How to Stop Doubting and Start Performing, with Brent Vaartstra

Have you ever wanted to get out there and start performing? Maybe solo at an open mic night, maybe getting involved in the local blues jam, maybe starting or joining a band – or even going out and getting paying gigs as a live performer.

If so, you might have found yourself in the situation many of us do: our skills are up to scratch but we’re still not ready. Emotionally, mentally, psychologically, we just have some kind of barrier that stops us from taking the plunge.

Today on the show we have a returning guest, our friend Brent Vaartstra from the Learn Jazz Standards podcast, and his new show, Passive Income Musician.

When Brent was with us before, we talked mostly about jazz and improvisation, but today we wanted to dig into something different with him: what it’s like to be a gigging musician. From the practicalities to the juicy mindset stuff that can make the difference between sitting alone at home practicing by yourself for the rest of your life – and getting out there and sharing your music with the world confidently in a variety of musical situations.

Brent shares some really valuable insights and actionable tips, including:

  • The number one most important thing to do in advance of a session or gig
  • How to handle a new and intimidating performance situation, especially as an introvert
  • And we talk about “Imposter Syndrome” – that psychological phenomenon where you continually worry you’ll be found out as a fraud – even when you are actually good enough for what you’re doing – and Brent shares his six tips for overcoming it.

We loved having this opportunity to draw on Brent’s expertise and wisdom beyond the world of jazz, and we know you’re going to find a ton of valuable stuff here, especially if performing is part of your musical life – or you wish it would be!

Listen to the episode:

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Brent: This is Brent Vaartstra from Learn Jazz Standards and the Passive Income Musician and this is the Musicality Podcast.

Christopher: Welcome to the show, Brent. Thanks for joining us today.

Brent: Thanks for having me, Christopher. Excited to be here.

Christopher: Yeah, I should say welcome back to the show, really, because you are one of just a select few who is a returning guest on the show. I’m psyched to have you back on.

Brent: Thanks for having me back, man. I was worried you wouldn’t ask me back.

Christopher: Well, it was a recent episode of your new podcast, the Passive Income Musician Podcast, that prompted me to reach out and get you back on the show because you were talking about something super interesting there, which we’re going to cover later but before we dive into all of that, if people haven’t heard your previous interview on the Musicality Podcast, can you give them the nutshell summary of who is Brent Vaartstra and what are you up to?

Brent: Yes. So I am a music educator. Specifically, I’m a jazz educator. I have a jazz education website called and that’s where most people know me. I live here in New York City and I do play some gigs around, still, but I’m, I write books, I have podcasts, I make educational videos. I am an online educator, for sure. So that’s kind of my main gig. I also have a newer podcast called, “Passive Income Musician Podcast, which is basically where I just have a passion for teaching other musicians how to make a living teaching music online like I do so I just share all of my tips and tricks over there.

Christopher: It’s a terrific show and I was listening and it made me realize that last time you were on we talked a lot about jazz and about improv and about ear training and had a fantastic conversation about all of those things but I think we barely touched on the fact that you are also a performing musician and you made reference to this and talked about some really interesting stuff on that new show that made me want to have you back on and talk about that particularly because I know that a lot of people who listen or watch this podcast are at the stage where they have got pretty good at their instrument, you know, in terms of technique and ability they’ve reached at least an intermediate level for a lot of them but in a lot of cases they’re still quite nervous to go out and perform for whatever reason so they might not be gigging even though they have the technical chops to do so.

They might have always wanted to join a band or get some paid gigs but they haven’t really made that leap and, you know, we love on this show to talk about the inner skills of music and the psychology that goes into being a confident, expressive musician and so I just wanted to bring you on, kind of, with your “New York gigging musician” hat on, as it were, to talk a little bit about this, and, in particular, what does it take to go out there and perform the way you do that maybe someone who’s only playing at home for themselves wouldn’t have learned to do?

Brent: Yeah. Well, I mean, first of all, I think it’s just important to, you know, think about what scenarios might this be happening at? Like, for me, you know, jazz jam sessions are something that’s really big in the jazz world so there’s lots of those. Maybe it’s an open mic for you and you know, you’re thinking about going and performing some of your original music and you want to go to an open mic.

Maybe you’re auditioning for a rock band or it could be any number of situations and, I think, ultimately what we’re talking about is going into a social musical situation where it’s not just you in the practice room any more. It’s you going out and being with others and creating music with others, which I think is ultimately the way music should be. It should be a social thing. It shouldn’t be something that we just keep to ourselves in our room somewhere and just practice. We want to go out and we want to play, whether that means gigging, which, to me, gigging means you are making money in exchange for playing for your services or it’s just a jam session where you might be going for free and just networking and playing for other musicians.

It could be a blues jam session, could be a jazz jam, it could be any kind. It could be an Irish folk music jam session, right? Whatever kind of music you’re really interested in. And, obviously, for all these different styles, the very first place you have to start is make sure that you know the music, right?

That sounds like an obvious thing but maybe what that means is that you might want to, especially if you’re feeling a little nervous, maybe you want to actually go to that jam session or maybe you want to go to a specific venue that you would like to get a gig at and kind of observe someone else doing it, maybe, let’s use the example of a blues jam, okay? So you might go to a blues jam and maybe you sit there and you’re not going there to play at first. You’re going there just to observe. What kind of songs are being called there? Maybe I should learn some of these songs. Maybe there’s a lot of songs you don’t know so maybe you’d feel more comfortable if you felt more prepared. I think that’s where a lot of nerves come in is the unexpected, not really knowing if they’re going to be ready for the situation.

So, you know, knowing the music is important. So that would be something to think about is, you know, go in and kind of sit down and be a fly on the wall, see what’s happening. Observe the way the musicians are interacting with each other. Again, this is a jam session situation, here. So know the music, just, and that goes along with the second point I would make with that is do your homework. Acknowledge that if you show up to this jam session or this open mic and you haven’t done your homework, like, you haven’t really spent some time working on your instrument, that, you know, you could be mindful that you might be disrespectful to some musicians there that really are doing their homework.

And I don’t mean to say that to intimidate you or anybody who’s thinking, “I don’t know if I’m good enough to play the music,” I don’t want anyone to worry about that but you have to just ask yourself, “Have I done my homework? ” It doesn’t mean, do I have to have reached a certain level in my musicianship, it just means you have to evaluate yourself and say, “Hey, am I able to play these songs with these people?” If you don’t feel like you’re able to do it then maybe you shouldn’t be going up to the jam and playing.

You know, that, again, that’s not to put a club-like mentality to it. That’s just simply to say, “Hey, these are just the basics, here. Just, know some tunes. Make sure you’re prepared to technically perform those tunes and maybe just sit back and observe what’s going on. Does that sound good so far?

Christopher: Yeah. Fantastic. And I think you touched on something there which was front of mind for me which is musicians can be funny… Like, musicians are not always that friendly! And I know that for me, the first time I went along to a jam session I didn’t intend to go there and just watch but I did just go there and watch because they were all so relaxed. They were chatting, they were exchanging banter, teasing each other.

I felt super excluded and intimidated because it was just, it was outside my comfort zone and I wonder if you can talk a little bit more about that kind of social side of things, like, assuming the music was all fine, what do you need to be prepared for? If we take two contexts, maybe one is the local blues jam but the other is a paid gig where you’ve been called on, last minute, to come sit in with a band. Are there any pointers you can give or examples you can give from your own experience, maybe, of how to handle that if you’re not used to doing it week in, week, out?

Brent: Yeah. Well, first of all, just realized that musicians are some of the most insecure human beings that have ever graced the planet. They, it’s sort of like, you know, they’re more scared of you than you’re scared of them, almost sort of a situation and, you know, this is just basic human behavior. It doesn’t just happen in music but you definitely see this play out in live performing situations where every walks into the door with their ego and maybe there’s a new guy and they don’t really want to invite them in. Maybe they want to stay with their little, their little clique, their little, you know, band that they put together. You know, and so there’s all kinds of weird social dynamics, like you have alluded to, going on in live performing situations.

My biggest tip is to be yourself, to be honest to who you are and some people might give you tips otherwise from that, you know, how to be hip, how to be, you know, how to, the right things to say, maybe you should, you know, if you’re an introvert, no, you have to be an extrovert and I don’t think that’s really what is going to win for you in the end. I think that whether it’s a gig, whether it’s a jam session, whatever the social musical situation it is, just be true to yourself, be honest with yourself.

You don’t have to be anyone else you’re not. If you aren’t someone that likes chatting up everybody and, you know, having small talk to see if you can score another gig with that other person and, “Hey, man, give me your phone number,” and “Hey, let’s hang out some time,” if that feels fake to you then don’t be that person, you know. Just be who you are.

think that’s the best way not only to feel comfortable yourself going into situations like this but to just show others that you’re real and people see that and people will want to call you for a gig if you’re being genuine. If you’re being fake, people will, you know, they’ll see right through that. If you’re going to be fake, you better be a really amazing musician who is just so unbelievably talented, which I’m not, that you have to, you know, you have to, people will call you no matter what, you know what I’m saying? So I think as far as going into these situations, you relax. Don’t take it so seriously. Don’t worry about what everybody’s thinking about you. Be who you are. I think by just starting off that way, I mean, you’re going to set yourself up for success in the long haul.

Christopher: Terrific, and you talked a bit, there, about preparing musically and, as you pointed out, like, we don’t want people to feel like they need to be rock-solid, utterly perfect before they ever step out there…

Brent: Yes.

Christopher: …but I think when it’s your first time it’s really hard to know where that level is. Do you have any guidance on how to know how good enough is good enough?

Brent: That’s where coming in and, just, going to, again, if it’s, we’re going back to the jam session scenario, just going in and checking it out for a second and, just, really evaluating, like, “Oh,” —

Christopher: I can see that.

Brent: — yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely, and not being, like, “Oh, I’m going to be, I have to be as good as the people that are playing.” And, usually at jam sessions, by the way, whatever jam it is, there are levels, an array of different skill levels so I don’t think that’s something to necessarily worry about. I think it’s, just, simply evaluate those basics that I talked about, you know, to make sure that when you go up there you, I guess the reason I say that is I have seen some people that maybe just aren’t aware and they show up and they literally can’t play and so if that’s you, maybe you should think, “Okay there’s a few things I need to get together before going in,” you know?

Maybe if you really don’t know the songs you shouldn’t be going up and playing them, right? You know, so that seems obvious but then again I’ve seen people, you know, kind of, not realize that that social, you know, it’s not necessarily socially acceptable, right, to show up. Everybody else knows the songs, everybody else has practiced and then if you go up and you haven’t done your homework, right, that just sort of makes the whole playing situation not as much fun.

So I don’t think there’s a possible way to measure. It’s really actually a low barrier to entry. It’s, can I do what I’m seeing happening, not can I be the best at it, not will I be the best, it’s just, that’s all. It’s, just, it’s not too, don’t let it intimidate you, but, you know, there’s just, those basics, I think, that you need to have together.

Christopher: Great. And one another slightly painful scenario I’ve seen play out is where someone I think goes too far in the direction of preparation and they get up on stage and they perform their part but it looks like they have no idea there are other people on stage with them. They’re off in their own world. Could you talk a bit about that and what people can do to transition from that world of just playing by yourself or with a backing track to the fact that you’re now surrounded by other human beings who are doing music alongside you.

Brent: Yes. And this is a really important thing that we’re talking about here and this deals more with being or thinking more like a professional musician. How to make, and this is what I always say to everybody, when it comes to playing with others and especially if you’re doing this for a job, it is not about you. It is not about how well you play. We should all do our best to leave the ego at the door. When you get up and you play a gig and you’re performing it becomes about how do I serve the music the best way possible? What’s going to make everybody in the band sound the best?

I’ll give an example that’s not with, with the scenario of a gig. It’s actually with a jam session. This was, I don’t know, six or seven years ago and I was at a jam session in Manhattan and I got a up to play and I’m a guitar player and there was a piano player and there was five horn players and there was, like, you know, everybody’s up playing this song and, you know, I wanted keep playing the whole time. I wanted to keep comping and all of a sudden, it’s, the piano player started playing and there was me in my own world. I was just comping, I was just doing my thing, thinking I was all cool, and then I was doing cool things and the piano player would dig it and all of a sudden I hear the piano player yell at me.

He’s, like, “Hey, stop playing!” and, you know, I was, like, “Aagh!” And then I realized, yeah, what I was doing was, I was stepping on the piano player’s toes, you know? I was filling up all these chords and, you know, the piano player’s playing chords. It just sounded muddy. So the right thing to do there would have been to forget about what I’m playing and just listen to how can I serve the music? How can I make the music sound the best? How can I make the other band members sound really good? If everybody in the band is thinking that way, if everybody’s thinking, “Hey, how do I make Brent sound good? How do I make Karen sound good? How do I make Christopher sound good? ” if we do that whole thing, I don’t know where Karen came from. I just said my name and your name, but Karen, Karen’s there. She’s playing the bass, right? How do I make all of them sound good? And if they’re thinking the same about you, man, you’re going to have a great, I mean, I’ve had some musical experiences where at the end of it I was, like, “I didn’t even know this was possible. Like, we went into some other dimension that I didn’t even know existed. I didn’t know I had that talent.”

I didn’t know that we could, like, somehow our brains just went, (click) together and the music came out and you know it when it happens and when it happens it’s the most magical experience I think, and I think music beats us up so much. It’s such a, you know, there’s ups and there’s downs and it’s an emotional roller coaster but the reason we all keep doing it is because we remember those moments where it was, like, cloud nine. I didn’t even know. It transcended the possibilities. So, yes, you can go into a gig, and especially for a gig I think this is important, you can go into a gig and, you know, have overprepared and are playing the coolest new voicings on your instrument, the new lines that you’ve learned and completely ignore the fact that there’s other musicians you’re playing with but if you set all that aside and have that serve-the-music-first mentality, oh, man, some magical stuff can really happen.

Christopher: Terrific. I love that. I love the way you described that and that you touched on that kind of flow situation, there, at the end, which I guess is kind of the polar opposite of being off in your own world, just, playing robotically. I was talking about this just this week with Andrew from the Musical U team. We’re developing a new module about playing with expression and getting into that feeling of really playing what you intend to and playing it in a musical way and I don’t think we’ve really explored that collaborative aspect of it where you’re playing with other musicians and it clicks and I love the way you talked about that there because I think that’s what inspires people to get up and jam, isn’t it? It’s that spirit of being together as a band performing as one.

Brent: Yes, yes. Music is a communal experience, right? It’s something that isn’t quite complete if it’s only by yourself or if it’s not at least performed in front of somebody else. There’s always going to be some part missing from it. So all this stuff we’re talking about is important. It is important to talk about how do we conduct ourselves, you know? How do we deal with all this stuff, because it can lead to a great musical experience. It can lead to a bad one.

Christopher: So one thing that people might be wondering about is how much it matters what kind of jam session they’re going along to. Like, you’ve clearly emphasized a particular performing situation is a big component of what you need to know and how you need to prepare. But can you talk a little about, maybe jazz in particular, since that’s your domain? What would be different about a jazz gig versus, say, a rock gig?

Brent: Yeah, well, I think with jazz there is, kind of the way jazz works is, like yeah, there are bands. Like, people do form bands and play together, like that, but the kinds of gigs that exist in the jazz world are lots of what we call “casual” so, like, it might be just playing at a bar. It might just be playing at a restaurant. It could just be playing at someone’s cocktail hour for their wedding, you know, or it could be a corporate thing. I’ve played at funerals before.

I mean, there’s so many different things that a jazz musician could do because it’s kind of considered more background music, conducive to that, so the social atmosphere with jazz is a lot of different musicians play together so, you know, I might have a gig that I got and, you know, it’s going to be at this event and I might say, “Well, okay, the budget is for three people. I’ll choose this person on bass, this person on piano and this person on saxophone,” right? So I might think of it that way and it just could be any random different musicians that I want to play with. There’s definitely more of a network aspect in jazz.

When we think about rock, in, I can only speak so much as I am involved in the rock scene but when we think about rock, we think more about band culture, more about actual solidified groups and I have played in rock bands before and where, you know, you show up every single week and you work with each other specifically and that’s more of a situation where you’re actually getting to really know people’s personalities and how they behave. You sort of become family as much as you let it become and so you have to learn, just like any family, how to put up with each other, how to deal with people’s inconsistencies, so, you know, they’re they the same thing. I just think there’s more variety in the jazz scene where you’re just constantly switching to other people and if you want to get gigs in the jazz world networking is especially important where truly the more people that you meet, the more people you play with, the more people you make a positive connection with the more likely that they might think of you to call for a gig.

Christopher: Fantastic. And you shared one really great insight, there, in your own journey where realized that you couldn’t just be off in your own world playing all the time.

Brent: Right.

Christopher: Were there any other, kind of, moments of enlightenment along the way, where you were, like, “Oh, I get how this works now.”?

Brent: Man, there are so many different moments. There are, I think, I don’t know if there’s moments where I was so embarrassed that, you know, or, well, there was moments where I got really embarrassed. Like, there was moments where I didn’t do my homework and I showed up to a gig and I could not play that music very well and I embarrassed myself and that’s why I say the homework thing is important. You know, you should do your homework, make sure that you can actually perform the music. It doesn’t mean that you have to be the best at music, ever, but if you show up to a gig or even a jam session and you’re not prepared and I’ve had moments like that where when I was up there I was sweating bullets and I was feeling ashamed of myself because I didn’t sit down and do the work for it. So I don’t know if I have any, like, very specific experiences like that other than the small realizations here and there, which is pretty much why I’ve concluded these little tips that I’m giving, is, just, these little mini experiences of, like, “Oh, that piano player yelled at me. That’s not good,” or “I didn’t know that music very well. That’s not very good,” You know, you learn certain things about yourself and what you need to improve on as you go along.

Christopher: Any other little tidbits or words of encouragement or advice for the people watching or listening?

Brent: Yes. Yes. Just do it. I’ve had lots of people, particularly, I have a course called, “Thirty Steps to Better Jazz Playing” where I have a bunch of students in there in a community and a lot of people, well, one question we ask in the beginning of the course is, we have this goal sheet that you fill out for the course and the first question asked is, “What’s your transformation?” and a lot of people put their transformation as being, “I want to finally be able to go to that jazz jam,” and that’s a great transformation and the stuff that they’re doing in that course are things that are going to help them be able to learn the music, that are going to help them do their homework to get them prepared to do it but at the same time, once you’ve reached that point, even a little bit, just go do it. That’s where the real education happens is when we get out there and actually do it. You know, there’s things that you just can’t learn by yourself in the practice room. You have to go out there and play and that’s where the real education starts. I went rock climbing this last week, well, just wall-climbing, me and my wife and another couple, and, you know, I work out. I keep fit. I felt, like, “I’m going to have no problem with this.” The next day, there were muscles that were sore I had no idea even existed in my body and that’s what happens when you go up to perform, as well. There is certain muscles that you didn’t know were there that you need to work on and you can’t learn that in the practice room. So just go do it. Just get up there, get rid of those fears and dive in.

Christopher: Fantastic, yeah, I would second that. I would encourage everyone to give it a try, but not to dwell on the negative or the discouraging but when we were talking earlier in this conversation it was clear there’s a big psychological factor at play and even when you’ve done your homework and even if you feel like, socially, you’ve kind of got the hang of things when it comes time to actually step up there and perform there can be that little voice in your head saying, “You didn’t do enough homework,” or “You’re not good enough for this gig,” and this was where I loved an episode of yours on the Passive Income Musician podcast where you were talking about this kind of inner critic and voice of self-doubt. Can you talk about that in a bit more detail?

Brent: Yes, and this is a good point because I think that performing music is, or even just playing music is, I like to think is over 50% psychological and so this is a real big thing and I think all musicians can relate to this idea of feeling like they’re not good enough. You know, yes, stage fright but even beyond stage fright, just, literally feeling anxious and, like, you know, every musician has gone through that, including myself, and on my Passive Income Musician podcast I was really talking a lot about music entrepreneurship and some of what I call impostor syndrome and all these things directly relate to performing music as well so in order to combat that we really have to start changing our mindset and this is something that I’m not going to claim that I have mastery over but I think I can share things that I do and I do practice actively because ultimately that’s the only way you get over this, is by shifting your mindset. So let me go over, you know, it’s supposed to be a little methodical about this. I’ll go over six tips and feel free to ask any questions along the way.

Christopher: Maybe just before we dive in let’s just get everyone very clear on what is impostor syndrome, like, as opposed to the more vague, general descriptions of self-doubt and that kind of thing.

Brent: Yes. Impostor syndrome is when you go into a certain, any kind of, situation and you feel like you don’t belong there, that you’re not qualified enough, you’re not good enough, you know, you may go to a gig or a jam session and there are musicians that are, you know, multiple levels in your mind better than you, have more skill level, and it’s that feeling you get when you’re in that situation and you feel almost embarrassed, you feel scared, you feel anxious about performing because a lot of it has to do with your social anxiety, essentially, of what people think about you. That’s really mostly what impostor syndrome is all about.

Christopher: Cool, and I’m, I’ll just say very directly, like, I 100% have felt this. I think every musician or music educator I’ve spoken to has felt this at some time. This is not something just for the beginners or just for the people who don’t have what it takes.

Brent: Yes.

Christopher: This is something all of us go through at some point, feeling like a fraud, feeling like we’re not as good as people are expecting us to be. So, yeah, Brent, please dive into the six tips, because I know how valuable this is going to be for people.

Brent: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. So the first one, number one, let’s say, is just to remind yourself of your qualifications and that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have some really great list of qualifications. It just means you simply remind yourself of anything that you feel, like, makes you qualified to be at that gig.

I mean, if you got called for a gig, it means you’re already somewhat qualified. You would not have been called for the gig if it wasn’t you. You would not have just gotten the gig by yourself if it’d mean that you weren’t qualified at all. There is some qualification you have. Maybe it could be just reminding yourself of one great performance that you had in the past. Maybe it could, you know, anything that qualifies you.

Maybe it’s something that you’ve actually accomplished, like, you know, maybe you’ve gotten a new student and you’re teaching someone music so then why, if you’re able to teach someone how to play music, why can’t you go out and perform it? You know what I mean? So that’s a good starting point. Number one is just, remind yourself of what your actual qualifications are, whether they’re big, whether they’re small, there’s something. There’s something there.

Christopher: Yeah, I love that you’ve broadened it, beyond, kind of, official qualifications. I think anyone who’s watched or listened to this show for awhile knows we don’t discount the value of, say, exam grades in an instrument but really what being musical is all about and being a good musician is all about isn’t something you get a certificate for. So I love that you’ve clarified that qualifications just means anything that demonstrates you are of the standard expected.

Brent: Yeah. It doesn’t have to be, “I’ve got a bachelor’s degree.” It doesn’t have to be, “I wrote a book.” It doesn’t have to be, I did this or I did that or I got an award. None of that. It just has to be something that makes you qualified, even if it’s small, okay?

Number two is just to remind yourself of why you play music and this is something that I do often as I’m taking the train or, I have a car now, so the stupid New Yorker who buys a car driving to the gig and I’m trying to think to myself, “What am I trying to do when I play this gig? Why do I play music in the first place?” I play music because of those moments I was talking about earlier, those cloud nine moments where everything’s happening and those moments give me a lot of joy. The creativity that I get from music, I would not have gone this far in my music education if I did not love music so my goal when I’m going to a gig is, I’m thinking to myself, “Why am I doing this gig? Why am I going to this jam session?” I am going to have fun and if at any point it becomes not fun and that means I’m clearly off track somewhere so my goal is to go to a gig and have some great moment that I can be, like, wow. I can point back to that and be, like, “That was a great moment where I did that one thing. That was cool. I had a lot of fun doing that.”

As soon as it’s not fun, I don’t know if you’re a professional musician like me, then it’s not worth it anymore. So that’s number two, is just to remind yourself of why you play music.

Number three is just to be honest with yourself about where you’re at, okay? Just be honest and with yourself and with others. You don’t have to pretend to be a skill level that you’re not. One thing that a mentor of mine told me once, is, “Brent, just play from where you’re at and be cool with that.” Right? He didn’t mean that you shouldn’t be improving. Of course he wanted me to keep improving but what he meant was that I was so anxious and overthinking and overinvolved and just, I want to be, I know what I should sound like and I know I’m not there yet so I’m not happy but I think it’s important to just be honest with yourself. “This is where I’m at. This is where I’m at in my playing and it’s okay because, it’s like, it’s this growth mindset of, “I’m always going to be improving. There’s, I don’t have to be there tomorrow. I can be here today.”

So be honest with yourself. Be honest with other people. This is where the social stuff comes in. Don’t talk to your bandmates or people at the jam session as if you’re, you know, some big stuff if you’re not. Just be okay. Be okay with who you are musically, right? So that’s number three. Just be honest with yourself where you’re at in your playing.

Brent: And number four is just to keep a record, remind yourself of all of the positive feedback you’ve gotten. I think sometimes we’re over-involved in thinking about all of the negative things that we tell ourselves or maybe someone has told us something negative. Maybe there was some vibey jerk musician that said something to us, like, “Hey, you’re not doing this very well,” and we tend to latch onto those things and not all the positive things that people have said.

So it’s a good idea just to remind yourself or keep a record of those positive moments, those positive things that you’ve felt you’ve done and maybe that others have said to you.

Number five is to realize that mistakes don’t make you a failure. This is one I’ve heard you say before, Christopher. Mistakes don’t make you a failure. You can make a mistake and no one’s going to die. There’s not, an earthquake is not going to happen afterwards. A national tragedy isn’t going to ensue. You just played a quote-end-quote, wrong note which of course, if you want, you can fix it to make it not even sound wrong or you just have to play a bunch of other great notes after that so that everybody else forgets about that wrong note. It doesn’t make you a failure. Even if you bomb a song and you can’t even finish the song and you have to walk off the stage and go home and everybody’s staring at you, you’re still not a failure, right? It’s just a situation you can learn from.

All this sound good so far, Christopher?

Christopher: Yeah, absolutely. I just want to underline both of those last two because I think that once people can really identity with and, in my experience, it can be helpful for people to know that for all of us one negative comment takes about ten positive comments to balance it out, right? I think I’ve heard you talk about that before, Brent, about entrepreneurship and product feedback and that kind of thing.

You know, for whatever reason we take those negative comments to heart and we take those mistakes or those failures to heart so deeply and it genuinely does take an avalanche of positive stuff to balance that out and so you do need to be proactive about making sure you focus on the good, not the bad, because even if you’re getting a lot more positive feedback if you’re only paying attention to the negative it’s not going to feel like it.

Brent: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. The last one is, I guess we can call it a bonus that you can try out and that is to keep a journal, like, actually journal about your music performances, like, how you actually felt and what went right, what went wrong. This is something I picked up doing a little bit of therapy is journaling. And at first I didn’t really think it was going to be that useful to me. It is useful to actually get what’s in your head out on a piece of paper and so maybe you can make that a habit of just keeping a journal after a gig and just, being, like, hey, how did that go? What happened? And more importantly, what was your feeling? Because we’re trying to change our mindset, here. We’re not trying to write about, “Well, you need to practice your scales,” or “You need to practice your arpeggios,” whatever it is. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re talking about how did I actually feel about what happened, there? So those are some of the things that I do to tackle Impostor Syndrome.

Christopher: Tremendous. I think those are all powerful tips and I love that you mentioned journaling at the end, there. If anyone listening or watching is a member of Musical U, you’ll know we’re always harping on our progress journal system where we encourage you to post updates every week or so and it’s because of the value of that objectivity, the ability to step back and be, like, “Where was I six months ago? How did I feel about that before, and how do I feel about it now?” And unless you capture it in writing we just have such a poor memory for this kind of thing, you know, we remember things wrong or we don’t remember the right things and, like we talked about before, the balance of positive and negative feedback can get totally out of whack in your memory and you’re absolutely right, Brent, that that journaling thing may not come naturally to you. You might have to do it because someone expert like Brent told you it was a good idea but when you try it you quickly realize, “Oh, this is actually adding something to my self-awareness and my ability to be objective and see the opportunities that I never really had before when I was just all in my head.”

Bruce: Yeah, absolutely. 100 percent. Yep.

Christopher: Wonderful. Well, Brent, thank you so much for coming on. I kind of asked you to come on and drop the same value bomb on our show that you did on your own so I want to make sure we wrap up by telling people where they can go if they want to know more about Learn Jazz Standards or your Passive Income Musician Podcast. Can you tell people what are the audiences for those two? How would they know that one of those was right for them and where they can go to learn more?

Brent: Yeah, absolutely. So, Learn Jazz Standards, that’s my jazz education blog. If you’re interested — blog podcast videos. If you’re interested in learning about jazz, how to improvise, learning jazz repertoire, all that stuff, that’s where I really cover that stuff. You can check that out at and if you happen to be a musician who is thinking about entrepreneurship, I basically teach how I make a leaving online through teaching music through what I call passive income streams at or you can find it on iTunes if you listen to your podcast there.

Christopher: Fantastic. Thank you, Brent. Well, we’ll have all of those linked up in the show notes for this episode. I just want to say thank you again for coming on the show because, I think, I was kind of kicking myself when I listened to that episode of your podcast being, like, “How did I miss this whole area of Brent’s wisdom when I interviewed him before?” And it’s one that is so important and powerful and front-of-mind for a lot of our audience and our members at Musical U is this whole area of starting to perform and getting into that scene, whatever their local music scene is and I love the way you’ve talked about it today and the very practical advice you’ve given both in terms of the, kind of, fundamental music preparation but also the psychology and the social aspect so I know that people are going to go away feeling much better equipped both in terms of technique and preparation and in terms of that, kind of, impostor syndrome, voice of self-doubt, psychological self-coaching that we need to go through to prepare for that first gig. So a big thank you for joining us again, Brent.

Brent: Thanks, Christopher. I appreciate you having me on and it was a pleasure.

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The post How to Stop Doubting and Start Performing, with Brent Vaartstra appeared first on Musical U.