only digital, you're in luck! Sites like Bandcamp make it free to distribute your music in a digital format online, and they only take a small cut of your sales. Other formats can run you hundreds, or more likely thousands, of dollars, but you'll make all that money back and more... as long as you sell them!

Of course, buying larger quantities is always cheaper, so it's up to you to manage the balancing act of distributing your music in the most profitable way possible.

Publicity: the sky is the limit
Publicity is half the battle in your quest for a successful album. If you're putting serious time, money, and effort into an album, you need to budget your expenses to make sure people will actually hear it. There are ways to guerrilla market your album via Facebook shares and flyers around town, but if you've spent tens of thousands of dollars on your album, it may be wise to hire a PR company to manage the publicity if a label isn't taking care of it already.

The sky's the limit for the price tag on album publicity. You could go the total DIY route, or if you've got a strong following already and you're in a position to hire a top-notch PR firm to reach the masses, you may very well end up spending more on publicity than the album itself.

The creation of an album is a delicate and costly process. The final numbers: you can make an album for as little as $1,700 (if you choose to not hire anyone for engineering, mixing, or mastering) plus a ton of work, or spend well north of $100,000.

Max Monahan is a bassist and a writer living in Los Angeles. He spends his time working for an audio licensing website and shredding sweet bass riffs.

Figure it Out Fridays: Lesson 014 - Part One

Figure it Out Fridays: Lesson 014 - Part One

Welcome to, "Figure it Out Fridays - Lesson 014," the unique Ear Training Guitar Lesson on YouTube. 

The focus of these lessons will be to study how to transcribe, (learn by ear), a new guitar melody or a chord progression every week... 

Musical ideas are released on Tuesday's, with the Music and TAB's released that same week on Friday. Do your best on the days in between to learn the musical parts. Then, be sure to check out the "Part Two" video to learn exactly how the musical idea operates. Enjoy, and good luck transcribing!

Figure it Out Fridays: Lesson 014 - Part One

Did Led Zeppelin Steal Stairway to Heaven?

Courtesy of Rick Emmett /CBC

Was There Theft Involved When Led Zeppellin Composed Stairway To Heaven? Watch this short interview and decide for yourself...

Rick Emmett and the CBC's Paul Hunter discuss the similarities and differences between the Spirit song, "Taurus," and Led Zeppelins' classic, "Stairway to Heaven." 

Are they really the same? Was the judge in Los Angeles correct to order a lawsuit? Rick Emmett, (of the legendary Canadian rock band Triumph), discusses the sound of each song, and whether or not the band "Spirit" had any true justification for pursuing their lawsuit against Led Zeppelin.

Note: After a week-long trial, which was closely watched, jurors came out with a verdict on Thursday June 23, 2016 that Led Zeppelin did not steal the instrumental riff from the other classic rock band Spirit.

Over-Learning - How Can it help You Learn Guitar Better?

Courtesy of Noa Kageyama

You know those happy moments in the practice room when you experience a tiny breakthrough, and after having struggled for a while, you can finally play a passage exactly like you want? Feels like cause for celebration, right?

Well, as a kid, I would reward myself for my achievement by putting my instrument down and take a practice break. Sometimes stretching into the next day…

This seemed like a reasonable enough thing to do at the time. Of course, now that I have gotten older, this sort of thing drives me nuts. I mean, you get through your scale pattern without incident just once, and you’re ready to move on? What?! No, that does not work.

But, how important is it really to practice beyond this point? Sure, we can always do more, but might it be that learning to the point of proficiency is enough sometimes.

Adequate learning vs. over-learning
Say you're working on a passage and keep having memory glitches or play a few notes out of tune, but with a bit of work, you finally get through the tricky spots without incident. Moving on to a new skill or a new passage at this point would be called “adequate” learning, because presumably, you’ve ironed out the problem areas and have reached a certain level of proficiency.

If, however, you continued to work on the passage beyond the point of reaching proficiency, you would be engaged in “over-learning.”

Surprisingly, there isn’t as much research out there on over-learning as one might think, but it does seem that there are some benefits – particularly in the area of retention.

Sustaining skills over time
For instance, a US Army study followed the learning curve of 38 reservists who were trained in how to disassemble and assemble an M60 machine gun. A control group practiced until they could achieve one error-free performance. On average, it took each soldier about 30 minutes to reach error-free performance.

An “overlearning” group practiced until the same point, and then some. (Specifically, their training was extended by however many repetitions it took them to get to an error-free level.

This is known as 100 percent overlearning. Engaging in half as many repetitions as it takes to reach the target level of proficiency is known as 50 percent overlearning, and so on. So if it took them 30 tries to get it right, they did a total of 60 repetitions.) In general, it took an extra 15-20 minutes for soldiers to complete their extended training.

A third group practiced until proficiency, and four weeks later had a “refresher” session where, like the overlearning group, they did as many repetitions as it took for them to get it right in the first session.

Eight weeks after their initial training session, all three groups were tested on their M60 disassembly /assembly performance.

How'd they do?
As you can imagine, both the overlearning group and refresher group outperformed the control group at the eight-week mark (by 65 percent and 57 percent, respectively). And while their performance at eight weeks was pretty similar, there were some meaningful differences between the two, which suggests that overlearning may have been a more effective approach overall.

The overlearning group not only executed the skill (mostly) flawlessly during their extended training time, but they also got faster, cutting 12.74 seconds off their time (189.6 to 152.2 seconds) from their first error-free performance to their last practice attempt of the day. To me, this speaks to greater automaticity of the skill – the ability to perform the skill more efficiently and effectively without having to think one’s way through every step.

By comparison, the refresher group had forgotten quite a bit by the time they had their refresher course four weeks later, averaging more than five errors on their first practice attempt. In fact, most of the soldiers failed to complete an error-free trial before the end of their refresher training session, and the overlearning group demonstrated better performance after eight weeks of not touching an M60, than the refresher group did after four weeks.

This suggests that over-learning leads to gains that last longer than simply practicing up to the “good enough” point.

Surgical training
In another study, 20 surgical residents were tasked with practicing a common gall bladder removal procedure.

Everyone practiced the procedure (on a simulator – not real people) until they reached “proficiency,” which was defined as achieving a score of 80. Once they reached proficiency, 10 of the residents did no further practice of the skill. Meanwhile, the other 10 residents continued to practice, putting in as many repetitions as it took for them to reach the score of 80 in the first place (i.e., 100 percent overlearning).

To gauge the impact of overlearning, both groups were tested one, four, and 12 weeks later, and were evaluated on their simulator score, how long it took for them to perform the procedure, and accuracy.

How'd they do?
Overall, the overlearning group appeared to learn the procedure and retain their skills better, outperforming the adequate-learning group by an average score of 76 vs. 68, while making fewer mistakes and completing the procedure about 20 percent faster.

So while extra practice does take more time and effort in the short term, it seems to have benefits in the long run. And like the soldiers in the previous study, the overlearning group’s ability to perform the procedure faster suggests a higher level of automaticity.

It's like the difference between a capable but hesitant new driver on a learner’s permit, and an experienced cabbie who can navigate city traffic and parallel park without a second thought. I mean, if you accidentally chopped off the tip of a finger while preparing dinner, which one would you want driving you to the hospital?

How much over-learning is enough?
While overlearning seems to be a good thing, it’s not so clear how much overlearning is best. More seems to be better, but there is a point of diminishing returns, in which doing more takes a ton of time and energy, but yields relatively little gain. Besides, overlearning for the sake of overlearning can lead to mindless, ineffective practice and do more harm than good.

There does seem to be some evidence that 50 percent overlearning is the minimum to get some benefit (e.g., if it took you 40 repetitions to reach proficiency, you’d do an additional 20 repetitions past that point, for a total of 60 reps). And 100 percent overlearning appears to give us more bang for our buck than 150 percent or 200 percent overlearning. So ultimately, 100 percent may be the best place to start (e.g., if it took you 40 reps to reach proficiency, you’d do 40 more, for 80 total).

But what I like most about the idea of overlearning is how the overlearning protocol could increase motivation and focus during practice. Because if you know that the amount of overlearning you have to engage in is a function of how long it took you to get it right in the first place, wouldn’t you be really motivated to figure out how to achieve a level of proficiency in fewer repetitions?

So the next time you find yourself slopping through your scale and arpeggio patterns, maybe the "Over-learning" process could be a good twist on your practice routine that could boost your motivation to buckle down and make each pattern repetition count.

Noa Kageyama, Ph.D. is a performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus and faculty member. Noa teaches musicians how to beat performance anxiety and play their best under pressure through live classes, coachings, and an online home-study course.

Chain of 145 Guitar Effect Pedals Might Be a World Record...

Courtesy of Pedals and Effects (YouTube)

You might recall that a while back there was a viral YouTube video of a group of dudes demonstrating how an electric guitar sounds when plugged into a chain of 100 effect pedals.

That particular bit of experimentation was performed by Tera Melos guitarist Nick Reinhart and bassist Juan Alderete de la Peña of the Mars Volta and Racer X.

Now the two have decided to break their own record by connecting 145 pedals. They believe it may set a world record for longest pedal chain.

World record aside, what does it sound like?

Check out the video below.

What Makes a Good Guitar /Music Teacher?

Courtesy of Rob Jenkins

So you want to be a music teacher. Well, if you hope to find some decent success, you'll need to start analyzing what makes a great teacher seem great to you... 

What is it that makes for a great music instructor? Is it a funny, approachable, or creative personality or is it something in your past days of education? A familiarity to your favorite teacher in high school or elementary — the key is to become more aware of what you enjoy from a teacher and look for those traits in your next tutor...This article runs through the traits that make any teacher great - in general. See if you can integrate some of these elements to your own teaching approach.

Personality can be a very important trait from anyone around us that we work and train with. A teachers great "personality" is one of those very important qualities. While recognizing that everyone is different, and that personality isn’t necessarily something we can control, we can attempt to identify key characteristics that most of us want from our favorite teachers. From kindergarten through graduate school, all of our favorite teachers had something similar in common for us to truly enjoy being around them.

When I say "best teachers," I’m not just talking about the ones I liked best. I mean the teachers who had the greatest influence on me — the ones whose names I still remember to this day, even though in some cases it’s been more than 40 years since I sat in their classrooms. They are people I’ve tried to emulate in my own teaching.

What made them good teachers? I can’t offer any empirical answers to that question, but I do know that personality was a key factor in all of them. Perhaps we can measure effectiveness in the classroom, to some extent, but how do we really determine quality? It seems to me that we’ve been trying for years, through various evaluation metrics, without a whole lot of success. I’ve known some bad teachers who were able to manipulate the metrics, and some good ones whose excellence wasn’t immediately apparent on paper.

We may never be as funny, approachable, or creative as our favorite teachers. But simply by recognizing those traits as desirable, we can become more approachable, creative, and, yes, funnier than we would be otherwise.

In any case, the following observations are based entirely on my own experiences as a student, professor, and former midlevel administrator who has seen many good teachers (and a few bad ones) practice their craft. My hope is that, even if this list is somewhat subjective — not to mention incomplete — it won’t seem entirely unfamiliar.

The best teachers are good-natured and tend to be approachable, as opposed to sour and forbidding. Grouchy, short-tempered, misanthropic curmudgeons can sometimes make effective teachers, too, if for no other reason than that they prepare us for grouchy, short-tempered, misanthropic people in the real world.

I had some grouchy teachers myself, especially in graduate school, and learning to cope with them was a valuable experience I would not wish to deny anyone. But most of my very best teachers were pretty easy to get along with — as long as I paid attention in class and did my work.

They are professional without being aloof. Most academics tend to keep students at arm’s length — the obvious message being, "I’m your teacher, not your friend." Clearly, professionalism requires a certain amount of boundary-setting, which can be difficult, especially when dealing with older students, where the age gap is often not all that wide and, under different circumstances, they might actually be your friends.

My best teachers always seemed to effortlessly walk that very fine line between being an authority figure and being someone I felt I could talk to. I didn’t even understand what they were doing — or how difficult it was — until I had to do it myself years later.

They have a good sense of humor. They may or may not be ready for the stage at the comedy Improv, but they don’t take themselves or their subject matter too seriously. Few things are more off-putting than faculty members who think they’re much smarter than anyone else in the room (or any room) — unless it’s those who think their subject is the most important of all and expect students to feel the same way, other classes be damned.

My best teachers not only understood that their course was just one of several we were taking, but also had a great, self-deprecating wit, often making jokes at their own expense and even sometimes making light of their subject. Funny how an ounce of humor can sometimes help students grasp the material better than a pound of gravitas.

They seem to enjoy what they do. Unfortunately, some faculty members don’t really like students. They are the academics who constantly whine about their workload and complain about how rude or unprepared their students are. I’ve often wondered: Why are such people even in this profession? What did they expect?

The teachers I remember as the very best were those who clearly loved teaching and got a kick out of associating with students every day. After all, no one wants to feel like a nuisance, which is exactly how some teachers make their students feel.

They are demanding without being unkind. Some academics take great pride in being disliked, wearing their unpopularity like a badge of honor. They naturally assume it’s because they’re so "tough" and "rigorous," reasoning that lazy students dislike rigor and transfer their dislike to the people who demand it. In my experience, however, most students want to be challenged; they don’t mind if a lot is expected of them. They just don’t want their professors to be jerks or insufferable know-it-alls. My best teachers were demanding without being mean-spirited.

They seem comfortable in their own skin. Perhaps one reason students tend to like these faculty is that they like themselves, without being in love with the sound of their own voices. This is related to not taking themselves too seriously, but it goes beyond that. The root cause of bad teaching is a fundamental lack of self-confidence, leading teachers to overcompensate by being unreasonably demanding, aloof, or condescending to students.

Paradoxically, professors who appear arrogant and narcissistic are often trying to cover up what they perceive as profound deficiencies in their own personalities and abilities. The best teachers are confident without being arrogant, authoritative without being condescending.

They are tremendously creative. They are always willing to entertain new ideas or try new things — sometimes even on the fly. "Innovation" is a buzzword nowadays, but the term seems applied almost exclusively to the use of technology.

My own best teachers, though, were truly innovative, coming up with creative ways — sometimes on the spur of the moment — to help us understand, internalize, and remember what they were trying to teach. What made those teachers innovative was not tools or technology but their minds.

They make teaching look easy. We all know it isn’t. Ultimately, great teachers are like great athletes, dancers, or musicians. We may know, cognitively, that what they do isn’t easy, but they seem to do it so effortlessly that we’re lulled into thinking it’s no big deal — until we try it ourselves. Then we learn quickly just how difficult it is to play a sport or an instrument — or teach — at a very high level. I didn’t fully appreciate that until I became a teacher myself and discovered how easy it is to fall short in the classroom.

Most of these things I’ve mentioned here are personality facets. We can’t control whether or not we have them or to what degree. No doubt, there is some truth to the idea that certain people are just born teachers because they happen to be blessed with these traits in abundance.

Even if we are not "born teachers," we can work to develop the qualities of those teachers in ourselves. We may never be as funny, approachable, or creative as our favorite teachers. But simply by recognizing those traits as desirable, by acknowledging that we don’t possess them to the degree we would like, and by committing ourselves to working on those areas, we can become more approachable, creative, and, yes, funnier than we would be otherwise. It’s the journey of self-improvement that makes the difference.

Rob Jenkins is an associate professor of English at Perimeter College of Georgia State University and author of Building a Career in America’s Community Colleges. He writes monthly for our community-college column and blogs for Vitae. The opinions expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

Figure it Out Friday's: Lesson 013 - Part Two

Figure it Out Friday's: Lesson 013 - Part Two

Welcome to, "Figure it Out Fridays: Lesson 013 - Part Two," Ear Training Guitar Lesson. 

Here's the Answer Key for, "Figure it Out Fridays," Ear Training Lesson 013.

In this series, we study how to transcribe a new guitar melody or chord progression every week. Musical ideas are released on Tuesday, with the Music and TAB's released that same week on Fridays. Do your best on the days "in between" to learn the different guitar parts. 

Up-Load your guess of Tuesdays guitar idea (from the part one lesson) to your YouTube channel. Share your examples on; GooglePlus, Twitter and on FaceBook. 

Be sure to check-out the "Part Two" video released every Friday to learn exactly how Tuesdays guitar part looks charted to TAB and in Music Notation. Enjoy the series!

Figure it Out Fridays: Lesson 013 - Part Two

A Guitar Practice Schedule - Designed by a Psychologist...

Courtesy of Ian Temple

This Psychologist Wants You to Stop Wasting Your Practice Time...

“Practice makes perfect” is a classic cliché – it contains elements of the truth but misses the whole story by a long shot. As musicians, we’ve all experienced times when we master a new concept in seconds, and other times when we’ve been working on the same song for years with seemingly no progress. What accounts for the difference?

If you’re anything like me, your practice routine is something you do intuitively. It often involves sitting down with your instrument, playing a few scales, banging around for 20 minutes on a few songs or improvs, maybe working on something specific for 10 minutes in a repetitive manner, and then bowing out. Basically, it’s casual, repetitive, and thoughtless.

The problem is that these tendencies are the exact opposite of what we should be doing if we want to see real improvement, according to Dr. Anders Ericsson. And we might be wise to listen. Dr. Ericsson is widely considered one of the foremost thinkers on the subject of “expertise.” His research is one of the primary sources that inspired Malcolm Gladwell’s now-famous “10,000 Hour Rule” – that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to be an expert in anything. But that rule, though memorable, is far from the whole story.

In his new book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, which is excerpted here, Dr. Ericsson and his co-author Robert Pool argue that the best practice habits, what they call “purposeful practice,” involve specific goals, focus, feedback, and leaving your comfort zone.

Get specific with your practice goals
His first tip is to move away from vague goals of “getting better” to really specific, deliberate goals, such as playing the first page of Mozart’s Sonata three times in a row without a mistake. The key is, as Dr. Ericsson writes, to “take that general goal – get better – and turn it into something specific that you can work on with a realistic expectation of improvement.”

The problem is many of us don’t really think that way. My personal musical goal right now is to play piano like Errol Garner. How the heck do you start on that journey? Well, it begins with a process of breaking things down into smaller and smaller steps until you wind up with something that can be realistically accomplished in a practice session (or a few).

So starting with my big vision (Garner, I’m coming for you!), I know I’m going to have to work on my stride playing and block chords a bit. That’s still pretty vague, though, so I think I’ll start by trying to figure out the left hand part of “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” Suddenly, that’s totally something I can figure out in a few sessions and I’ll be a little bit closer to my overall goal.

Be focused while you practice
Often I find myself using practice to shut my mind off and escape my day-to-day concerns. Playing becomes meditative. And there’s absolutely no way I’m going to stop doing this — it’s part of why I play music. Back off, Ericsson!

But at the same time, it’s important to realize that this doesn’t really count as practice. As Dr. Ericsson writes, “You seldom improve much without giving the task your full attention.” If you’ve had a long day and your mind feels like it’s drizzling out of your ear lobe, then maybe that’s not the best time to try to focus intensely on a very difficult leap forward.

For me, one way to do this is to pick a certain amount of time and decide I’m going to do focused practice for that length of time. Even better if I have concrete goals laid out for that time, such as “play the left hand to ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy’ successfully six times in a row.” When the time limit is up, I can happily jam around on whatever I want and let my mind wander whither it will.

Make sure you're getting feedback
Here’s Dr. Ericsson again: “You have to know whether you are doing something right and, if not, how you’re going wrong.” The good news for us musicians is that practicing music has a built-in feedback mechanism — you can generally hear it when you play something wrong, even more so as you get better or if you record yourself playing. This is different from, say, learning a language in a vacuum where you would have no idea if your pronunciation was right or wrong.

There’s something else important to realize about this: You don’t necessarily need an expensive coach or trainer to give you feedback. Often, you provide yourself with the most important feedback. Here’s a great paragraph from Dr. Ericsson, referencing someone who was trying to learn how to memorize ever-longer strings of numbers:

“Perhaps the more important feedback was something that he did himself. He paid close attention to which aspects of a string of digits caused him problems. If he’d gotten the string wrong, he usually knew exactly why and which digits he had messed up on. Even if he got the string correct, he could report to me afterward which digits had given him trouble and which had been no problem. By recognizing where his weaknesses were, he could switch his focus appropriately and come up with new memorization techniques that would address those weaknesses.”

By paying close attention to your playing and constantly giving yourself feedback, you can focus in on the moments that give you the most trouble and work at those specifically.

One additional way to give yourself feedback might be to record yourself. If I record myself playing my Errol Garner tune, I can even compare it to the original, and make notes about the spots where I’m not quite getting it right!

Push yourself outside your comfort zone
Lots of times we think the best practice should feel easy, when the opposite is actually true. I remember this point coming up a lot in another useful rundown of effective practice techniques, the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. The authors talk about “desirable difficulties” – basically, by practicing in such a way that feels difficult rather than easy, you facilitate more long-term learning.

Dr. Ericsson makes a similar point. Playing the same thing over and over again might feel good without ever really helping you improve at the parts that are giving you the most trouble or mastering how to approach a similar piece next time. This passage was particularly illustrative to me:

“This is a fundamental truth about any sort of practice: If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve. The amateur pianist who took half a dozen years of lessons when he was a teenager but who for the past 30 years has been playing the same set of songs in exactly the same way over and over again may have accumulated 10,000 hours of ‘practice’ during that time, but he is no better at playing the piano than he was 30 years ago. Indeed, he’s probably gotten worse.”

That point hits home even more for self-guided learners like myself. As you’re practicing, try to focus in on things you’ve never done before. For me, that’s stride piano at a fast tempo. When you achieve one milestone, ask what’s next. By continuing to push yourself into new areas of exploration, you’ll continue to push your skills forward and make sure you’re actually improving the way you want to. Luckily, we have all sorts of online courses that might help you find new directions to push yourself.

Ian Temple is a pianist, entrepreneur, and professional musician. He started Soundfly to help people really find what gets them most excited musically and pursue it. He's toured all over the world with his experimental trio, Sontag Shogun.

How to Cope with "I'm Not Good Enough" Syndrome...

Courtesy of Casey van Wensem

We’ve probably all felt it more often than we’d like to admit: the feeling that we’re not "there yet" in what we do musically.

The good news is that this is a normal feeling, and it’s something that people in any creative field deal with all the time.

What’s scary (but also strangely comforting) about this is that there seems to be no escape from it – it can come after people in the very beginnings of their careers, as well as people who are already seen as masters in their domain.

The difference for most artists who have achieved a high level of success is not that they don’t ever feel like they're not good enough – it’s that they’ve found ways to battle that feeling whenever it comes up. So to help you in your own battle, here are three strategies you can use to confront and conquer "I'm Not Good Enough," syndrome.

1. Mind the creativity gap
Ira Glass, host of This American Life, has worked in radio broadcasting for over 30 years, and has some great advice for anyone who wants to succeed in any creative field. “The most important possible thing you could do is do a lot of work,” he says.

Anyone who gets into doing creative work, he explains, starts out because they have good taste. But this creates a negative cycle, as there’s always going to be a period of time when the quality of the work you’re doing doesn’t meet your own high standards. “A lot of people at that point, they quit,” Glass says, but quitting is not what he wants you to do.

Instead, you have to “fight your way through” that gap by producing years and years of subpar work. “It’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you’re actually going to catch up and close that gap, and the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions,” he says.

Watch the full video of Ira Glass’ wisdom here:

2. Find a safe outlet for your worries
Most people who have achieved a certain level of success will tell you that there was a time in the beginning of their careers where they were given opportunities beyond their skill levels, and the reason they were able to overcome this situation is that they were able to “fake it ‘til they made it.” This has encouraged a lot of up-and-coming artists to adopt the “fake it ‘til you make it” philosophy.

The problem with this philosophy, however, is that none of us ever want to admit that we’re faking it, because if we do, we’re afraid that someone will call us out as an impostor. So everyone is walking around pretending to be more talented and more experienced than they actually are, and everyone knows that everyone else is doing this, but at the same time, no one’s allowed to admit they’re doing it.

The solution to help you escape this spiral of lies is to find someone you trust who you can speak openly to about your worries. This could be a close friend or a mentor – someone who understands what it’s like to be a creative person, but who also won’t judge you and won’t go around telling other people about what you share with them.

This allows you to break some of the anxiety around “faking it” all the time by admitting that you’re not perfect without having to broadcast it to the whole world. Plus, once you realize that everyone around you is “faking it” most of the time as well, you can be comforted in knowing that you’re not alone in feeling in over your head.

3. Take a look back
How often do you listen to your old songs? Many of us avoid listening to our old recordings because we’re afraid of feeling embarrassed by how bad the music is, when really, that embarrassment is exactly what we need to help us become more confident. That’s because when you listen to one of your old songs and realize how bad it is, you’re actually telling yourself how much better of a musician you are now.

If you can identify mistakes you made and parts you want to improve, that means you’ve grown enough as a musician to be able to identify the issues you missed before. This is part of fighting your way through that creativity gap that Ira Glass talks about. Your ability may still not match your taste (for some successful people, it never does), but if you can see that gap closing, you’ll know you’re on the right track.

What’s really behind "I'm Not Good Enough," syndrome - in all of its forms is fear: fear of not living up to your own standards, fear of being found out, of not improving, of becoming a failure. While it’s not good to deny these fears, it’s not good to ignore them, either.

So instead of feeling crippled by thoughts of being a musical impostor, the best thing you can do is take control of the situation by shifting your mindset and taking action to motivate yourself.

Once fear is out of the picture, you’ll start to realize that feeling like an impostor isn’t the worst thing in the world – in fact, it’s something we all have to go through on our journey to make better and better music.

Casey van Wensem is a freelance composer, musician, and writer living in Kelowna, B.C., Canada.