Musicians are always looking for constant improvement in their skills and in their performances. This is no different than what athletes go through. You’ve got to dedicate yourself to some sort of daily workout, keep your eyes on the long-term prize, and be persistent.

I coach a lot of musicians, and I make sure they focus on a set of activities that will lead them toward success.

Here are ten rules that top musicians all follow:

1. Accentuate the Positive

There’s a constant stream of negative thoughts running through most people’s brains. This is like a static of white noise you’ve got to tune out. When you filter out this negativity and focus on positive thinking and positive wording, you get closer to achieving your musical goals.

2. Motivate from Within

Be clear on why you’re on the musical journey. Know what’s really important to you as a musician. Do you want to master a single song? A certain genre? Do you just want to see improvement day to day and week to week? It’s pretty hard to stay motivated if you’re looking for outside sources to keep you going. Audiences, the general public, and the music industry are all fickle. Search inward for what really keeps you going to do the daily work needed to improve your music.

3. Get Gritty

Grit is the willingness to persevere and overcome obstacles no matter what is thrown at you. It’s a combination of passion for a long-term goal and motivation to achieve all of the short-term goals that eventually lead to that long-term goal. Successful musicians know that each day they’ll need to do whatever is necessary to stay on the path that will lead them to achieving their long-term dream. If you want to cultivate grit, you’ll need to fully commit to consistently practicing – no matter what.

4. Have Specific Goals

You’re always better off when your daily goals and plans are as specific as possible. Put these plans in writing, including specific strategies that will help you achieve your daily goals. One important strategy for successful musicians is to know what you’ll do when you face frustration. The most common frustration for musicians is not being able to play something you really want to play. Improving your skills is a long-term endeavor, and you’re bound to have days when you just can’t play the notes you want to play. So, you need a strategy for this. Here are a few to try: (1) Slow way down and play one note at a time, (2) Stop playing the music that frustrates you and play something else instead, and (3) take a break and come back to the frustrating music later in the day.

5. Visualize Success

This rule is probably the most intriguing of my Top Ten Practice Tips and the one that is the most neglected by musicians. It’s especially neglected by musicians who aren’t seeing any improvement in their playing, the very people who need this strategy the most! Before you play something, see, hear, and feel yourself playing it perfectly – exactly as you want to play it. Then, try actually playing it. You’ll be amazed at the results.

6. Don’t Do Everything

Soloing or warmups? Scales or songs? Long tones or rhythm exercises? You can overwhelm yourself if you don’t have clear priorities. Every day, define what your top goal is and spend much of your playing time achieving that goal. Sure, you’ll need to practice other material too. But, stay focused on one thing you can really accomplish today.

7. Burn Your Ships

There was once an invading army landing on the shore of the country they were invading. The general had their ships burned at sea so there was no possibility of retreat. They would either be victorious or they would perish. The best musicians live their lives this way. They don’t give themselves any possibility of retreat. Never say, “Oh, it’s okay. I’ll practice tomorrow” or “I’m going to skip that really tough music today and get to it later in the week.” To put it bluntly, these are lies unsuccessful musicians tell themselves. Do not give yourself an out.

8. Be Flexible

Inevitably, there will be days when you can’t get in the practicing you want to. Work schedules, rehearsals, and life in general can get in the way. When this happens, you can’t worry about it. Just put in 10 minutes of something having to do with your music. Even if you never made it to the practice room, just do a visualization before you go to sleep. For today, that’s what will keep you on your musical path. Cut yourself some slack!

9. Believe in Yourself

If you believe that you can become a master musician, you will automatically do little things and take small steps that will lead you toward mastery. If you have negative, self-defeating beliefs, you are less likely to take helpful steps. You can’t focus on criticism from other musicians, from critics, or from family members. You’ve got to be strong. If you’re having difficulty building up this mental strength, ask your music teacher or performance coach for guidance. Together, the two of you will create a belief system that will propel you forward. This is a major part of what I do with every musician I work with, and the results are astonishing.

10. Celebrate Good Times

The most successful musicians recognize and reward their small accomplishments. Each little benchmark or milestone gets some sort of reward attached to it. If you don’t appreciate the small victories, you run the risk of getting bored with the process of daily practicing and even getting down on yourself and turning negative. (See Rule 1.)

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