Music Mastery Practice Tips Newsletter, Issue 6

July 2009

I apologize for the long hiatus from this newsletter. As sometimes happens, life put my website on the back burner for a while as I finished my first year of teaching in my new school.

July actually marks the one-year anniversary of ThomasJWestMusic dot com - it's been an interesting year. The work I put into the site during the first six months has generated a modest but steady amount of internet traffic daily. Even with the six-month hiatus I still get traffic, so I intend to build and focus more in the coming year to bring the site upward. I intend to get back on track with monthly newsletters and weekly articles to the blog. I also have an exciting new online offering. See details below.

Recommendation of the Month

book cover
The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green is essential reading for anyone who studies any kind of musical instrument. After the success of his first book entitled The Inner Game of Tennis, Green applied his approaches to the study of a musical instrument and produced similar results. His book is designed to help musicians overcome obstacles, help improve concentration, and reduce nervousness, allowing them to reach new levels of performing excellence and musical artistry.

July Highlights

The following articles were the most widely-read on ThomasJWestMusic dot com in the month of July (so far):

Pitch Development: Exercising your "inner ear": "I can't carry a tune in a bucket" is a common expression of those who consider themselves unmusical. Having a "tin ear" is another common description. It is certainly true that individuals possess varying levels of aptitude in regards to their musical intelligence, however, just like mathematic or linguistic intelligence, every person can take their aptitude level as a starting point and work to build stronger skills in that area... Read more

Neurology Applied: How Science is Bringing Music Instruction Back to Expressive Development: You have between your ears the most advanced processor ever seen. With the advent of MRI, CaT scans, and now PET scans, neurologists have made amazing discoveries in just how amazing the human brain really is. Their research gives us clearer and clearer pictures of how the human brain assimilates new knowledge, practices that knowledge, and is amazingly flexible and pliable in its application. Read more

But It's Too Hard! The Myth of Difficulty: How many times in your life have you heard someone say, "I can't do it. This is too hard!"? It is practically the battle cry of any struggling student in any subject area. It is the mantra of those who were raised in a culture where success and failure continue to be taken personally. When I inevitably have a student tell me that a song they are striving to play on their musical instrument is too hard, I always give them the perspective that "hard" and "easy" are completely subjective terms relative to one's level of experience with any given task. Read more

Musical Atrophy: What Happens When You Don't Practice Your Musical Instrument: With the holidays approaching, most of us get a few days off from busy jobs to spend time with family. Students are off duty from school for an extra weekend this year, most not going back until January 5th. During that break, only the most dedicated music students will even touch their instrument, let alone get some productive practice time in. What happens to your playing skills, if anything, when you take 12 days off? Read more

Today's Practice Tip: Consistency

This may not seem like much of a tip, but the role of consistency in developing musical skill is paramount. Without consistency, results are minimal at best.

In any endeavor, whether it is music or another focus, a person who develops mastery is a person who has the desire and will to apply themselves regularly. "Talent" is a starting point only (I really despise the socially-accepted view of the word "talent" anyway, but that's another article.)

"Talent" is a Starting Point

"Talent," or more accurately, one's innate aptitude for a skill, is a starting point only for any aspiring musician. Someone with innate ability such as Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson is the exception to the rule. One's aptitude level determines only two major factors in music learning:

  1. It determines how quickly you can learn and master new musical concepts.
  2. It determines what level of skill and complexity you can eventually master.

"Talent" does not determine success or failure.

A few summers ago, I took a graduate course in Jazz Harmony and Arranging taught by accomplished jazz pianist Jimmy Amadie. In the course of the week-long course, Jimmy told many stories of his career and his rise to play with some jazz giants such as Red Rodney and Mel Torme. He said, "I didn't have much talent, so I had to practice ten times more than anyone else to get to the same place. In my early days, I spent as many as 12 hours a day at the piano."

While Jimmy's story is an extreme case, most professional performers practice 4-5 hours a day minimum despite their aptitude level. Why do such talented musicians need so much practice? One word: consistency. They are endeavoring to take away any variable in their performance. They are working towards total mastery of their craft.

How Much Does Consistency Cost?

Does this mean that you have to practice 4-5 hours a day to be consistent? Of course not, unless you plan on making enough money as a performer to be a career musician. Building consistency in musical performance is not so much about how much time you put into it, it is more about how frequently you put time into it.

During any practice session, the amount of effective time spent on the instrument is directly proportional to the players ability to stay focused and produce positive results. There comes a point for any musician where repetitions begin to produce diminishing returns - the longer one goes, the less progress each repetition gives them, to the point where repetitions actually begin to reverse progress and make things worse. This time varies from person to person based mostly on age and maturity level.

Whatever the length of time is that you can successfully focus and make progress, the key to consistency is making that practice session happen daily. It is the regular, consistent application of successful repetition that creates long-term consistency. Results happen over weeks and months, not days. The application of consistent focus and repetition gets you results over time.

The bottom line is that to develop consistency, one must have the desire to achieve that goal and the willpower to stick with the program when other temptations get in the way. But that's an article for a different day.


I am now offering online private lessons to any and all interested students - any age, any ability, anywhere you are. Lessons are taught using a webcam and Skype account. If you or anyone you know is looking for a quality private instructor for the summer or this coming fall, please have them visit for more details and to sign up! The first three webcam sessions are FREE for all new students.

If you recommend a student and they sign up for their three trial lessons, I will thank you with an American Express gift card. Only one card per person, regardless of the number of recruits you bring in.

TJW Online Private Lessons has a fan page on Facebook! If you're on Facebook, visit to join.

Until next time,


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