How To Become A Better Musician

how to become a better musicianAs I mentioned in my last article, I recently celebrated my 15th year anniversary as a full time professional musician.

After playing over 1500 gigs I’ve learned tons of musical lessons over the years (both good and bad!)

That’s why today I want to share 5 more pieces of musician advice. These tips will show you how to become a better musician. They’ll also give you some new things to think about as you grow your playing.

My goal is help you learn from my both my successes and my failures after years of playing. So, let’s get started learning…

1. How To Become A Better Musician At Rehearsals

how to become a better musicianIf you aspire to play professionally then you need to start learning your parts before you get to rehearsals.

Contrary to popular belief, group rehearsals are not the time to actually learn the music.

I see amateurs make this mistake regularly and waste their fellow musicians time.

Rehearsals instead should be used to put the finishing touches on the music. It’s a time to go over little music details and fine tune things.

It’s also a time to tighten up the show and further build chemistry as musicians.

Yes, it takes a little bit of time before hand to practice and get familiar with the music but the payoff is huge.

Rehearsals will be more fun, you’ll impress your fellow musicians, and you’ll actually save yourself stress and lower performance anxiety!

So, always schedule the time you need before the rehearsal to review the music.

2. How To Improvise On A Higher Level At Gigs

how to become a better musicianI know many of us play jazz because we love the feeling of freedom that comes from performing this amazing style of music.

I love to improvise and express myself at the piano too! It’s my favorite thing to do these days when playing.

I wasn’t always a great improviser though.

I used to feel inconsistent when it came to soloing. My soloing was hit or miss. When I listened to my favorite artists though they would always be on.

I started realizing there was probably something I was missing.

Great Players Improvise Differently

Fortunately, I made a huge breakthrough in my improv skills when I started touring with some famous artists. (You can check out some of the cool people I’ve played with here)

I noticed that night after night they’d tear the roof off with amazing playing. They never seemed to have an off night. How were they doing that?

After jamming with them for hundreds of gigs I began to notice something unique.

how to become a better musicianWhat I discovered was that yes they were improvising…but they were doing it in a much more focused way than most people.

For example, I noticed that B.B. King and Buddy Guy spent many hours exploring their own voice deeply as an artist before they hit the stage.

So, when they went improvise or try new ideas on the gig they knew they had the skills to execute their ideas.

Even on their ‘worst gigs’ they still sounded really good!

It finally made sense how my favorite artists consistently sounded great no matter what the circumstances were.

When I first started touring with Ronnie Baker Brooks he helped me realize this.

He taught me how to be more consistent with my playing. My improv skills skyrocketed from that experience.


I Will Work With You To Unlock Your Jazz Voice

how to become a better musician

By the way, if you feel stuck as an improviser don’t worry. Help is on the way!

I’ve dedicated a whole section of my new “Jazz Platinum Players Program” to helping you unlock your improv skills.

(This course was released on Sept. 21st. 2015)

Please note: “The Jazz Platinum Players Program” is designed for the type of player who wants to make a HUGE leap in their jazz playing in less than a year.

3. How To Stop Letting Excuses Hold You Back

These days people are pulled in lots of different directions. I get it. We all have little distractions in our life.

The problem is that many musicians will use those temporary distractions as long term excuses.

They’ll find every reason under the sun as to why the can’t practice more or they don’t sound the way they want to.

Successful musicians make very few excuses for themselves. They don’t weave stories.

They practice their art consistently, invest their heart into the process, and yield the sweet rewards from their work.

That’s why it’s incredibly important for your growth as a musician that you start being honest with yourself. If you want to get good simply commit to the process. It’s a simple formula.

Success is 100% attainable but sometimes you just need to get the heck out of your own way!

how to become a better musicianTo help you I want to make a list of the regular excuses I hear music students make. So, if you catch yourself saying a variation on any of these phrases you’re most likely just getting in your own way. 




The Top 5 Excuses Musicians Make

1. I would have practiced ______ if it wasn’t for _____.

2. I just don’t have the time to practice because _____.

3. I really want to learn how to become a better musician but _____ got in the way.

4. One day when ____ happens I’ll practice more.

5. I just don’t have the ____ to learn right now. (Yet, I’m secretly miserable because of the way I sound at my instrument)

Can you relate to anything in the list above? Have you ever said anything like this?

That’s ok if you did.  Trust me, I used to use every excuse under the sun why I didn’t practice more (TV, internet surfing, drinking with friends, tired, too hungry, blah blah blah).

Fortunately, about 20 years ago I made some big changes in my life and stopped making excuses for myself. I found a way to take ownership of my own success.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. If you’re passionate about jazz or piano make it happen for yourself!

So, how did I start to change my focus and improve my musical life? That leads me to my next point….

4. How To Accelerate Your Musical Growth

how to become a better musicianEverything changed for me when I started surrounding myself with the right type of people.

When I moved to Boston I surrounded myself with a community of like minded musicians. This was an amazing experience on so many levels!

We had a ton of fun, learned from each other, and most importantly truly helped each other succeed.

Successful people like to hang out with other successful people. We lifted each other up!

Simply put, people grow when they’re surrounded with like minded individuals. Being able to hang out with other musicians was a game changer for me.

how to become a better musicianThat’s why I’m so excited to work with a special small community of students inside “The Jazz Platinum Players Program”.

Not only will you actually be learning together with your fellow students…. but I’ll also be live coaching this special group every month too.

So, you’ll have access to a ton of world class masterclass training webinars, powerful live jazz piano lessons, & group support without leaving your house. (Note: this was a live course done in 2015)

5. How To Become A Better Musician: Harmony Shortcuts

One of the best things you can do for your musicianship is to learn as many common jazz chord progressions as possible.

Simply put, great jazz pianists understand harmony!

Now there are lots of little chord progression variations, but really there are just a few main chord progressions that are used over and over again.

You’ll want to make it a goal of instantly recognizing these chord progressions in the songs you play.

When you can do this you’ll learn music so much faster. That will lead to so many more opportunities to enjoy music and opportunities to perform more.

Instead of looking at a new piece of music and feeling overwhelmed you’ll be able to reduce the tune mentally to just a few common patterns.

I promise you it’s not that hard. You just need to understand the right building blocks that make up jazz harmony.

Once you build this skill you’ll be able to transpose quickly too. This will absolutely transform you as a musician!

This type of training is incredibly important. So, I’ll also be packing tons of jazz harmony shortcuts and secrets inside the “Jazz Platinum Players Program” as well.

What’s In Store For You In The Next Few Weeks

how to become a better musicianEvery time I launch a new product, I want to make sure that I’m providing as much value to the community as possible.

I am extremely grateful that I get to share my love and passion for jazz everyday with you.

So, to celebrate the new launch, I’ll be releasing several free video sample lessons on the site in the next few weeks.

They’ll feature some very actionable tips and lots of cool strategies that will help you’re playing.

My goal is to make even my free sample lessons better than anyone else’s paid products.

So stay tuned and watch the site! If you’re on the FJL email list you’ll have the new lessons sent to your inbox!

To Your Jazz Piano Success,

how to become a better musician



Steve Nixon