The Ultimate Guide to Imposter Syndrome for Musicians

“Well, that wasn’t your best performance. Come to think of it, is it ever? When are you ever going to Just. Get. It. Right.? Oh, and that clown who came up grinning at you and went on and on about how you rocked? He must have been drunk off his rocker.” If this sounds anything like the voices in your head, you may well be suffering from Imposter Syndrome (IS).

Perhaps you have had moments in your musical life when you have felt like a fraud or not “good enough”. Even after people have heard you perform, seemed to enjoy it and paid you a compliment – you still are not convinced and think “Yeah, but…”.

Perhaps you focussed on the small errors in the overall performance or you think the listener was just “being nice”, or, “They don’t know much about music anyway.” Maybe you think that you just worked harder than everyone else and that the really good musicians don’t seem to have to put in the same effort.

Well here are three bits of good news for you:

  • Firstly, you are wrong. (And it was probably a lot better than you give yourself credit for.)
  • Secondly, Imposter Syndrome is a behavioural response to a stressful stimulus. We can relearn our habitual response to that stimulus.
  • Finally: you are not alone!

You’re in good company

The High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone, had it too,

“The worst thing about that kind of prejudice… is that while you feel hurt and angry and all the rest of it, it feeds your self-doubt. You start thinking, perhaps I am not good enough.”

It’s not easy being an artist. Apart from fighting that “not good enough” feeling, struggling to make the music you want is a natural part of art. Just because you are struggling, and music may not feel “natural” in the moment, does not mean you are not good enough.

Perhaps this is a great place to start. Find a quote on “doubt”, “not good enough”, or “failure” by a musician you admire. You won’t have to search very long. Let this person be your role model. If they can fight through their Imposter Syndrome, you can too. Struggling through. Working through your doubts is a big part of art.

The Struggle of the Artist

Over to Billie Holliday:

“People don’t understand the kind of fight it takes to record what you want to record the way you want to record it.”

Know this: it is this struggle that sets you apart from everyone else. If it was easy, everyone would do it[1].

Instead of accepting the struggle, people with IS see themselves as failing and give up. Like Billie, your struggle to get your music the way you want it is a measure of your determination and hard work. Accepting the challenge of that struggle is what makes you an artist.

Table of Contents

1. What Imposter Syndrome Is

2. What Imposter Syndrome Is Not

3. A Very Brief History of Imposter Syndrome

4. Where Does Imposter Syndrome Come From?

5. What Type of Imposterism Might You Have?

6. Imposter Syndrome in Action – A Short Story From The Author

7. The Imposter Syndrome Cycle

8. The Imposter Cycle as a Vicious Circle

9. Avoiding the Imposter Cycle

10. Moving Away From Imposter Syndrome

11. Healing Imposter Syndrome in a Big Way

12. Language

13. Final Thoughts

14. One Last Exercise

What Imposter Syndrome is

Imposter Syndrome is the feeling of being a fraud, of feeling like a fake. It is the feeling of not being good enough and the fear of being “found out”. It is a false belief and a normal response to a stressful stimulus, or “trigger”. It affects capable people (that’s you!), including a whopping 70% of high-achieving senior executives[2].


The word "fraud" appearing behind torn brown paperRelying on others’ approval for our sense of worth is called “conditional worth”. And since we cannot control others, when we base our worth in conditions outside ourselves, we are never going to be in control of our sense of worth. This will be an ongoing cause of stress.

And this is what we want to change.

We want to internalise our sense of worth and associate it with our own values – not base it on the actions of others. When we can internalise our worth so that we are now in control of it, we have achieved unconditional worth.

What Imposter Syndrome is not

Imposter Syndrome is not low self-esteem, a lack of confidence, and incompetence. It is not a psychological condition – although, if left unchecked, in extreme cases IS can create psychological conditions such as depression.

Victim Mentality

Closely related to “conditional worth” is the tendency to identify with the condition – whether it comes from society, family, or even physical reality. When we identify with the condition, then we deny our power to change that condition, or change our own response to that condition.

In other words, we become powerless victims rather than responders and creators. How we choose to use our language can help turn this around.

So, Imposter Syndrome is something we have, not something we are.

IS does not define your identity.

Further examples:, it’s important not to say “so-and-so is dyslexic”, but “so-and-so has dyslexia” – because the person is not the condition. You do not say they “suffer from blindness” because the person is not a victim. You say “they have Imposter Syndrome” because it is but one attribute of an empowered person.

Can you see how changing the way we use language is a very simple and powerful tool to create change?

A Very Brief History of IS

1974 – Pauline Clance first uses the term Imposter Phenomenon in her research1978 – Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes publish the first paper on Imposter Phenomenon.

Initially, IS was believed to mainly affect women

1985 – Pauline Clance publishes the first book on Imposter Phenomenon and the Clance Scale[3]

2011 – Valarie Young publishes “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women”

IS is understood to affect all minorities and disempowered social groups.

2017 – An explosion of books about imposter syndrome on the market.

IS is understood to have the potential to affect everyone.

Because the surge in recent interest for IS has only occurred in the last three years, it would be impossible for any adult living in 2020 to have had the issue addressed as such when they needed it most, when it started to arise in childhood. What is the ultimate effect of IS on your music?

One of the things people with IS need to do is to deepen their connection to their success. We have to learn to stop giving away our achievements saying, “It was luck,” or “I know the right people,” or “I was in the right place at the right time,” or “They just happen to like me.”

Sure, those statements may be true. But those events represent an opportunity and if you do not come up with the goods, the same people will not offer you another chance.

“Luck” might open the door, but you still have to walk through it.

If they came back to you a second time, that’s not luck, that’s the reward for your effort to seize the opportunity you were given. Many people with IS are not good at taking time out to celebrate small victories.


Now is a good time to find somewhere secluded and quiet and take a bow, making a moment to savour your success. Did that feel a little cheesy to you? Perhaps you have difficulty accepting your success. Maybe deepening your connection to your success so it feels natural, not cheesy, is an area you need to work on.

Accepting our Success

So, if we as people with IS do not readily accept our success, what is it we are accepting?

We are accepting less than our full potential. Your last success is a stepping stone to greater heights in your next project. Not accepting this success will undermine you to take on your next challenge. By not acknowledging your success, you cannot become the artist you want to be.

Failure: The Ultimate Consequence of Imposter Syndrome on Your Music

“The only difference between practicing artists and failed artists is practicing artists have not stopped failing” (Bayles & Orland, 1993)

We are accepting failure as the outcome and allowing it to put a brake on our success. Why is it so difficult to feel success, to feel good enough? Because, as Stanley Kunitz said, “The poem in your head is always perfect.”

As Bayles and Orland point out, “the piece you make is always one step removed from what you imagined”. We could read that as “I have failed to produce what I intended,” as “I am not good enough, I am a fraud,” when our creative output does not match our vision.

In reality, this is but one interpretation of our vision.

Here’s another interpretation: errors are an opportunity to learn. You can take this learning as the seed for your next work (which is a point Bayles and Orland make). Their book is compulsively quotable and I’ll have to stop there before we get done for copyright infringement.

That can be your first assignment. Find a copy of “Art and Fear” in your local library, or better still, buy a paperback. If you enjoy it as much as I did, it will be scrawled-on and annotated within an inch of its life.

Failure in music does not lead to calamity

Some careers are very demanding and you need to be perfect every time. If 99% was good enough for air traffic controllers and doctors, 11 planes would crash daily at JFK International Airport, and the NHS in the UK would have 200 failed operations per day. Thankfully, no one is going to die if we, as musicians, play a wrong note. If we are measuring our success by these life-or-death standards then we need to rethink our attitude towards failure and mistakes.

In one of Frank Zappa’s last interviews during his 1993 Salad Party when he was recording with Johnny “Guitar” Watson, the Chieftains (a traditional Irish band), and Huun-Huur-Tu (a Mongolian folk band) he said,

“I’m experimenting – it doesn’t have to be good.”

Check out Frank Zappa’s back catalogue – the sheer volume of music must be second only to the Grateful Dead. Most Zappa fans will admit not all of that mountain of music can be great. Zappa knew that too. He saw every opportunity to make something as a moment to learn, to grow. The world needs more Zappas. Let’s grow Frank Zappa’s attitude.

The last word on failure goes to Marilyn Monroe,

“Just because you fail once, doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything.”

So this is what we want to do in this guide:

  • rethink our attitude to “good enough”,
  • reassess failure as a consequence of IS,
  • rethink failure as an opportunity to learn and grow,
  • understand where our imposter syndrome came from, and
  • have a look at some strategies to give us long-term behavioural change so we can enjoy the success we truly deserve.

IS creates a mindset where you feel you are “not good enough”. When you feel “not good enough”, you set up an expectation that you will fail. It becomes your belief, a self-fulfilling prophesy. As Henry Ford said, “Believe you can or believe you cannot, either way you are going to be right.”

Before we dive into strategies we can use to combat IS, let’s see where IS came from so we know the enemy.

Where does Imposter Syndrome come from?

As is often said, “you were raised by humans”. This is not a blame game levelled at our parents. Blame is a disempowering victim mindset. We want to take control of all our actions and blame has no role here. The humans who raised us were also raised by humans until we go so far back that we were raised by very hairy humans. We can be the first generation since we came down from the trees to break the cycle. How empowering is that?

Imposter SyndromeOur IS came from a basic survival need. When we were vulnerable infants, we depended on our parents for our survival. This affected us in two ways, conditional worth and labels. They both set the expectations we imagined others had for us.

To increase the chances of making it through Darwinian selection, we needed to win our parents’ approval and conform to family and social norms. We did this by ensuring that our actions would maximise our acceptance and survival. Your parents did the best with what they had and encouraged you as they thought best. This process of measuring your worth to win the approval of others was learnt in your infancy.

Attaching a sense of self, your worth, to the reactions of others is where we get into conditional worth. Conditional worth is external to you and therefore you cannot control it.

In contrast, unconditional worth is the complete internalization of your sense of self so that you are no longer dependent on the response of others for your feeling of worth. Your actions are in complete alignment with your values and not the values you imagine others expect of you. According to Tara Halliday, only 1 in 100,000 people develop unconditional worth unaided. To kick our IS habit, we need to develop unconditional worth. It is a long road, but if you don’t start it, you won’t get anywhere.


Labels are just as bad. Parents, to make us feel special and give us a unique place in the family, use them. Some of the most common labels are,”The smart one”, “The talented one”, “The musical one”, “The funny one”. I’m sure you get the idea and perhaps you can think of some different ones that were used in your family. While it is great that our parents wanted us to feel special, giving us a label meant we had to live up to the title because this is why our parents thought we were special. This was how we won acceptance.

How Does IS Affect Other Areas of your Life? Other People?

Do you avoid speaking up at work? Do you avoid taking on extra responsibilities at work?[4] If the fear of being found out at work is stressful, how does that affect your physical and mental health? How does it affect your relationships if you are not able to fully relax from the anxiety of returning to work? In extreme cases, IS can lead to dependency issues and depression. This is when some people with IS may need to go beyond a guide or coach and talk to a psychologist or counsellor.

What Type of Imposterism Might You Have?

Not all IS is the same. With different childhoods, we were presented with different ways to win approval and developed our own strategy to maximise our conditional worth. As adults, this became a pattern of behaviours which is identified as an imposter type. Valarie Young has identified five imposter types:

  1. The perfectionist,
  2. The natural genius,
  3. The expert,
  4. The sole-trader, and
  5. The superhero

1. The Perfectionist


The Problem

Setting overly high standards can make you very difficult to work with. Maladaptive perfectionism prevents us from adjusting our behaviour in the face of evidence. It sets impossible standards and undermines our happiness by considerably adding to our stress.

A Solution

Try and redefine what you mean by 100%. 100% gets the job done and keeps everyone happy. This is not lowering your standards. Chasing the Shangri-la of perfection will never end, and you will never feel satisfied. In fact, the fear of making a mistake can create paralysis leading to procrastination.

2. The Natural Genius


The Problem

“If it doesn’t come naturally, leave it” – so sang Al Stewart on “Year of the Cat”. The next line goes, “She may have been wrong, she may have been right”. Fortunately, she was wrong. Although, to be fair, a lot has changed in our understanding of the brain and learning since this album came out in 1976. Thankfully, Anders Erickson, Caroline Dweck, Terry Sejnowski and others have debunked the myth of the “natural genius”. says, “Competence is the quality of being competent; adequacy; possession of required skill, knowledge, qualification, or capacity.” Skill, knowledge, qualification and capacity do not happen overnight. They take time and effort. In fact, early bloomers can hit a wall and fall by the wayside mid-career. Barbra Oakley notes this in her book “How to Learn” when discussing chess prodigies. It was the B grade child chess players (not the A grade) who went on to become chess grandmasters. The B graders had to struggle to build mental models to solve problems. As the game became more challenging, B grade players had a problem-solving toolbox that the A grade players did not. Eventually the B grade players outpaced the prodigies. This outpacing by the “almost rans” was not because of natural talent but because of hard work. “Tortoise and Hare”, anyone?

A Solution

Just as with the Perfectionist, you need to accept that making music is a process. The final performance is a product but 99% of the time you are in preparation to get there. 99% of the time you are a work in progress. Try and shift your mindset from perfect product to progressive process. This makes the task durational and not a moment in time.

If you can accept that tasks rely on the process of time to progress, then you can accept that you will grow into the end point from the starting place. You will have accepted that learning is a necessary part of success and this debunks the natural genius theory.

Thus, less rides on any one moment. This is a powerful mental shift.

The Expert


The Problem

One of the hardest things in producing a research thesis is knowing when to stop researching and start writing. This is for a number of reasons. The most important one for us is “Do I know enough to do it?”

A relentless chase for knowledge can be a cloak for procrastination.

Procrastination covers for fear of failure. So admonishing yourself for not knowing enough to get started is just another way of avoiding failure. The Decision Education Foundation define 100% information as “having enough to get the job done”. Any more is a waste of effort. Leading advisors, who charge large consultancy fees, consider themselves experts with 60% specialisation in their field. The other 40% they learn and research as they need to.

In academic terms, that’s not even a first class honour!

Real experts learn as they go. They cut themselves some slack. Becoming an information addict is a real thing – it’s called KAS, or Knowledge Acquisition Syndrome. There is a very real chance that you will disqualify yourself from a great opportunity if you discount yourself for lacking minor skills. Just like the Perfectionist, in the overall picture, this small skill probably does not matter. Or if it does, you can find someone who can help you.

A Solution

Find a self-taught role model. Many successful musicians worked it out as they went along and built their expertise through effort, trial and error.

Look at the debut album and more mature work of artists you admire. What do you notice? How have they grown? Sure, there will always be one-hit wonders. Leave them out and look at someone who has left a legacy. Bowie is a great example. His last album “Black Star” completely redeems his mid-career Tin Machine debacle. So are the Beatles, they were always changing and growing. Compare “Please, Please Me” to “Abbey Road”.

Mr. or Ms. Solo (Napoleon or Han, your choice)

The Problem

The feeling “I have to do it all – or at least know how to do it or I am not the real deal” is very common. “Delegation is for sissies!”

When interviewed about his debut solo album Dream of the Blue Turtles, Sting said that it is not a solo album. There was so much expectation for his first album after The Police broke up, that to get it the way he wanted, more people worked on it than on the final Police album, Synchronicity.

Ask Ed Sheeran how many people helped him get to where he is now. He comes across as a genuinely humble guy. I’m sure he would be sending out thanks like pellets from a rapid-fire pump action shotgun.

Would you have started to learn music if you had not heard a piece of music that resonated with you? Of course not. That initial influence shows us we are never alone. We are always influenced by one another.

The Solution

Identify the people who can complement you. What did The Band do for Dylan? “The Last Waltz” is still one of the greatest rock documentaries ever made. Learn to collaborate. Who can complement the skills you lack? What would Jagger be without Richards, Lennon without McCartney, or David without Bacharach?


The Problem

We can be heroes, just for one day“, sang David Bowie. But as a long-term strategy, you’ll be a Space Oddity and burn up on reentry, Major Tom.

Trying to be the hero, being all things to all people, all the time, and doing it all at the same time won’t end well. The power of multitasking is a myth. So much research has debunked it. Do one thing at a time well and then move on when you have finished. That’s how successful people manage multitasking. They also ask for help when they need it.

A solution

Research the career of a person you admire. How do they manage all the things their success requires of them? How do they juggle those roles without dropping the ball? You probably do not need to go as far as Bob Dylan (who has his own historian-in-residence for his website, Sean Wilentz) but you probably could do with a little help from your friends.

Imposter Syndrome in Action – A Short Story From The Author

This is a story about a friend of mine and maybe you can relate to it. HB is a good friend and one of the best musicians I know. When we were in college (doing what college kids do), HB would join us from time to time but outside of that she put in long hours playing music, writing songs, and honing her craft. She produced music while we went to the bar and produced a hole in our pockets. She would play open mic nights around Dublin and as her stage craft improved, her performance got better and better. She began to regularly win open mic nights and used this as leverage to have agents come and listen. She eventually got a contract to make an album with an option for two more. She was paid an advance. This was everything she wanted – an opportunity to be a professional musician, being paid to do what she loved the most. A dream come true.

Woman with guitar

But then everything changed. Now she was not doing an open mic where the audience attended for free. Instead, she was playing support for established acts and people were paying to come to the gig. Instead of playing for a couple of hundred people in a bar, she was now playing for a few thousand in a concert venue. HB felt this as a huge pressure. She had to give people their money’s worth, and meet her perception of their expectations. What if they didn’t think she was any good? What if she wasn’t “good enough” to support the main band? What if people saw through her and realised she didn’t really know what she was doing? (she really did use the phrase “not good enough”).

What had changed?

HB was still the same person. Her dedication to music and proficiency earned her the attention of an agent, a contract, and professional concerts. These seasoned professionals believed in her. Why did she now feel differently? When playing as an amateur, HB was playing for herself, writing songs and enjoying the creative process without having to meet anyone else’s expectations. Her worth was internal. Once she became a professional, her worth was no longer tied to herself, but depended on what she thought other people thought about her. Her worth became conditional on external events that she could never control.

The important point here is HB had not changed, but her perception of her worth due to a new challenging environment had. That created her IS. This was back in the ’80s, and no one knew about IS. HB dropped out of music after the first album and got a job working as a personal assistant for a famous musician. Perhaps your experience of IS is not so severe – but we would all still be better without it.

The Imposter Syndrome Cycle

Imposter Syndrome is a vicious circle – a bit like getting on a merry-go-round in a Stephen King novel, with Pennywise[5] the Clown as the ticket collector. Thankfully, there is a way to get rid of your personal Pennywise and get off the merry-go-round.

An Imposter cycle is initiated by a habitual response to a trigger and it starts with a feeling of anxiety (fig. 1).

Habits are like the gravity of thoughts. Like gravity, even though we do not constantly think about them, they affect everything we do. To produce a new behavioural response (Fig. 2) takes time and effort to break the habits of a lifetime. And it is a lifetime, because for most of us our IS patterns were learned in childhood.

As we learn to understand this cycle, we will see the actions we can take in our thoughts:

  • Take ownership of our success
  • Understand why and how we react with IS (not all people react in the same way to triggers)
  • Make a plan for change

Let’s explore the Imposter Cycle using HB’s story.

IS cycle 1

Fig. 1

The Imposter Cycle as a Vicious Circle

For HB, the new challenge[6] of professional concerts created the anxiety due to the false belief that she had to live up to someone else’s expectations. Prior to that, her music was for herself and she did not feel any obligation towards other people. The new challenge made her sense of worth conditional to the response of others. The closer the professional performance got, the more she dwelled on an imagined outcome. This became a fear of failure and possibly undermined her ability to be at her best, even though she might still have performed well. HB completed the task as the support act for the main band, believing that anxiety had prevented her from being at her best. Even though the performance might still have been really good, she evaluated the performance from an imposter’s mindset.

Her evaluation was built on assumptions filtered through the lens of her Imposter Syndrome, and failed to look at the real evidence:

  • the audience’s response,
  • the actual experience of the people who contracted her,
  • the time it takes to learn to work in a new environment, and
  • most importantly, the skills that had earned her success had not changed!

Failure to accurately evaluate her ability skewed HB’s perception of herself and created the fraud feeling. This meant that when the next new challenge, the next support gig, came she was no better prepared to deal with it than she had been the first time around. The stress of constantly feeling not good enough in front of music venue audiences became too much and she dropped out.

In the end, she did what so many musicians with IS do – she got a para-music job. A job not as a musician but within the music industry, close to what she loved but felt she could not participate in, working as a PA to a famous musician.

Avoiding the Imposter Cycle

Had HB been able to recognise situational anxiety triggers, she could have chosen to act differently, to develop a new behavioural response and avoid the IS cycle.

IS cycle 2

Fig. 2

This would have been easier had she internalised her values so that she had unconditional worth rather than leave her worth in the hands of others. To be calm in the moment and avoid or lessen anxiety is easier said than done. But it is easier if you have a stress reduction habit (see below).

Get off the merry-go-round

Reducing that initial rush of anxiety is important to avoid the first step of the circle.

  1. Recognising triggers,
  2. Developing new behavioural habits,
  3. Internalising our values,
  4. Having a stress reduction tool box, and
  5. Accurate self-evaluation

are the five elements you need to get off this horror film merry-go-round.

The story continues…

HB sought coaching to work through her Imposter Syndrome and has since learnt to see it for what it is, a self-undermining set of beliefs. While she has family commitments and cannot give up the day job, she is making music again. Because high-quality digital recording is affordable on a modest budget, she has been able to make professional demo tracks at home. Having worked for so long in the rock industry, she knows heaps of people to call on for advice, encouragement, and introductions.

The remaining two albums of her deal have long gone. But she is determined to bring out some of the music she should have and keeps telling me, “It’s better to have been a “has been” than a “never has been”.”

Moving Away From Imposter Syndrome

For the rest of this Guide, we will discuss some general strategies to help you with IS. This is not a complete list and does not go into specific exercises you might need to address the various imposter types. That would go far beyond the scope of a short guide. However, there are many good ways to get started right now.

6 Small Steps

Here are a half-dozen steps to take to move you away from IS and into a more satisfying, whole experience of your musical journey:

1. Take the Test

The peer-validated Clance Scale, designed by Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and published in 1985, is still the standard for IS assessment. Print the Clance Scale here.

You do not need to think deeply about the answers. Go with your instinctive response and add up the numbers. If you fall in the top bracket, you may want to consider help beyond this guide.

2. Stress Relief

The anxiety and fear due to IS can have an effect on stress, which can bubble up in several different ways. We can fight or flight or freeze. We can inappropriately seek power, approval, and safety. We can make an IS trigger a disproportionate drama or seek to escape from a situation rather than deal with it by sweeping it under the proverbial rug. Stress behaviours come out as lying, attacks, avoidance, playing the victim, and being needy.

The three strategies below are to help you get relief from low-level stress. If your stress is acute or in any way unmanageable, please seek help from a professional.

3. Meditation

Daily 10 to 15 minute guided meditations are a great way to take a little time out in your day. The simplest ones start by focussing on your breathing. You can then move on to physical sensations and after that working with emotions. YouTube has heaps of guided meditations and here is Deepak Chopra’s on Spotify to get started with:

4. Light-focussed exercise

Aerobic exercises are great, and light-focussed exercise is to complement them, not replace them. Exercises such as Tai Chi or Qi Gong are a great way to focus on and develop an awareness of our physical self.

5. Self-hypnosis

This would be a strategy I would only recommend after you are comfortable with meditation and are able to achieve a state of relaxation. The state of relaxation we want to achieve is similar, but what we want to do with it is very different.

6. Celebrate your Success

It does not have to cost a lot of time or money. What is important is the acknowledgement and ownership of your achievement. I like to take time out, go to a coffee shop, reflect on the successful completion of my project, and think about my next move while enjoying watching the world go by. Total cost, one double espresso and 30 minutes. The bigger the project, the bigger the celebration. If I’m feeling particularly flahoolic, I go and buy a secondhand LP.

Healing Imposter Syndrome in a Big Way

Next, we’ll look at two larger, very effective strategies of greater consequence.

Goal Setting and Imposter Syndrome

The ways and habits we’ve built around getting things done can have a large impact on how we perceive our success – or lack of it. Let’s have a look at how we can set and achieve goals with more confidence, helping us to a clearer perspective on where we are in our musical journeys.

SMART PURE CLEAR is a goal system designed by Sir John Whitmore, the father of modern coaching. This is a common acronym for healthy, successful goal setting. And looking at the five types of imposters above, it is clear we do not always set healthy goals for ourselves.

That’s an easy one to fix.

George Harrison sang, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do.” Fine. So let’s make a map and work out where we want to be at the end of this process. Write a SMART PURE and CLEAR statement for your current goal in music that will help you to feel happy and fulfilled.

14 points in a goal may seem excessive. However, it’s not as excessive as the unreasonable demands you put on yourself when you don’t think through your goals properly. If your goal is particularly long-term and complex, you may want to consider chunking it into subgoals, stepping stones, to help you get there.

The 14 points of the goal keep each of the imposter types in check:

1. Specific

Include as much detail as you need to remove all ambiguities so that in 6 months you can read it and still know exactly what it is you want to achieve. Could someone who does not know you understand exactly what it is you want to achieve?

2. Measurable

How will you know when you have reached your goal?

3. Attainable

The goal is not aspirational but is founded in reality. Making a list of your past successes will help you here. Is this a challenge that will push you to be your best while at the same time has a reasonable chance of success? (Not too easy and not too tough.).

4. Resourced

Do you have access to what you need? People, materials, funds, information, and time?

5. Timed

When will you have it done by? If it is a big goal you may want to break it into subgoals and create ‘time’ staging posts.

6. Positively stated

Say “I want to be successful” instead of “I do not want to fail”. Positive statements move us towards something, are more proactive and therefore empowering. Negative statements can reflect a victim mindset. The human brain is not very good at processing negatives and sees ‘want to fail’ in the second statement – actually reaffirming a desire to fail. Can you think of other ways to use language to empower you further?

7. Understandable

Can someone else read your brief goal and understand what it is you want to achieve?

8. Relevant

In 1, 5, or 10 years time, will this goal have furthered your level of fulfilment and happiness?

9. Ethical

Is everyone who is affected by the goal respected?

10. Challenging

As well as being attainable, the goal also needs to challenge you so you have a sense of achievement and growth after completing it. If we have done it before it’s not a challenge. Ask yourself, what is new here? Where is the learning? How will I grow?

11. Legal

Hopefully this one is self-evident. If not, perhaps you should consult with a lawyer.

12. Ecological

Does the goal respect the environment it is operating in? This is not just the “green” environment, but also the social environment too.

13. Agreed

Are all parties who are connected to the goal’s implementation (and need to sign off on it) in agreement?

14. Recorded

Do you have a record of all the above points to save confusion, disputes and wasted time later?


The way we express ourselves is intimately connected with how we think and feel.

We can change our thoughts, attitudes, and emotions simply by being mindful with the language we speak. This is where affirmations can be very useful. After a good practice session tell yourself, “That went really well! I nailed _______ and made good progress with _______. If I did it once, I can do it again.” Acknowledging triumphs is an important step to owning them. And if your next session does not go so well, remember when you said “If I did it once…”

The Three Languages in Alignment

We use three languages when we communicate:

  1. verbal language (words),
  2. para-language (intonation), and
  3. body language (gestures and expression)

When all three work together, our communication is consistent and believable. And if they are not?

What if Kool and the Gang performed “Celebration” in a minor key at half the tempo? You probably wouldn’t believe them. It would sound like a funeral march. Or if they come back on stage for an encore mumbling “Thank you, we’ve had a wonderful time tonight” in a monotone with hunched shoulders? You’d think they were only in it for the money. More importantly, you won’t believe yourself if you do the same. The inconsistency will make you feel like a fraud.

The solution is to learn how to physically present yourself so you are the person you want to be. Body language accounts for 66% of our communication, para-language (intonation, speed, pitch and so on) is roughly 22% of how we convey meaning, and verbal language about 12%. This is such an easy thing to fix – and often overlooked. It’s like melody, harmony, and rhythm get these three language elements working together and you’ll get results. As Fun Boy sang, “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, and that’s what gets results.

So when you experience success, hold it in your body. Sit up, be alert, and savour the moment. New habits (depending on the source you read) can take at least 21 days to replace old responses. So this can feel awkward for quite a while. Go with it, and your body will begin to reflect your musical success.

Language Discourse

This is a huge area and goes far beyond the scope of an introductory guide, but here are a couple of things you can do to get started:

1. Use verbs actively.

Instead of “He upset me”, say “I am upset by…..”. In the first example, the hurt is done to you. You have no choice. You are a victim. In the second, as the subject, you are choosing to be upset. It is your response to a stimulus. You are now empowered and it is up to you to choose the response you want.

As an aside, this is one parents use a lot. “After everything I have done for you, this is how you thank me – by upsetting me.” Apart from making the parent look like the victim, they are also giving their child a generous helping of guilt and fueling their own IS.

2. Eliminate Negatives

We mentioned the human brain does not process negatives. Here is another example: saying “Do not walk your muddy shoes on the floor” to a child has the effect of saying “Walk your muddy shoes on the floor”, because our brain processes the simpler command, leaving out the additional negative context. It would have been better to say, “Take your shoes off at the door.” You will be met with a much higher level of compliance.

Apply this to your musical practice. For example, instead of reminding yourself not to hit the wrong note or not to play a fuzzy barre, tell yourself the specific note you positively want to play and how you want to play it, or that you want to play a clear barre.

Processing negatives is just one aspect of directional language. Instead of moving people away from the muddy floor, move them toward the action you want: “Take your shoes off”.

Here is a story about someone who used to be an eternal job hopper. The job he had was never right, the boss was a pain, the conditions were wrong, whatever. Everytime he left the job it was because he didn’t like it. He wanted to move away from the job rather than move towards one he really wanted. This made his CV look non-committal and better jobs to move to became harder to come by. A much better strategy is to emphasise what it is you do want (SMART CLEAR PURE) over what you do not want. You will find happiness much faster.

Final Thoughts

Through this guide, you have come to appreciate what Imposter Syndrome is and how it affects a huge number of musicians to varying degrees. You are not alone. Probably everyone has a little Imposter Syndrome in them, and you have read quotes by some very famous “imposter” musicians. It’s not all bad – if you have IS you are a fake fake! You are better than you give yourself credit for. That’s a fact. It’s people with Dunning-Kruger Syndrome[7] who are the real fakes. They are the people you do not want to be stuck in an elevator with.

Mindset switch

Mild Imposter Syndrome’s nagging doubts will keep you on your toes and push you to be your best. It only becomes an issue when it stops us from enjoying and owning our success. It can also be a major reason as to why some musicians quit playing. This is where recalibrating your mindset is important. You have seen how many celebrated musicians reinterpret failure as learning and experimentation. Without that openness to embrace mistakes as an opportunity to learn, we cannot grow.

At its worst, while Imposter Syndrome is not a psychological condition, it can contribute to the development of disorders such as depression. If your score on the Clance Scale was low, it’s possible that this guide is all you need. If your score was at the mid-to-high end you might like to consider working with an Imposter Syndrome coach, and if your score was very high, it may be a good idea to seek help from a professional.

You saw that your imposterism has been with you a long time, since childhood. This is not to blame our parents, as they too were raised by humans – and when they were raising us, Imposter Syndrome was not widely understood, if understood at all for those over 30.

Imposter Syndrome is not one-size-fits-all. Each person expresses it according to their own recipe blending the various types of the Perfectionist, the Natural Genius, the Expert, the Soloist, and the Superhero to create their own unique cocktail. The route out of this is to:

  • Start accepting and owning your success, and
  • Make your worth unconditional on external events (look at strategies to internalise your worth through your values)

Next, we looked at the Imposter Syndrome Vicious Circle through the example of HB and discovered how to get out of it.

The final part of this guide introduced you to eight exercises to help you start to deal with your Imposter Syndrome. This is a journey, a process, and you will not fix it in a day, a month, or a year, but with steady work, just like music practice, you will see steady improvement.

If you are a Musical U member, there is a dedicated Imposter Syndrome discussion. Feel free to post your comments, celebrate your success, and see how other members are getting on.

One Last Exercise

This very last exercise is to help you assess your improvement. Take the Clance Scale again after a month. Then take it after 6 months, and then again after a year. Plot your scores on an XY graph (Score|Time). Tracking your improvement is probably the best way to know you are on the right path.

When taking the test in the future, do not look at your old scores in advance. Take the test and think about how you feel and behave now. As before, add up the score. How have you changed? Celebrate those improvements. This improvement is also your success. Be reasonable with accepting your success. A five score will not go to one or two in a month, but it can go in the right direction and that is what you are looking for.

Cut yourself some slack and enjoy the ride!


[1] That’s one of the things that is troublesome about the notion of talent. “You are so talented” reads as “It came easily to you. If it came easily to me I’d do it too.” The statement dismisses all your hard work. Playing an instrument was never going to be easy. It took hours and years to get there. It’s also an admission of laziness by the speaker. K. Anders Ericsson’s ‘Peak’ and Geoff Colvin ‘Talent is Overrated’ are both worth reading on this topic.

[2] If 70% of Fortune 500 executives express feelings of IS, then I think we can cut ourselves some slack.

[3] You can find the Clance Scale in the exercises at the end of this guide.

[4] Not speaking up and asking for your worth has big consequences. Not thinking you are good enough and not asking for a $50 per week raise over a 40 year career will cost you $100,000.

Or if you avoid taking on responsibility and that promotion, the costs of foregoing that paycheck could be even higher.

[5] Pennywise is the Clown from Stephen King’s novel “IT” who steals children. He has “an ancient cosmic evil”. Which is probably the only qualification he needs to be the driving force behind your negative thoughts.

[6] The stages of the cycle have been italicised in the text to highlight them.

[7] In some ways Imposter Syndrome and the Dunning-Kruger Effect are equal and opposite sides of the same coin. People with IS believe they are not good enough when in reality they are very competent. People with Dunning Kruger believe they are competent when in reality they know and can do very little. In fact, the main talent people with DK have is being blind to their own ignorance. These are the real fakes. People with IS only hurt themselves while people with DK run the risk of compromising everyone around them.

Hugh McElveen founded InterroBang to bring problem-solving and sustainable decision-making skills to organizations and individuals, helping empower communities and build better futures. Also a speaker and author, Hugh has published and spoken on a wide range of topics including digital technology, art, photography, sustainability, leadership, communication, and – of course – imposter syndrome.

The post The Ultimate Guide to Imposter Syndrome for Musicians appeared first on Musical U.

Meet the Team: Zac Bailey

Even before creating a rap group with his cousins at a young age or launching his DJ career at 17, Zac Bailey was unstoppably drawn to music.

Now a seasoned DJ and producer using the moniker ZSonic, Zac explores a cocktail of genres – hip hop, funk, ambient, disco, juke, jungle, to name just a few – in his Skratching practice, a technique that uses turntables as an instrument to create brand new music out of existing records via manipulation of rhythm and pitch. You’ll have to see it to believe it – the resulting music is a groovy, layered, and always very danceable marriage of records you’d never expect to go together.

Zac Bailey is all over Musical U. A guiding and encouraging force in our community forums, Zac also has a hand in courses and lessons development, creating audio tracks, our Musicality Now podcast, social media, and customer support.

Zac gave us the low-down on his musical beginnings, his many musical endeavors, and his all-encompassing love of dance. Dig in!

Q: Hey Zac! Before we dive into your current music practice and your role here at Musical U, tell us about your musical background. What is the origin story of ZSonic?

I’ve always loved dancing to music. Both of my parents saturated me with lots of different music from a young age. My first concert was Paul Simon on his Graceland tour. I believe I was about 5 years old. I had a dance contest with my dad. I asked some ladies in the crowd who they thought was a better dancer. They chose me. Still one of my proudest moments!

My first music video was with my cousins, Lisa and Anna. We went by the L-A-Z rappers. This was in the late ‘80s – I’m pretty sure my aunt still has video footage.

I started DJing when I was 17. We had an open lunch at my high school, and I lived close enough to go home for lunch. I would often practice DJing and dancing at lunch, and then just not go back to school. I had a DJ setup in my room along with a big linoleum square on top of the carpet for bustin’ dance moves. Why would I want to go back to school?!

Korg Kaoss Pad 3

Korg Kaoss Pad 3 Dynamic Effect / Sampler

Over the years I’ve DJ’d in many different capacities. I’ve DJ’d at bars, clubs, raves, house parties, weddings, and proms. I’ve DJ’d in many types of bands: Afro Beat, abstract techno, metal, funk, jazz. I’ve even DJ’d for rappers and poets.

One of my favorite ways to DJ is combining turntable skills with live synthesizers and drum machines. The first time I did this was with an MPC 2000XL, Roland Juno G keyboard, Kaoss Pad KP3, two technic 1200s and a Rane mixer. I called it “Project RAW!”. It was dark, abstract breakcore, jungle and hip-hop. Had a lot of fun with that!

I’m currently working on a performance using a loop station with a keyboard and turntables and vocals. It will be very dancey and fun. Funky and smooth.

Q: Such a cool setup! I love that you combine turntables with hardware.

What would you say helped you develop your passion for music as you continued your career?

My dad was always listening to new music of all kinds of different genres. I love listening to music with my dad! He helped shape my eclectic taste and gave me an appreciation for all kinds of music. We attended live concerts quite often. I’ve always felt really at home with the energy of a live show. Experiencing live music has always been my favorite thing.

Dancing to lots of different music has helped me through lots of difficult times in my life. Dancing has also helped me celebrate many joyous times in my life. When I started to understand the power of connecting with music, especially through dance, I began to dig deeper into more music.

Being a DJ is really great because listening to new music all the time is part of who I am. Being able to create an experience, where others feel comfortable dancing with people they’ve never met, to music they’ve never heard has really fueled my passion for music.

Q: Your musical expression encompasses several instruments and various gear – which is your favorite one and why?

I use a DAW for recording, composing, sound design, and mixing. I love synthesizers and drum machines. I love anything that makes noise. In foods class, I used to play the sink and the drawers. Sometimes I’d throw in a spoon or a cheese grater. If it makes sound, I can make a beat out of it. Mrs. S wasn’t always a big fan of her cooking class turning into a hip-hop jam. But it’s what I do. Can’t stop the funk.

The turntable is my favorite instrument. I dabbled in many instruments but never stuck with any of them until I discovered the turntable. The turntable is cool, because you gotta have records. Part of the experience of utilizing the turntable as an instrument is listening to lots of records. That makes listening to records even more fun.

Using a technique known as Skratching, I can take any piece of a recorded song and turn it into a whole musical universe. By manipulating rhythm and pitch in real-time I can take a bass note or a snare or half of a word in a lyric and make infinite combinations of rhythm, dynamics, pitch, and articulations. The limitation of a pre-recorded piece of music or sound opens me up to rhythms and expressions that I wouldn’t come up with on any other instrument.

This creates a really cool practice cycle for me where everything I learn on the turntables I aim to apply to my keyboard, singing, and musicality practice. In turn, everything I learn in my musicality practice I apply to the turntable. The turntable creates a reciprocating learning process that really helps me boost my practice results.

And being able to do really cool stuff on a turntable blows people’s minds 10/10 every time. Which makes me feel awesome!

Q: Skratching seems like it blends boundaries between genres by design to create entirely new music. How would you personally describe your music?

Retro ‘90s dance party from the future. Synth-funk hip-hop house party. Disco juke jungle freakout. Chilled out grooves. Ambient explorations of time and space. These are some of the categories of mixes and productions I’ve made over the years.

Q: You’ve spoken of a deep love for dance and dance music. How does dance figure into your musical expression?

One time a producer friend of mine told me, “To make a good dance song, you have to go to the dance circle in your mind”. It’s really easy for me to tell if a song is good, because I’ll be able to dance to it. I go to the circle in my mind. If the music I create makes me want to dance, I know I’m on the right track.

There have been times when I was at a show and my friends and I would be exhausted from dancing. We’d flop down in some chairs with our water bottles and say, “Dude, That was so funky!! I couldn’t possibly dance anymore.” Then… the DJ would drop a song that would get us right back on the dance floor. That boost of energy, the unshakeable urge to dance is the experience I want to create for people.

James Brown said, “If there’s one thing that can solve most of the problems in the world, it’s Dance.”

Q: As a turntablist, your chosen musical genres incorporate many unique structures for both learning and competition. Can you talk about this more? How does it influence your musicality?

It’s a lot of fun!! Before discovering turntablism, I took violin lessons and piano lessons briefly as a kid. I never stuck with them. I tried learning harmonica and bass on my own with books and CDs. Didn’t stick with that either. I thought that stuff was cool, but it didn’t build a fire inside of me.

I really started to connect with music on a deeper level when I started to DJ. I spent years listening to and buying new records all the time. Listening to a vinyl and reading the liner notes, reading the lyrics along with music. Learning who recorded and mastered the music. Seeing the effect that playing great records has on other people. All of this stuff stoked my musical fire.

Spending the time to cultivate your love of music will create a fertile environment for learning that will yield a thriving practice.

Before I ever knew anything about active listening or ear training, I would just listen to music, either recorded or at a live show. I would often close my eyes and just feel it, and dance. I don’t always listen to music that makes me dance. I’ve listened to lots of “turn off the lights and put on your headphones” sort of music as well.

Playing records also made me fearless about sharing music. As a DJ and with lots of DJ friends, I am constantly looking for new music that gets me excited so that I can share it with my friends. Sometimes I’ll hear a record and be like, “Yes, Brandon needs to hear this!” When you and all your friends are constantly getting excited about new music and sharing it with each other, it’s magical.

Once I started getting gigs, and was able to listen to new records and think about specific people I knew would be on the dance floor, it made listening to music even more fun. It’s so cool to hear a song and just know people are going to love it!

The competition element is great because the hard deadline of competition really leverages my focus. When I have a battle coming up, it’s not hard for me to practice 4-8 hours a day, easy.

I could just practice all day. I have learned so many practice strategies from turntablism that I would not have thought of with other instruments. The joy and passion I have built from years of listening to records made it fun and easy to practice DJing all day.

The focus and practice strategies I’ve gained from DJing have really been helping me with my keyboard, musicality, and composing practice.

Q: What’s your favorite track these days?

There is actually a hilarious timing on this question. I’ve been listening to the Rick Astley album “Whenever You Need Somebody”. I’ve been trying to decide which song is my favorite off that album. It’s so hard!! According to Wikipedia, 6 of the songs were released as singles. But all ten of them are #1 hits in my mind! I’ll let you know if I can narrow it down to just one.

One song I have been loving for this whole year is “Someday” by CeCe Rogers. CeCe has a beautiful voice and he always has a positive message. I feel everyone should listen to “Someday”. And then go listen to all the CeCe Rogers albums.

Q: What advice would you give aspiring musicians to gain their own musical power?

Listen to lots of music. Spending the time to cultivate your love of music will create a fertile environment for learning that will yield a thriving practice. People always enjoy seeing me perform, and it’s 100% because I love it so much. When I’m dancing and feeling good, it makes other people dance and feel good and that ripples outward. If you’re dancing and feeling good, you’re doing it right.

Q: I love that approach – joy is such a powerful driving force for music, and I love that you center it in your practice.

Could you tell us a bit about your work at Musical U?

I assist the Musical U students on their musical journey, especially in the Foundations of A Musical Mind course. I went through Foundations as a student almost 2 years ago, before joining the MU team. The things I learned in Foundations still continue to serve me. I use solfa and stick notation and beat blanks and hand signs every day. This really helps with my singing and composing practice and my DJing. I love being able to assist new students on their journey into their own Musical Mind.

I also work with the team to develop the Musicality Now show as well as lessons and courses for the Musical U site.

Q: What is your favorite part about working with the Musical U team?

There are a lot of amazing things about working with the Musical U team. Everyone I work with is awesome and kind. The Musical U community is amazing. I’ve learned so much from interacting with the Musical U members. All of the Resident Pros blow my mind. Before I started working with Musical U I was listening to all 100 episodes of the Musicality Now FIXME LINK Podcast Powerpack. When I started working with Musical U, one of my first duties was to quality-check the Podcast videos. Every single guest has given me an epiphany. After listening to over 100 podcast episodes, I have stacked up at least 100 juicy nuggets of musicality. I would estimate in the range of 300-600 total juicy musical nuggets (at least!) from over 100 guests. It blew my mind that, not only do that many amazing people exist, but they can all appear on the same show!

Working with Musical U has allowed me to spend all of my time around music and people who love music. Music is my favorite!

Music As A Life Mission

A lifelong and all-encompassing love of music has lead Zac down a fulfilling, unique, and decidedly funky musical path – from dance contests with his dad to DJing in countless contexts, honing his craft in competition, and channeling the power of dance as a guiding light to prolifically create fresh, inspired, and genre-defying tracks.

What is your musical path? What is your guiding light?

The post Meet the Team: Zac Bailey appeared first on Musical U.

Q&A How and why should you do ear training for scales

New musicality video:

Scales… Most music learners think scales are just an exercise you’ve got to do as part of learning your instrument. But did you know there’s actually a whole area of ear training dedicated to scales?

In fact there are two! In this clip from the archive of live member Q&A calls at Musical U we talk about these two types of scale ear training and how each can help you.

If you want to get more out of scales and ear training, don’t miss this episode.

Watch the episode:

Links and Resources

How to Make Scales Less Boring :

Music Theory You’ll Love to Learn, with Glory St. Germain :

About the Power of Solfa :

About Scales and their Flavors :

How to Improvise For Real, with David Reed :

If you enjoy the show please rate and review it!

Join Musical U with the Special offer for podcast listeners

Let us know what you think! Email:


Learn more about Musical U!


Musical U


Tone Deaf Test:

Musicality Checklist:



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Q&A How and why should you do ear training for scales

Q&A How and why should you do ear training for scales

New musicality video:

Scales… Most music learners think scales are just an exercise you’ve got to do as part of learning your instrument. But did you know there’s actually a whole area of ear training dedicated to scales?

In fact there are two! In this clip from the archive of live member Q&A calls at Musical U we talk about these two types of scale ear training and how each can help you.

If you want to get more out of scales and ear training, don’t miss this episode.

Watch the episode:

Links and Resources

How to Make Scales Less Boring :

Music Theory You’ll Love to Learn, with Glory St. Germain :

About the Power of Solfa :

About Scales and their Flavors :

How to Improvise For Real, with David Reed :

If you enjoy the show please rate and review it!

Join Musical U with the Special offer for podcast listeners

Let us know what you think! Email:


Learn more about Musical U!


Musical U


Tone Deaf Test:

Musicality Checklist: 



Subscribe for more videos from Musical U!

Q&A How and why should you do ear training for scales

Q&A: How (and why) should you do ear training for scales?

Scales… Most music learners think scales are just an exercise you’ve got to do as part of learning your instrument. But did you know there’s actually a whole area of ear training dedicated to scales?

In fact there are two! In this clip from the archive of live member Q&A calls at Musical U we talk about these two types of scale ear training and how each can help you.

If you want to get more out of scales and ear training, don’t miss this episode.

Watch the episode:

Enjoying the show? Please consider rating and reviewing it!

Links and Resources

Enjoying Musicality Now? Please support the show by rating and reviewing it!

Rate and Review!


Stewart was pointing out that some people have been asking about scales. Maybe I’ll just give a quick explanation of how we view scales inside Musical U because it’s maybe not the typical approach which hopefully is a good thing. We talked in the previous call about how to make it interesting to practice scales. This is because if you’re learning an instrument, scales are probably a big part of your life particularly if you’re learning in the traditional semi-classical approach like ABRSM or the Trinity Exam Board. Every exam, you have a set of scales to learn and your teacher is probably drilling you on your scale practice and they are valuable for sure particularly for that instrument technique.

But when it comes to the inner skills of music, the stuff we focus on at Musical U, it becomes a bit more confusing. People aren’t always sure what they should be doing for scale ear training for example, what they aren’t sure how to bring the theory of scales to life and how to make use of those instruments skills they’ve been learning. If you found yourself in that boat, let me just briefly explain why scales are useful, in terms of listening skills and how we approach it at Musical U so that you can get the benefit of those training modules. Scales are useful as a framework. This is what’s often lost in the instrumental approach to scales where you use them as an abstract exercise but you never really apply your use of scales.

You learn the fingerings and that might make it easier to play a piece in that key, but they’re always a bit arbitrary and abstract and that’s why a lot of people find them quite boring and why we were talking previously about how to make your scale practice interesting. But in terms of what you hear in music, scales are really to be thought of as a framework and they can reveal a lot about what you’re hearing in music and give you a headstart on some of the more practical skills like playing by ear or improvising. They are an important topic but you need to approach them in the right way for them to be useful. If you take our ear expansion scales module, you’ll see we split scale listening skills into a couple of categories.

The first is identifying different types of scale. As an instrument player, you may know major scales and minus scales. You probably know a few different types of minor scale and you might not know a lot more than that. Maybe if you’re a guitarist you’ve learned the minor pentatonic. You might’ve learned a blues scale or a few other more esoteric scales but, fundamentally the thing here is just to know that there are different types of scale. The different types have different purposes. For example, if you’re writing a song in a major key, you’ll probably use the notes from the corresponding major scale, similarly, in a minor key.

Or if you’re improvising in a certain style like blues guitar, you might pick the corresponding scale, well not corresponding but the suitable scale like the minor pentatonic can be great in blues. The different scales have their different contexts in music and that means learning to recognize the type of scale by ear can be very useful. That means, in the first instance if you literally just hear the scale note by note, you can recognize, okay, that was major or, okay, that was a minor pentatonic. But more practically, it means when you hear a melody or an improvised solo using the notes of that scale, you can hear, okay, that was a melody based on the minor, or the natural minor, or the pentatonic.

Then that gives you a really big headstart in figuring out what those notes were, if you wanted to write them down or play them on your own instrument, or use them as the basis for your own improvisation. Learning to recognize different scale types, that’s something we cover in our training module called scale recognition. It’s really useful just because it gives you that big headstart. If you hear a melody and you want to play it by ear, rather than thinking, “Every note could be literally any note on my instrument.” You think, “Okay, these notes are all from the minor pentatonic.” That narrows it down considerably. You start to hear how they fit into the scale and so that gives you another clue as to which notes you should be playing on your instrument when you play by ear.

That’s the first area, recognizing scale types. I just touched on the other secondary of which is learning where the notes fit into the scale. We’d call this scale degree recognition meaning you recognize which degree of the scale one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, the note you heard was. This is more sophisticated. It takes longer to learn. It’s very closely, excuse me. It’s closely related to interval recognition because one way to think about to is you’re trying to hear how far each note is from the root, the tonic of the scale. It’s very closely related to solfa at the Do-Re-Mi system we were talking about at the start of the goal, because solfa really is a way of associating each degree of the scale with a meaningful name, which helps you tune your ear into recognizing them.

Inside Musical U, solfa is actually the approach we take to scale degree recognition. Most of our modules so far are focusing on the pentatonic scale because that’s very widely used and it’s a great first step. Our new score to sound with solfa module covers the major scale too. If you want to be able to hear a melody, for example and know more than just, okay, that’s a major key, or that’s using the minor pentatonic. If you want to very quickly move to playing by ear or transcribing, you’re going to want to recognize not just that the notes are all from a certain scale, but which notes from the scale each note is. solfa is a way to do that because when you hear the notes in the melody, you hear, okay, that was Fa-Fa-Mi-Mi-Re-Re-Do.

Then you know in C major, that would be F-F-E-E-D-D-C. That gives you a very quick shortcut to playing them on your instrument or writing them down or whatever you might like to do. Those are the two areas of scale training you can do really in music. We do separate them out a little bit in Musical U. If you’re thinking about scales, if you’re training, I’d encourage you to think a bit about which of those is more useful to you. In general, you’d probably want to start with some scale type recognition so that you can clearly spot major from minor and spot pentatonic versus a full diatonic scale, just because logically that’s the first step before you try and figure out where the notes fit into the scale. But you can also go directly to solfa if you know you’re mostly going to be playing major key songs, maybe that’s a quicker route for you.

As always, if you have any questions around this, feel free to post in your progress journal and myself with someone in the team will be more than happy to help. Hopefully that addresses the questions Stuart was raising there about scale training. It’s not something we focus a lot on just because it’s a means to an end. You could spend endless hours learning to recognize each and every type of scale each and every mode of each scale. But realistically for most people’s musical lives, you want to be able to recognize a few different types, like major, minor, and pentatonic and you want to be able to start to recognize the degrees of those scales which is why we focus a lot on solfa inside Musical U.

Enjoying the show? Please consider rating and reviewing it!

The post Q&A: How (and why) should you do ear training for scales? appeared first on Musical U.

Q&A: I sometimes get the notes wrong when I sing – what can I do?

New musicality video:

Do you sometimes get the notes wrong when you sing?

At Musical U we strongly encourage every music learner to sing because of the huge positive impact it has on your musicality – but what if you find you just can’t get the notes right? Here’s a clip from the archive of live member Q&A calls at Musical U where we talk about just that.


Watch the episode:

Links and Resources

How to Learn to Sing in Tune :

Finding the Notes Yourself, with Sara Campbell :

About Singing as a Tool :

How to Sing Smarter, with Meghan Nixon :

Singing that Sounds Good – and Beyond, with Davin Youngs :

All Things Vocal, with Judy Rodman :

The Instrument Inside You, with Ben Parry :

What Your Voice Can Do, with Jeremy Fisher :

Find and Make Peace with Your Voice, with Nikki Loney :

About the Power of Solfa :

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Q&A: I sometimes get the notes wrong when I sing – what can I do?

Q&A: I sometimes get the notes wrong when I sing – what can I do?

Do you sometimes get the notes wrong when you sing?

At Musical U we strongly encourage every music learner to sing because of the huge positive impact it has on your musicality – but what if you find you just can’t get the notes right? Here’s a clip from the archive of live member Q&A calls at Musical U where we talk about just that.


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Member Kim, who has been with us for a while and been making good progress, I think. She has been working on her singing and she posted a couple of questions this week that I thought were quite interesting for most singers in fact. I think Kim would probably classify her herself, she’d probably say a beginner, but I think she’s really intermediate. I think she is quite capable once she knows the song, but she has some concerns over finding the right notes. And so she posted two questions this week that I wanted to pick up on because I think they’re of interest, not only to our dedicated singers, but actually to all of our members who are working on singing a bit and trying to get control of their voice for general musicianship purposes. Kim came with two different questions that I think are boiled down to the same key point in a way.

She was saying she has trouble sometimes knowing if the note should change or not. When you have a melody and it has repeated notes, sometimes you can hear that the notes are repeated and sometimes it seems like they change and vice versa. If you have a melody where the notes change a bit, sometimes you think they repeat. And so I think she was finding some of the songs she sings, she was just getting that wrong. And she changed the note when it’s not meant to change or she’d stay on the same note when it was meant to change. And so she was wondering how to get around that. And the second question she had was sometimes she just misjudges how much the note changes. Yes, it should move to a different note, but she jumped too far or she didn’t jump far enough. Those were the two questions and I wanted to just discuss them both a little bit.

The first one, knowing whether the note changes, I don’t want to give a solution here, but I do want to dig into this question a bit and explain why it’s tricky. The human voice is one of the most distinctive and unique instruments. It is unique, clearly, but it has certain characteristics that really set it apart from other instruments. One of those is that it has totally variable pitch. If you go down and sit at a piano, whether or not the piano is in tune, each key plays a particular note. A trumpet would be the same. To some extent a guitar is the same if you just play the frets of the guitar. The instrument is designed to produce set pitches.

Our voice is not like that. You really have to train your voice to hit the notes dead on because our natural speaking voice goes up and down in pitch very continuously. You can slide totally up and down in pitch across all of the notes. And there are other instruments that can do that. For example, a guitar that I just mentioned, you can play slide guitar or you can pitch bend the strings. An instrument like a violin that doesn’t have frets on the fingerboard likewise has a continuous pitch range. But it is something that’s very distinctive about the human voice. And it means when you listen to a voice singing on a recording, it can be very tricky to know if the note is staying the same or going up a bit. And that’s actually amplified, it’s multiplied by the fact that we’re generally speaking. We’re not just singing ah or la, we’re speaking lyrics and words and we’re speaking them with emotion. And actually you can hear it when I just said emotion, my pitch changed slightly. I didn’t say emotion. I said emotion.

And when you listen to a singer, that kind of inflection to give expression to the words and the changing of words can make it very hard to know is the pitch of the note changing? Or is it just the way the singer is singing the note? And so I wanted to just clarify that because it’s not as simple as listening to a guitar and knowing is the guitar changing note? When you listen to a human singer, it can be very subtle to know whether their pitch is intentionally changing and the note is changing or whether it’s just the sound of their voice that’s changing and that can mislead you. That’s why it can be tricky and it can be tricky. And I wanted to reassure Kim that she’s not alone in this. It sounds very simple, is the no changing or not? But it’s not that simple. It is subtle when it comes to the human voice.

And so that leads onto the second question. How do you know how much it’s moving by? And this is why I didn’t want to give an answer to the first question because it’s essentially the same as the second question is, is this moving a little or a lot? It’s just an extension of is this note moving? There are a few factors here. Knowing how much a note is changing in pitch is what we call your sense of relative pitch. It’s knowing the pitch of one note relative to another one. And there are the two fundamental tools we use to train ourselves for this, are intervals, interval recognition. You’ll find a lot of interval modules inside Musical U and the solfa framework, which is, it’s not quite, those aren’t two completely different things. They are very related, but they are the two ways we tend to think about relative pitch. You can recognize the intervals, or you can think in terms of solfa and scale degrees.

And we have modules for both of those in Musical U. Knowing how much a melody is moving in pitch is tricky because melodies, most of the time, move by small steps. If you take most songs you know, there will be leaps, there will be jumps, but for the most part, it’s going to move in step wise motion. Half steps or whole steps, which we also call tones or semitones or major and minor seconds. These are literally the smallest intervals we use. And so when you’re listening to a melody and trying to hear how much the notes move, it can be tricky because the chances are it’s moving only by quite small amounts.

And this is what brings us back to the first question of, is it moving at all? Once you throw in the inflection of the human voice and different lyrics, a semitone difference, a half step can be very similar to just kind of changing the tone of your voice to express anger or frustration or excitement. The melodies don’t always move that much in pitch, so that can be hard to hear. And when they do leap, those big intervals can be quite hard to distinguish. Hearing the difference between a perfect fifth and a minor sixth, it takes a lot of practice. And when you’re talking about a leap in the middle of a melody, getting the accurate both in your ear and your voice, it’s tricky. Again, just to reassure Kim, this isn’t a unique problem. This isn’t a strange problem to have. This is a normal part of what comes with learning to sing.

This does take practice and the big point I wanted to make is it takes practice for a particular song, for a single song and in the big picture. My main piece of advice, I think to Kim and to other people in her situation, is to remember it does take practice to master even one song. You have to be a very good singer before you can pick up any song and sing it well, straight off. Most singers will spend most of their career choosing a new song, spending weeks, days or weeks, practicing that song, learning to master those changes in pitch and those leaps in the melody. And then they will feel like they can sing that song very well.

And the more you do this, the more you practice individual songs, the better your big picture skills become, the quicker you are at learning new songs and the easier it becomes to pick up a new song and actually sing it well straight off. Which ties back funnily to our to score to sound module that I was talking about at the beginning, that ability to pick up a new sheet of music and know immediately and be able to perform immediately how it should sound.

This is a process. Even if you’ve been singing for a while, you shouldn’t expect yourself to be able to sing any song and always get every note right. It does take time and it takes dedicated practice for each song, not just dedicated practice day to day.

Let’s break down the skill a little bit, because there were a few different bits and it’s really useful to understand what you should be training. It’s not just learn a song, try and sing it, see if you get it right or not. There are a few component skills here.

The first one is your ears. If you can’t hear what the notes should be or what the notes are when you listen to a song, you don’t really have much hope of getting it right. Your ears are really fundamental. And the modules I talked about before the intervals and the solfa modules for relative pitch, really focus on that ear skill. Can you recognize, is this interval different from that one? Is this leap in pitch the same one you heard a moment ago? Or is it a slightly smaller one or a slightly bigger one? Honing your ear skills, honing your sense of relative pitch to be very accurate and reliable is really the foundation for being able to sing accurately and reliably. That’s the first area, your ear skills. And like I said before, we have dedicated modules for this. It does take practice, but it gets easier with time.

The second area is your mind’s ear. And Kim actually posted a follow up comment a couple of days later that talks specifically about this. It’s the skill we call audiation, the ability to imagine music in your mind very vividly. It’s very closely related to musical memory and the more accurately and vividly you can imagine music in your mind, the easier it becomes to then perform that music yourself. And again, you can kind of see it logically. If you can’t hear it clearly, you won’t be able to imagine hearing it clearly. And if you can’t even imagine hearing it clearly, you don’t really have a hope of singing it clearly. And so the trap a lot of singers fall into and maybe Kim was having trouble with this is, you expect yourself to shortcut the entire process. And so you hear a song and you sing the song. And in reality, what’s happening is you hear the song and your ears need to do what they should. And then your mind’s ear, your imagination needs to imagine yourself doing what you should and then your voice needs to do what it should.

And the voice is the third of those three areas I mentioned. Once you can imagine it vividly in your mind, you need to bring it out through your voice. And that sometimes comes naturally, but it doesn’t always. And this is what we call vocal control. And you’ll find we have a dedicated module for this in Musical U with some practice exercises, because it does take time. It does take work. Like I said before, the human voice, it doesn’t have keys. It doesn’t have buttons you can press to produce each note. You need to train your voice, when I want to sing this note, my vocal chords need to be here. When I want to sing a note one step above that my vocal chords need to be here. And obviously you’re not quite thinking through that, but fundamentally you’re training yourself physically to hit those notes dead on and to know what it feels like and what it sounds like to sing a whole step or a half step.

Those are the three areas, your ear, your mind’s ear or audiation and your voice. And like I said, a lot of the problems come when you try and shortcut the whole process and you want to go straight from hearing a song on the radio to singing it yourself and you start getting the notes wrong and it’s very hard to know why or what you should do about it. And what tends to help is to break it down into those three steps and to ask yourself, “Okay, are my ears really up to scratch? Can I hear easily and reliably what the intervals or what the solfa degrees are in that melody? If so, can I then imagine that? Once I’ve heard the song on the radio, if I ask myself an hour later to imagine that song again, do I get kind of a blurry version of the song? Can I imagine each note very clearly in my head? And if not, I need to practice that area. And finally, once I can imagine it vividly and remember it vividly, can I bring it out through my voice?”

And the interesting thing here is if you’ve got those first two steps, the third one actually isn’t that tricky because you’ve got what you need to get the notes right. You may not get it right first time, but you know in your head how it should sound, you can listen to yourself, sing it and you’ve got kind of a feedback loop there that lets you quite quickly train yourself to get it right. And you can make this easy by recording yourself and literally listening back. Or you can do it in the moment just by listening to yourself sing. But as I said before, if you’ve skipped those first two steps, you’re a bit stranded because you get it wrong and you might not even realize you’re getting it wrong until someone tells you or you listen back to the recording. Whereas if you’ve put in those first two steps, it’s very easy because you know you’ve got it wrong and you know if it’s too high or too low, because you can hear in your head how it should sound and you can hear in the real world how it does sound.

If you take it in that three step process, it becomes a lot easier and a lot more, I don’t know, it’s a lot less intimidating. You feel a lot more secure because you know, okay, I know how it should sound, I know how it does sound, I know how to fix it. And I think that would maybe go a long way for Kim who was in this situation of starting to hear that she wasn’t getting it right. And that’s fantastic. If she was aware of that and she was conscious of this being her problem. And now it’s just a matter of her practicing to slowly hone in on getting it right first time. And again, I just come back to what I said was my main piece of advice for her, which is to remember, you need to take each song one at a time and not expect too much of yourself on too many songs at once.

She gave a few examples of songs she’s been working on where she knew she was making a mistake and my advice would just be to pick one of those and really hone in on it. And practice just that section. This is a common thing in choirs or in singing lessons. If you take singing lessons with a teacher, just pick the one bar where you make the mistake and sing that one bar for 10 minutes or however long it takes you to reliably hit those notes. And go slow. Partly the problem is if you’re trying to sing the song at full speed, your brain doesn’t have a chance to think through what it needs to. If you take it a bit slower, bring the tempo down, you have a bit more of a chance to imagine the notes before you sing them.

And in Kim’s case, it seems clear she knows how it should sound and she knows she’s getting it wrong. And so I think just slowing down and spending a bit more time practicing those tricky spots, she’ll be able to pause before singing the note that’s always hard, imagine how it should sound and then sing the right note. And if that last step is tricky, we have the vocal control module that gives some exercises to help you hit the notes dead on first time. But I think that overall process of honing in on the problem spots for just one song and thinking in terms of those three steps, your ears, your mind’s ear and your voice, will make it a lot easier for Kim to quash those problem spots and more and more hit the notes right first time, rather than feeling like she’s jumping too far or not far enough or singing the same note when it should change or vice versa. I think that overall framework should really help her nail them.

I hope that’s useful for anyone else who’s hit this problem before of kind of singing notes wrong and not knowing quite why. If you break it down into those steps, you should be able to pinpoint, oh okay, my ears are fine, but I can’t really imagine the music so that’s why I can’t sing it. Or I can imagine the music, but I can’t quite hit the notes right, I need to work on my vocal control. And so on. Just having that framework can go a really long way from what I’ve seen.

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Q&A: If playing music is like speaking a language – what about harmony?

New musicality video:

If playing music is like speaking a language, how should we think about harmony, or playing two hands on piano?

Learn the answers in this clip from the archive of live member Q&A calls at Musical U. Enjoy!

Watch the episode:

Links and Resources

About the I, IV, V and vi Chords –

Choose Your Words Carefully, with Glory St. Germain (Ultimate Music Theory) –

In Perfect Swinging Harmony, with The Quebe Sisters –

Introduction to Chord Progressions –

What can you already play by ear? Harmony & Rhythm? –

How To Sing Harmony Like A Pro –

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Q&A: If playing music is like speaking a language – what about harmony?

Q&A: Why use headphones and what kind should I buy?

New musicality video:

Did you know that wearing good headphones is one of the easiest ways to improve your ear training? Why is that – and what exactly makes a pair of headphones “good”?

Learn how to choose the right headphones to level up your ears in this clip from the archive of live member Q&A calls at Musical U. Enjoy!

Watch the episode:

Links and Resources

About the Ear Training Trap –

About Active Listening –

About Listening as the Route to Musicality –

What Is Ear Training? (and why does it normally fail?) –

Wired For Sound Part 4: Headphones –

What are the best headphones for ear training? –

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Q&A: Why use headphones and what kind should I buy?

Q&A: If playing music is like speaking a language – what about harmony?

If playing music is like speaking a language, how should we think about harmony, or playing two hands on piano?

Learn the answers in this clip from the archive of live member Q&A calls at Musical U. Enjoy!

Watch the episode:

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So the first question, the one I mentioned was just quite interesting, was when I had come in via a private message earlier this month. So I won’t say who it was asking because they chose to make it a private message rather than a discussion. But it was one of our pianist members on Musical U and they were asking a slightly unusual question, which is music is a lot like language, so we often use this analogy that learning music is like learning a new foreign language, or that playing music is a bit like speaking a language. But this member was wondering, that’s all well and good, but what about when you have harmonies? What if I’m playing piano and I have my left hand and my right hand, how does that relate to speaking a language? Because obviously you can’t speak two languages at once.

And I had to think about this before answering because it is a slightly thought-provoking question. And in the end, what I came down to was that language is an analogy we use for music. It’s a useful analogy. It can help us understand some concepts, but it’s not a perfect analogy. Music is its own creative art form, and I think we all know it’s not as straightforward as speaking a language. It’s not as simple, maybe, as speaking a language. And so we can’t always expect that analogy to be perfect, but there are a couple of ways we can think about this particular question of how does harmony relate to music as a language.

So one way to think about it is that harmony, the obvious analogy is we have multiple people talking at the same time. So just like you have your left hand and your right hand on piano, or you might have a guitar player and the bassist combining their sounds for a harmony that matches. Language can be a bit like multiple people all speaking, and if they aren’t coordinated, which would be like if we had musicians not playing in the same key, for example, or playing from completely different scales, or not being in sync with their rhythm, it would be a hopeless jumble. If you have five conversations going on around you, it can be quite hard to tune into any one of them. Or if you have two people asking you a question at once, you have to really pay attention to answer one and then the other, and you can’t answer them both at once.

So when people are speaking at the same time and it’s not coordinated, it makes a big mess, and the same is true in music. That said, if people are coordinated, we know from music that that works. When we talk about harmony, what we normally mean is multiple voices contributing to something that works, something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. And the same can be true of language. So if you think about a crowd who are chanting a slogan, if they’re at a protest rally saying, “Down with the something something,” or a crowd of football fans at a match saying, “Come on Arsenal,” and they’re all chanting at the same time, and they’re chanting the same thing, that’s very analogous to music. So it’s almost like they’re chanting in key whether or not they’re speaking at the same note. And they certainly are aligned in their rhythm. And so we can see there even in language, there is the opportunity for a form of harmony or a form of working together like that. So that’s one way you can think about it, that your left and right hands are kind of working together and coordinating, even though they might be saying different things.

The other way to think about it, which is a slightly more heavyweight analogy, is that actually when we speak a language, it’s true that we can only say one thing at a time. We can only speak a certain sentence, and we can’t say two sentences at once, but actually that’s not the only way we communicate. So if we’re communicating with someone there’s also our facial expressions, there’s gestures, like I just inadvertently made with my hand. We move our bodies, we move our faces in particular. And that communicates as well as the speech. And if anyone who has studied body language knows that the amount of information you can receive from someone through their speech and their body language can be much greater than the speech alone. And you know, we all have an instinct for this. When we speak on the phone, we’re conscious that we don’t always quite understand someone as well as if we saw them in person. There are also situations where you kind of can tell from someone’s body language or facial expression that they don’t quite mean what they’re saying, or they’re saying something, but they mean it as a joke. Which doesn’t necessarily come across on the phone when you only have the voice.

And so that’s, in a way, analogous to harmony and music in that we are communicating with someone in multiple ways at the same time, even though only one of them is speech. So that’s maybe a bit more analogous to singing and playing guitar at the same time. But that is an example of harmony. And it’s maybe less clear-cut to see that your left and right hand on piano is a bit like that. But if you held up a written message on a piece of paper and you showed someone the message while speaking to them, you could be saying two completely different things at the same time. And you could, if you wanted to, coordinate those in a harmonic way. So I thought that was quite an interesting question because we do so often turn to this analogy of language for music. And it can be helpful and thought-provoking to think about that, and to think about where are they comparable, and where actually does that analogy break down, and what can we learn about music from thinking about that?

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