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LJS 102: Blazing Your Own Trail Towards Musical Success

Welcome to episode 102 of the LJS Podcast where today we feature the story and advice of a podcast listener, Staci from North Carolina. In this episode, Staci shares some breakthroughs she had in her jazz playing when she learned how to utilize the tools that worked for her and shifted her mindset. Listen in!

Listen to episode 102

Today’s episode is a lot of fun. A month or so ago I asked listeners of the podcast to submit recordings of their own jazz advice and tips. A lot of listeners did just that and I was blown away by the participation and the great stuff coming from our jazz community!

This month we are celebrating our 2 year podcast birthday month (psst…don’t forget to enter into our raffle). So in our upcoming episode 104, our birthday episode, we are going to be featuring a bunch of listener tips and advice. It’s going to be a value-packed episode.

But to lead into that, today’s episode and episode 103 we are featuring a few submissions that were a bit longer and are worth spending an episode talking about.

Today’s guest is Staci from Jefferson, North Carolina. She plays the piano and talks about how she had some big breakthroughs in her jazz playing when she learned to strike out on her own musical path, use the tools that were working for her, and started enjoying her musical journey.

Here are some of my main takeaways from her talk:

1. Find good tools, then use the ones that work best for you.

2. Let the music teach you how to play.

3. Focus on having a growth mindset, not a fixed mindset.

I want to thank Staci for the great tips and advice, and for sharing her story. I learned a lot and I am sure you will too. If we can learn to approach music more like Stacy has learned to, we will most certainly start seeing some incredible results.

Important Links

“Mindset” by Carol Dweck

Podcast Birthday Raffle

Read the Transcript

Brent: All right. What’s up everybody? My name is Brent. I am the jazz musician behind the website, which is a blog and a podcast all geared towards helping you become a better jazz musician. Thanks so much. Whether this is your first time ever listening, or whether you’re a regular listener, I really appreciate you. If you’ve been listening to the show for the past several weeks or so, you probably know already that this month is our two-year birthday celebration month of the podcast.

In episode 104, coming up here, we are going to be celebrating two years of this podcast. Now, our blog and other resources that we’ve had going on, have been around for a lot more years than that, but two years of the podcast, and it’s all thanks to you guys. I’m going to thank you guys a lot this month, so bear with me. Thank you so much for listening. You guys are the ones that make this thing happen. Without you guys, I wouldn’t be doing this, and so I really appreciate you guys. You guys are super awesome, so thanks for … Give yourself a pat on the back. Thanks for listening.

In today’s episode 102, I’m really excited. As you know, I like to have special guests on the show, and we’ve had some good ones on lately but these particular guests are going to be unique. Normally, I have on professionals to share their tips and advice with you, but this time around, I’m having you guys, my listeners, come on the show and tell all of us your stories, your advice, your tips. Now, I asked you guys about a month ago if you could submit some recordings to me and just share with the community, and a bunch of you did that. I really thank everybody who did that.

So on episode 104, we’re going to be sharing a bunch of your stories, tips and advice, but I thought leading up to that, in episodes 102 and 103, I’d have on a few that sent in a little bit of longer recordings to me that I felt had a lot of real important lessons to teach of, so I’m going to be doing that in the next couple episodes and giving some commentary on our special guests’ advice and all this stuff. We’re actually going to be having a bonus episode this week. We’re going to be coming out with another episode on Thursday, that’ll be episode 103, so it’s a special week of two podcast episodes. I hope you enjoy that.

Then, on next week, we’re going to be doing episode 104, but I thought it’d be really awesome to share these two episodes of just focusing in on one of our listeners’ comments that they gave. I’m really excited. I’m really excited about these. These are going to be really awesome, so I’m going to be introducing our first guest in just one second. But as I mentioned last week, we are doing a really special podcast birthday raffle this month. We’re going to be giving away our courses, our e-books, our play-alongs, all kinds of stuff, for just doing simple tasks like leaving a rating and review on iTunes, for liking our page on Facebook, for sharing episode 100, lots of other different things you can do to get raffle entries.

So, if you want to partake in our raffle, it’s going to really help us out, and it’s of course going to help you out by getting involved in the raffle, go to to get involved. Thank you everybody who’s participated so far. I’m blown away by how many people are helping us out and participating in that. All right, that’s enough on the business side of things. Let’s jump into today’s show.

Now, like I said, I am super pumped about these next several episodes here to have listeners like you on the show as guests because I really do believe in the power of story to teach us about becoming better musicians but becoming even better people, and just to learn from each other. To hear from listeners like you, I know I have been incredibly blessed and fortunate to listen to all your submissions because I feel like I’ve learned so much just from listening to all of you.

I know that sometimes when we have professionals on the show, there’s a big range of different skill levels that listen to this show, but sometimes, for some, it can feel like a big degree of separation. You can’t necessarily always relate, but I feel like with all of these guests that are coming on the show, we can all relate. We can all be there with each other in understanding where we’re coming from. So super excited about this. I want to have a very warm welcome to our very first guest coming on the show, which is Stacey from Jefferson, North Carolina. She submitted a recording and I was really touched by this. I’ll let Stacey take it away.

Stacey: Hey Brent. My name is Stacey. I’m a piano player and singer from Jefferson, outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Have been listening to the podcast since late 2016. My favorite jazz artist is Nina Simone. In the practice room, I’ve shifted gears in the last six months, probably because of the holistic approach that you have brought through Learn Jazz Standards to developing a life as a jazz musician because I’m an academic, I’m a classically trained pianist, spent most of my adult life as an ER doctor, and up until a few years ago, I couldn’t play You Are My Sunshine on the piano without music, but now I feel like the world’s opened up to me because I can keep time and improvise. I can comp. I’ve been writing and arranging music. I feel like it’s possible that I could master the instrument.

When I started out, I had this regimen. I had listened to all the podcasts and I had printed out every blog, and I had this schedule of exercises with chords and scales and √©tudes and everything that I had to do in a certain order. I think I was approaching it a little bit like medical school and I thought if I could just learn it all, I’d be a great jazz musician, but I noticed I was getting frustrated. It was getting boring, so I started focusing more on my intent, the curiosity I had, and the joy that I felt when I played, and I had this transformation in my practice to where I became like an autodidact. It seemed like the music was teaching me and all of a sudden, I would be playing and I would see how patterns were linking things that I didn’t see as joined before.

All the concept I learned were making sense to me, and it seemed like I would just, the more I sat down, I would just be presented with the next step in the process for me to become a better player. I think part of what enabled me to let go and trust myself more was, in large part, the information from the podcasts, but the number and the variety of amazing musicians that you interview because I could follow their journey in jazz. A number of those individuals have become like mentors to me. I follow them and I see how they approach things, and I can see that what I thought it was going to take for me to become a great jazz musician is not necessarily the best road for me.

It’s been an incredible process, and I think it’s like the quote from Voltaire about the purpose of medicine being to distract the patient while nature cures the disease. The takeaway for me is that you have put out a tremendous amount of positive and comprehensive information about all aspects of becoming a jazz musician or developing your skills as a jazz musician, and because of that, I’ve learned to put my focus on the things that feel good and the things that work.

That lets me drop all the worthless stuff, like worrying about if I’m doing it right or if I’m ever going to get there, or comparing myself to other people, problems with technique at the keyboard. It’s all been shifted to a much more growth mindset. So I hope that 2018 brings more regular gigs with jazz ensembles for me because that’s the next step in my growth. All my thanks to you, Brent. You’re awesome.

Brent: Well, Stacey, I just want to thank you so much for submitting your recording and for sharing your amazing tips and your story, your advice. All of it was so valuable. I know I was very touched by it, and I really appreciated it and I know that everybody else did too. I wasn’t fishing for compliments when I asked everybody to submit recordings, but I really do deeply appreciate all the warm words that you said, and I’m just so happy to be able to have helped you. It’s such a privilege, even though I can’t see you face-to-face or talk to you face-to-face, but being able to help you in some sort of way through this medium or any of the other mediums on Learn Jazz Standards, this is such a wonderful thing so thank you so much for all the really kind words that you said. It’s so motivating to me.

Now, you said so many great things. I want to break down everything you said into my three main takeaways that I think I want to expand upon for everybody listening today just to get out of what you have said, so let me break it down here. Number one is find good tools and then use the ones that work. I loved how Stacey said that at the beginning of her journey in jazz, she was downloading all of the podcasts, she was on the blog trying to digest all of this information, and she was treating it a lot like when she was in medical school. If she reads all the books, if she takes all the tests, if she does all this information, well it’s going to unlock this career or at least this skillset at the end of the road. She was looking at it more of a formula.

What she discovered, especially after listening to some of the guests that we’ve had on our show, is that sometimes there are different paths. There are multiple different ways to get into the same place, and everybody has their own personality and everybody has their own story, and I can so relate to this, of just information overload.

Sometimes, taking … Think about, we live in the information age. I can go onto YouTube and anything I want to learn, I can look it up. In fact, me and my wife, we made a really cool table for our living room where we found an old vintage window and we basically made a coffee table out of it with a hinge so you could open it up and put stuff in it.

We painted it, and we put on legs and all this stuff, and we had never done anything of the sort before. We are not carpenters, we’re not even builders, nothing like that, but we looked it up on YouTube and we found it. You can do anything these days. The information is here, and I provide lots of information. There’s lots of others who provide lots of other musical information, but we can get really bogged down with information to the point where we’re consuming more information than we are actually just taking action on the things that really matter.

One thing that Stacey discovered was that she found which things, which tools, which ideas, which concepts were working for her to actually more the needle so that she could improve, and she was getting rid of all that other stuff that just wasn’t working for her or didn’t matter, or maybe just wasn’t the time yet to start working on that stuff. So, really important, find the tools that are working for you, there are so many tools out there, and then use the ones that actually work. Figure out what’s working for you.

A couple episodes ago, several episodes ago, I talk about setting up a practice session so that you could practice for just 30 minutes and get just as much out of it if you did like a two or three hour practice session. One of the things I said in that episode is to really figure out those things that move the needle for you. I use the example that for me, learning jazz standards and learning jazz solos by ear are things that I’ve noticed have really worked for me, and so if I don’t have any other time to do anything, I will work on those things and those things really work for me. So find those tools, whether it be scales, whether it be music theory. Whatever works for you, whatever you resonate with, find those things and really hone in on them.

Number two is let the music teach you how to play. Let the music teach you how to play. Something that Stacey said was at some point she started feeling like an autodidact like she was teaching herself how to play and that the music was showing her the next logical step that she needed to work on. She started honing in on those things that she was enjoying, and as she was learning music, she realized that, “Well, now that I know this, I feel like I should learn this, or I should work on this.” It became this endless curious exploration of music and how learning this music, whatever it was that she was working on, whether it be a jazz standard or whether it be an exercise, it was showing her what she should do next.

So she was taking those tools, she was using what was working, and then she was letting that music teach her how to actually play. That’s why I always say, “Learn jazz standards, learn jazz solos, learn all of this stuff,” because at the end of the day, that is what is going to teach you how to play, by actually going out and playing. You can worry about technique all day long, and that is definitely important, you can worry about playing certain exercises all day long, but at the end of the day, you have to dig into the music and explore. Have fun and go in there and see what kind of lessons the music is going to teach you.

I know that I’m constantly being taught when I’m out here in New York playing gigs. Then all of a sudden, I play a song maybe that I’m not used to playing, or play a song I’m maybe used to playing but at a different tempo or a different style, there’s always something that I learn. I always learn that, “Oh, I should probably check that out a little more. Maybe I should work on that a little bit more.” There’s all kinds of lessons I can learn, or maybe I had to learn a song on the fly on the gig, and I thought to myself, “Wow. Those are some chord changes I don’t normally play over top of,” and I can learn from that.
The music teaches us how to play, and so at the end of the day, focus on the music and let it teach you how to play. Be curious like Stacey. Start playing music and ask yourself, “Hm, what should I do now? I learned this. Now, what do I do with it? Can I take this to the next level,” or what kind of music theory lessons are inside your … By analyzing songs, sometimes we can learn a lot just from that too, so number two is let the music teach you how to play. So well-put by Stacey.

Now, my third and final takeaway is to focus on the growth mindset, not a fixed mindset. Now, something that Stacey was saying is that she was able to break free from the things that didn’t really matter, stuff like how well she was comparing to other people, how good was she compared to this person, or was she good enough, or all these kind of negative thoughts that really can box you into this fixed mindset of how good you could really be, what your potential really is. She was able to cast that all aside and really focus on the joy and her curiosity of music, and that made her feel like she could just improve because she felt free of all those things that were chaining her down before.

I can relate to that. I’m sure that you can relate to that, too. Back in episode 98, I had my brother on the podcast. He’s a performance and sports psychologist, and he shared a lot of really valuable information for us on mindsets, and he also shared a really great book called Mindset by Carol Dweck. I’ve actually been digging into that book recently, and it’s really cool. Some of you have emailed me since that episode and said that you’ve been reading that book too, which is really awesome. In that book, Carol Dweck really talks a lot about the growth mindset and the fixed mindset, and how the fixed mindset says, “I’m only going to get this good because I believe that my intelligence is capped off.”

Then the growth mindset says that every single failure that you may have, or every single obstacle you may have is an opportunity for growth. That’s the place that we want to get to. We want to get to that mindset of growth, of really truly enjoying the journey of music. Music and jazz, whatever music you want to play, is a journey. We’re all on the same path, though at different parts of the path we may be and we’re all heading the same direction, so if you come in it with this attitude of joy and curiosity the way that Stacey has been approaching music lately, and we can get into that head space, well then we’re going to improve so much faster and so much better than we would otherwise if we can focus on that growth mindset.

Forget about how you compare to somebody else. Focus on your personal record, and if you can do that, I guarantee you’re going to improve so much more. That’s not something that you just, one day you arrive at that point of that mindset. It’s something we have to train ourselves to do, and I certainly do it myself all the time and try to get out those negative thoughts that are going to hold me back from my true potential. That’s something that Stacey really expressed in her story today is her ability to push all that aside and really just embrace the joy of the journey of music.

Stacey, I want to thank you again so much for being a guest on the show, for sharing your story, for teaching us all so much through just a simply five-minute recording. Wow. It was just really a pleasure, so thank you very much. I know I learned a lot, and I’m sure that everybody else did too.

All right, that’s all for today’s show. I want to thank you for listening. Thanks for tuning in. Now, this week is a very special week, like I said at the beginning of the show, because we’re going to have an extra episode. We always come out with episodes on Monday, but we’re going to have an episode coming out on Thursday, episode 103, and we’re going to be featuring another one of the listeners on the show giving their tips and their story, their perspective. I’m really excited about this next one as well, leading up to episode 104, where we’re going to have a whole slew of you guys on to tell us about your stories and your tips and your advice, so really stick in here with me and look forward to that episode on Thursday if you’re listening to this in real time.

Now, like I said at the beginning of the show as well, we are celebrating our birthday, and for that, we’re doing our birthday raffle so you can go to if you want to take part in that, get some raffle entries. You could get entered to win our courses, our jazz courses, or our e-books, or even our jazz backing tracks, and either resources that we have. It’s pretty easy to do that, and just help us out at the very same time, so Okay, I’m looking forward to seeing you this upcoming Thursday for episode 103.

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


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