The most important character trait for musicians

Many character traits are important such as talent, passion, discipline, patience and perseverance. But there is one character trait that is even more important than these, what do you think that might be?

It’s commitment. Have you committed yourself to being a musician for the long haul and are you willing to make the personal sacrifices necessary to actualize your potential?

This applies to both hobbyists and aspiring professionals. Both need to be committed to lifelong learning and exploration and consistent practice.

In my teaching experience, those students who are the most committed end up being the most successful down the road. Their level of commitment gives them enough time with a good teacher to build a very solid foundation of all the fundamentals: note reading, intervals, scales, arpeggios, chords, repertoire and improvisation. After they’ve built the foundation, they can continue teaching themselves and exploring whatever interests them for the rest of their lives. They can do whatever they want and easily learn new genres of music because they already speak and understand the language of music. Are you committed enough to build a solid musical foundation?

On the other hand, there are many students that I’ve taught who are talented enough to be great one day but who aren’t committed and disciplined enough to learn music the proper way. They’re impatient. They’re looking for magic bullets and quick solutions rather than digging deep and making personal sacrifices. Instead of being committed, they are wishy-washy. They may try many different things for a short period of time but they don’t achieve great results because they are not committed.

Here’s what commitment looks like:

1- Setting a goal to practice at least thirty minutes a day seven days per week, and making the personal sacrifices necessary to achieve that goal.
2- Taking lessons for at least six months before evaluating your progress against your expectations
3- Saying “no thanks” to recreational activities when they interfere with your practice regimen
4- Persevering in practicing and continuing lessons when you encounter frustrating roadblocks

Is all of this easy? No, but it is a worthwhile ideal to work towards.

Copyright Scott Fusco, 2018. All rights reserved.


The Perils of Being a Self-Taught Musician

Over the years, I’ve instructed a lot of students who tried to teach themselves but didn’t get very far and ultimately gave up. Ten or twenty years later, now in their forties or fifties, the student comes to me willing to give it another shot.

While I’m happy that they’re trying again, it is sad to think that so many years were wasted. You wonder how good of a musician they could’ve been if they had started with a good teacher twenty years ago and stuck with it.

From working with these students, I’ve compiled a list of the typical weaknesses of the “do-it-yourself” approach. Now more than ever, with all of the recent technological advances, most guitarists are trying to teach themselves rather than find a teacher. This article will outline why this is a bad idea.


1- He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. Caused by a lack of knowledge and experience, the self-taught musician is akin to the blind leading the blind. He’s not really sure what he needs to do to reach his goals. He doesn’t have the wisdom to discern what is important and what is trivial. As a result of this, he tries a bunch of different things hoping that things will magically work out in the end.

2- Self-taught musicians never get any expert feedback on what they’re doing correctly and incorrectly. I may be able to identify three critical problems in under five minutes that a self-taught musician may never realize in their own playing. Or if he does make the correct diagnosis, he may not know how to fix it.

3- As a result of number one, he will often develop bad habits which could lead to a mechanical injury down the road or other problems. He may be holding the guitar improperly or have his wrist in a bad position. He may be playing a guitar that is too big for him or not big enough for him. Because he doesn’t have the ability to discern what’s good for him, he may struggle needlessly for years, never reaching his goals and ultimately giving up.

4- He tends to practice only things that interest him while avoiding things that seem difficult or superfluous. Few have the long-term vision required to diligently practice the more mundane yet very important aspects of musicianship, such as learning to read music.  As a result of these oversights, they never develop an understanding of the fundamentals of music. It’s like building a foundation on a house of sand.

5- Very few will make the effort to understand music theory. As a result, the self-taught musician may be able to play some music but he never understands what he’s playing.  A musician who can neither read music nor understand music theory isn’t much of a musician. He may be able to learn a song note-for-note off the internet, but he could never vary his approach to the music because he doesn’t understand the theory of how to do so. Therefore, he can never add embellishments to the music, perform chord substitutions or satisfactorily improvise over the chord changes. Put simply, he is stuck in a box.

6- The self-taught approach is less time-efficient than working with a teacher over a period of years. The reason for this is that showing up for lessons every week builds character, good habits and consistency over time, in addition to filling the students brain with a lot of new ideas and practical applications. A self-taught musician may practice whatever he wants, whenever he feels like it but a student working with a good teacher is following a curriculum from someone who already has the skills that they hope to develop. 

7- Self-taught musicians struggle playing with other musicians, in bands and ensembles. This is because they often don’t read music and don’t understand music theory. They also have less experience playing with other musicians. When you work with a good teacher, you are not just playing solo repertoire, but are also learning how to function in a band or ensemble. My students learn everything they could ever be asked to do including reading the melody, playing the chord changes, playing basslines, and improvising over the changes.

8- Teaching yourself is more difficult, and less motivating. This combination means that you’re less likely to reach your goals and more likely to give up.

If you’re thinking about teaching yourself, I strongly recommend that you find a good teacher and make a commitment to persevere in taking lessons for a long period of time.  The best way to think about the internet is that it’s a great resource for learning how to play the guitar; it’s a resource, not the method.

When you take a class in school, your textbook is a phenomenal resource but in and of itself it doesn’t teach you everything that you need to know.  It actually doesn’t “teach” anything.  It’s all on you to read and comprehend the material.  To make matters worse, you can’t ask your textbook questions and your textbook can’t give you feedback that helps you pinpoint exactly where you’re struggling. The resources on the Internet are a lot like your textbook. They can help you become a better musician as long as you understand their intrinsic weaknesses.

Copyright Scott Fusco, 2017.  All rights reserved.


Proper mindset for success

Successful students:

1- Possess the following character traits: perseverance, diligence, work ethic, focus, self-confidence, assertiveness, curiosity, patience, and consistency. They are critical of their playing without being self-critical. They believe that deficits in their playing can be fixed over time by working harder. They believe in incremental improvement. They believe that if they commit to the process of lessons and practicing, that gradually they will achieve mastery and success. They do not subscribe to self-defeating language such as “I just can’t do it,” “I’m not smart enough” or “I don’t have enough talent.” They believe they are “good enough” if they stick with it and work hard.

2- Make practicing a daily priority. Every day you don’t practice you forget a little bit of what you already know, your skills atrophy, you lose confidence and you lose the opportunity to get a little bit better that day. Successful students recognize that progress without practice is a myth. They recognize that the only way to build confidence is through practicing. They recognize the wisdom in practicing 30-60 minutes every single day. They understand that consistency, drills, and practice are the only ways the brain moves ideas and concepts from short-term memory to long-term memory.

3- Adopt positive and mature attitudes about themselves, their intelligence, their ability, and their goals. Successful students believe that their musical future is under their direct control. They believe that their intelligence and ability are “good enough” if they are willing to work hard and align themselves with the right teachers and mentors. They believe they will be successful if they earnestly stick with it.

4- Have a positive view of the importance of learning music theory. Would you expect to be a mechanic if you knew nothing about internal combustion engines or a doctor if you failed anatomy class? Then why would you expect to be a good musician without knowing anything about music? It makes no logical sense yet many people have these exact beliefs. They believe that theory has no practical applications (a complete falsehood) and that they don’t really need to understand it. They couldn’t be more wrong.

5- Don’t stop taking lessons for impulsive reasons. They recognize that there will be ebbs and flows in their music education just like everything else in life. There will be good and bad weeks. They understand that quitting does nothing but lower their future chances of success. They maintain their resolve and vision in the face of adversity.

Copyright, 2016. All Rights Reserved.