• Music for Life Staff

Five mistakes keeping you from becoming a great musician


Becoming a great musician is certainly not an easy proposition. But after reading these five common mistakes that musicians make, you just might increase your odds for success.

Failure to practice
As Malcolm Gladwell eloquently states in his book The Outliers, anyone wanting to be good at their craft must put in their 10,000 hours of practice. While this is a no brainer for most people, you’d be surprised at the number of musicians who do not adhere to a regular practice schedule each day as if their life depended on it. No matter if my family was on vacation or if it was Christmas day, I never missed a practice day. I literally practiced up to 18 hours a day at one point, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why I was able to improve as a musician and get to the level of playing that I had achieved.
Failure to take lessons
While there are many examples of musicians who are exceptional at playing their instruments and who never had a teacher, these are the exceptions, and there are infinitely more examples of musicians who are self-taught and never reached their full potential. A skilled music teacher can teach proper technique, prevent young musicians from forming bad habits, train a player to perform well in real-world situations, and so much more. Drummer Kenwood Dennard, who played with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sting, helped me to identify my musical strengths and excel at them. Kenwood even served as a mentor and inspired me to push forward when I was feeling low. Even better, he took me to jam sessions and introduced me to a variety of different pro musicians in New York City. Needless to say, studying with him was priceless.
Failure to learn to read music

One of the things I often hear musicians question is whether or not reading music is a valuable skill to have in today’s music marketplace. While I’ll admit that I was rarely given a chart for the various gigs and auditions I participated in – including country legend Barbra Mandrel, pop icon Cher, and The Storm (which featured members of Journey) – knowing how to read music was a huge asset for me.

First, by understanding what I was playing, I played everything better, I understood where each note fell in relation to each other. Second, it helped me to transcribe and learn parts faster, I literally charted out entire drum parts note for note to each song. And finally, it gave me the ability to communicate as a musician, I understood what a musical director meant when he said “follow the quarter note triplet kick with the bass.” In short, learning how to read music is fundamental to becoming a great musician.

Failure to take criticism
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes that a musician can make is to reject constructive, professional criticism. They curse out those who offer helpful advice and embrace those who basically kiss ass. They roam the face of the earth as if they’ve already conquered music while at the same time they have next to zero skills and credentials. Wake up! If you want to reach your full potential and improve as a musician you have to be completely open-minded to getting feedback and acting upon it. Surely feedback is not always one hundred percent accurate, but if you have 99 people commenting that your vocals are flat and you need singing lessons, then there is a good chance that they’re right!
Failure to understand the realities of the business
A huge mistake that keeps musicians from becoming great is their failure to understand what the life of a musician is really all about. Thus, at the first sign of rejection, at the first sign of struggle, or at the first sign of not getting precisely what they want, they bail ship and go back to dental school, and another one bites the dust. Make no mistake, the music business is not for the thin skinned. Tours get canceled, labels will drop you, and promoters will rip you off. It’s all par for the course. If you really want to reach your true potential as a musician, you’d better find a way to overcome the inevitable obstacles that lie ahead.

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A renowned drummer, teacher, consultant, and Disc Makers contributor, Bobby Borg is the author of Music Marketing For The DIY Musician: Creating and Executing a Plan of Attack On A Limited Budget (September 2014, Hal Leonard). The book is available on the Hal Leonard website,, and

The contents of this post are © 2014 by Bobby Borg All rights reserved. Not to be posted, printed, or used in any other way without proper attribution to Bobby Borg and Disc Makers.

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