Being A Pro Musician is About Attitude.

Being A Professional Musician is About Attitude.

It’s not because one earns his income with music, that therefore one is a professional musician. There are a lot of “pros” out there who are much less professional than many “amateur” musicians I know. Being a pro at anything has to do with how you carry yourself and with your attitude.

As an example: I consider many of my students, though they haven’t earned any income with music yet and don’t have any desire to earn their income with music, more professional than some of the “professional musicians” I worked with.

Better than using “earned income with music” as a definition of what makes one a pro musician, it’s the criteria in the following list that makes one a pro in my book.
A professional musician:

  1. shows up on time
  2. is prepared for the lesson, rehearsal, jam session, recording session or meeting.
  3. is friendly and courteous.
  4. is fun and easy to work with
  5. is proactive in giving out cool ideas and suggestions to advance a project.
  6. is tactful
  7. leaves his ego at home
  8. is confident but never cocky.
  9. is focused.
  10. is flexible: can improvise and adapt on the spot to any situation.

The 2 most important ones in that above list are: “showing up on time” and “being fun to work with”.
One of the top teachers I had in Berklee College of Music, instilled the message in his students: “when you graduate here and you’ll be active in the music industry, always keep in mind that nobody really cares how many scales you know, how fast you can play, how great your improv chops are, or that you went to Berklee. If you show up on time and you’re fun to work with: you’re probably going to be the one getting the job.”

I thought it was striking that when you pay 100 grand to study at one of the top music schools in the world, that the most important message of that school is: show up on time, be fun to work with, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming very successful in the music industry.

The Excuses of The Amateur Mind.

I believe you live a richer life when you walk your journey with a pro mentality.

Whether you want to draw, or write some music, or go for a hike, or play tennis, or hang out with loved ones: do so with your full heart and mind, giving it all you have with the intention to make the very best of it.
That is the professional attitude.

All that being said: the following are things guitar teachers often hear from their students.

“I’m a perfectionist.”

There is nothing wrong with wanting to do the best possible job. That is admirable.
There is however probably something wrong with carrying the label “I’m a perfectionist” like it’s a badge of honor.
“Being a perfectionist” is not something to be proud about. Loving yourself and being kind to yourself, is. Doing a great job is. It doesn’t take a perfectionist to do a great job. On the contrary: it usually takes someone who’s not a self-proclaimed perfectionist.

It’s also interesting to note, that in guitar lessons, 9 out of 10 times a student says “I’m a perfectionist”, they say this right after they badly messed up a couple of times on something they should have been better prepared for (something that was assigned as homework for example).

So does that mean: “Hey I’m not performing well… but guess what… that’s because I am working very hard on trying to be the best I can be and getting it perfect, and that makes me play less well”?
Well: why would anyone want to be a perfectionist, if it makes you perform worse?

Don’t be a perfectionist and don’t use it as an excuse. We’re all just people.
The world doesn’t need perfectionists. Perfectionists are boring.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t always try to do your utmost very best. The world needs people who have tons of fun doing what they are doing, and who with that approach get super good at what they do, without putting unnecessary pressure onto themselves.
It’s all about having fun enjoying the journey or the process.

On a side note: I noticed that the people who don’t claim to be a perfectionist, usually get much better results than the self-proclaimed perfectionists.
It kind of defeats the whole purpose of being a perfectionist in the first place.

“I just do this for a hobby” or “I don’t really want to become a pro.”

There’s nothing wrong with uttering that you do music for a hobby or that you don’t want to become a professional. It’s probably a shame though when someone says things like that in a guitar lesson as an excuse of some sort after butchering a song due to lack of practice. In that case, it almost sounds a bit like the person is saying: “It’s ok to be mediocre”, using those statements to justify poor results.

The problem with such statements is that they easily turn into excuses, which keep the user from reaching his or her highest potential.
All of that is fine for someone who lives on the superficial surface of life or for someone who doesn’t have any ambitions: but that person misses out on the deeper colors, emotions, and feelings that come with living a deeper, more meaningful life with more profound life experiences.

Definitely not a pro attitude haha. 🙂

Moreover: even the most professional top-level musician still sees music as a hobby first and foremost. Music is always a hobby first. I teach 45+ hours a week, 52 weeks a year, and the only reason I don’t get burned out is that I still do it as a hobby too. Back in the day though when I was a student: I never showed up empty-handed to any of my lessons. I already was a pro, long before music became my income.

“I’ll give this a try”.

The attitude of “Trying” usually sets one up for failure. That is the whole reason why I don’t offer “trial lessons”. What does that even mean: “a trial lesson”? Is that like “an attempt to teach a lesson before you’ll teach the actual lesson”? Wouldn’t that be a waste of both the student’s and the teacher’s time and energy?

The “I’ll try” attitude sets one up for failure from the get-go, because it’s a mediocre paradigm that leads to mediocre results. It’s too easy to fall into excuses as: “Well… didn’t succeed but hey at least I tried, so I don’t have to feel bad about the failure”

As I like saying: there are 2 kinds of people:
There are the people who “try”…
and then there are the people who “do”
. Those are the people who get things done.

Would you rather hire the architect who will “try” to build your house… or hire the architect who will build it for you?


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