There is a non-truth I hear often: “Oh, I’ve always wished I could (play piano, learn to sing, run a marathon, etc,) but I’m too old to learn now.”

The truth is the ability to learn is a skill. We have it s kids because we have no choice- life is immersion education. As we grow, specialize, and spend decades in a career, we often lose the receptivity necessary to learn something new. We have built up so much knowledge that we have a complex web of reference points, known facts, assumptions that help us make good choices in a split second.

Zen Buddhism has a concept called shoshin: beginner’s mind. It’s the concept of approaching something new with childlike wonder, with openness and receptivity. As an adult it takes intention and effort to open up enough to truly learn. I call it receptivity, and I can actually feel it in my body. I ask my pride to go for a coffee break and then remember that there’s so much I don’t know and learning is fascinating. As I do this, my body softens. It feels as if there’s more space in me, as if all my cells moved just a bit farther apart.

Try it and see what happens. My favorite way to try it is with a kid as my teacher. There are so many things kids know that I don’t know, so I find my receptivity and ask the kid to teach me about something. Usually the kid is pleasantly shocked to be seen as a wisdom-haver by an adult (a teacher, no less.) And in me, as I listen I do feel very childlike. I ask wide-eyed questions, and the answers feel like little pebbles of joy.

20% Effort for 80% Results

Have you heard about the Pareto Principle,

also called the 80/20 rule?

This concept will change not only the way you practice music,

but can impact pretty much everything you do.


80% of your progress comes from 20% of your effort.

For example: if you practice music for an hour every day, 80% of your progress comes from just 12 minutes of that practice. Yes, this is a total game changer.

You have to be wise in how you use this principle. If you practice for 12 minutes and you’re completely totally not even trying, you’re not likely to get much progress. But If you’re putting in some wise intention and attention during those 12 minutes, you’ll work wonders.

This also explains why classical musicians work so hard. They’re consistently putting in that extra 80% of effort to gain that extra 20% of progress.

Give it a try for a few weeks.

See what happens when you put in a wise intentional 20% of practice every day.

Sinus Infection as a Singer

This week I got my first ever sinus infection. For 6 days I misdiagnosed it as allergies (because it’s Austin and there is always an imminent threat of allergies in Austin.) During those 6 days I also mis-treated my ailment, which gave my persistent hacking cough the opportunity to thoroughly abuse my vocal cords and make me horse.

Which is an emergency situation for a singer.

Now that I’m properly diagnosed I’m able to make much more of a positive impact on the symptoms, and my babies (vocal cords) are on the mend. I would love to share my wisdom with you, because treating this as a singer has very different priorities than an average Joe.

  1. Stop the cough ASAP. Coughing involves the vocal cords violently slamming into each other. It’s one of the fastest ways to vocal damage there is and singers need to make this our top priority. What’s working for me: Expectorant & Cough Suppressant pills (like Mucinex) with Dextromethorphan and Guaifenesin. Also Chloraseptic total Sore Throat + Cough lozenges. As singers we tend to be hyper-aware of sensations in our throat and are probably more likely to feel irritation than muggles. These lozenges have two anesthetics (Benzocaine and Menthol) and more Dextromethorphan cough suppressant.

  2. Vocal rest. I debated making this number one, but you could be on full vocal rest and the coughing would still shred your vocal folds. Ideally don’t sing at all until this whole situation is fully healed. Speak as little as possible, and gently. Speaking quietly on your tone is better than whispering, but beware of rasp and vocal fry.

  3. Treat the sinus infection. My case seems to be treatable at home, but you may need to see a doctor. In my case, doing a warm saliene lavage with my neti pot three times a day is working wonders. Make sure to use purified water, and if you have too much heat or too much salt it will be unbelievably painful. I test this by gargling with it first.

  4. Humidify and drink fluids. This is standard practice anyway for singers, but I’m using my personal humidifier as often as possible right now. I’ll also be taking it to work with me today to use between students.

  5. Sleep and eat well. These two are also essential always as a singer, as our body is our instrument, but I’ve been finding both of these to be way harder during this sinus infection. The symptoms make me just want comfort food all the time, and the cough and clogged sinuses keep me awake. Now having the right treatments is helping a TON.

On Intimidation

As a teacher I find it really helpful to do things I’m bad at. As a professional adult it can be easy, and wise, to spend most of my time doing things I’m great at- but then I become a worse teacher. I want to keep experiencing what it feels like to be a beginner again, because having that empathy really helps my students.

When I was a kid I absolutely loved playing soccer. Having not played in over 20 years, I joined a coed recreational soccer team and we just had our first game of the season. I was so totally intimidated, but it went great. I didn’t suck as bad as I feared I would, and everyone was welcoming, encouraging, and fun. Even with all that, the fear in my body was so intense it seemed almost crippling. I wanted to run away so many times.

I want to offer empathy and encouragement to anyone who feels that deep love for music and has a desire to to take it to the next step but feels too intimidated. The way the intimidation the fear felt in my body was really intense but I chose to stay to see what it felt like to be with the fear and keep trying, just like my students do.

If you’re struggling with fear of pursuing your music dreams, here are a few suggestions:

  • Feel it fully. A friend of mine once said “Fear plus breath is excitement.” I was about to jump off a cliff into a lake and I was paralyzed with fear. After he said that, I focused on slow deep breaths. The tight pain of fear loosened and spread into my whole body, and sure enough it felt like excitement.

  • Be a beginner. It’s always way harder to try something new when you’re trying to impress people and seem farther along than you are. Admit to yourself and others that you’re a newbie and you’re intimidated. Give yourself permission to focus on the little things you are capable of, and for that to be good enough.

  • Go for it. Don’t let perfection keep you from things you’re passionate about. Even this morning I thought, “Maybe I won’t go to the soccer game this week. Maybe I’ll quit,” because it’s SO uncomfortable to do something I feel like I suck at. Especially when I love it. But I’m going to go because it matters to me and because I choose not to let intimidation confine me.