dramatic close-up of electric bass guitar - habits of excellence“If excellence is a habit (which it is), then students must consistently play in ways that are fundamentally excellent nearly all the time.”
-Robert A. Duke

Whether we’re practicing or performing, all of us musicians are striving for excellence.

But do students really know what excellent musicianship entails?

In The Musician’s Way, I classify the following 7 Habits of Excellence because I’ve learned that many students lack clarity about the nature of expertise.

When we embody these 7 habits in every practice session, excellence becomes our default setting in rehearsal and on stage: 1. ease; 2. expressiveness; 3. accuracy; 4. rhythmic vitality; 5 beautiful tone; 6. focused attention; 7. positive attitude.

Seven Habits of Excellence for Musicians

1. Ease

Easeful music making depends on particular mental and physical habits.

Mentally, we have to learn our material deeply and then, as we play or sing, grasp the sound and feel of passages before we execute them. Physically, we need to understand how graceful execution is accomplished in general and specifically with our instrument.

Topics related to easeful execution appear throughout The Musician’s Way.

2. Expressiveness

Pages 23-34 of The Musician’s Way map out the inner workings of artistic interpretation and incorporate diverse music examples.

3. Accuracy

How can we maximize accuracy? By insisting on precision from the outset of the learning process.

Chapter 3 of The Musician’s Way details a process for starting on new material that ensures expressiveness and accuracy from the first stages of practice. For an overview, see: “The Ultimate Practice Shortcut.”The Musician's Way book cover - cultivate musical excellence

4. Rhythmic vitality

Pages 31-33 show how we can use note grouping to imbue our phrases with irresistible forward motion.

5. Beautiful tone

“The quality of your tone will probably have a more immediate impact on listeners than any other feature of your execution” (TMW, p. 22).

We elevate our tone production skills through experimentation, self-recording, seeking feedback, and, most of all, listening perceptively.

6. Focused attention

Students who are unfocused in performance typically establish lax mental habits in practice. “Be alert in the practice room that your mindful radar never goes on standby. Always direct yourself with broad awareness” (TMW, p. 194).

7. Positive attitude

It takes time and diligence to acquire the skills of an expert performer, and all of us deal with triumphs and stumbles as we progress.

Committing to the Creative Process” (p. 109-112) affirms that we stay positive by setting specific goals, maintaining a degree of detachment, fueling our motivation, and arming ourselves with problem-solving skills.

“When we embody these 7 habits in every practice session, excellence becomes our default setting in rehearsal and on stage.”

© 2009 Gerald Klickstein
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