Three Things Successful Musicians Do That Mark Them For Success

I stumbled across a guy on YouTube that had an interesting video. Dave Good talks about “three things successful musicians do.” In his video, “The Three Things That Successful Saxophone Achievers Do That 99% Of The Rest Ignore,” he discusses several characteristics he sees in musicians he teaches or who he plays with that excel and become good at their craft, compared to most others who hit a plateau and don’t improve past a point.

I’ve posted the video below. But his post is right on. The fact is, if you do these three things as a musician, you’re probably one of those people who will advance far above most.

According to Dave Good, the three things successful musicians do are these:

  • you play – all the time
  • you listen (carefully)
  • you transcribe (imitate what you hear)

You play – ALL THE TIME.

This one seems to be a no-brainer in some ways. But it needs to be developed a little bit as an idea.

There isn’t really any way around the fact that you need to have time with the instrument – in different contexts, in intervals that will help muscle memory guide you along the way to internalizing what you practice and the like.

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Bill McBirnie (a gentleman I have met and who is a fantastic flutist and flute teacher) calls it “face-time with the instrument.”

Now, I suppose it is debatable whether time with the instrument develops a passion for it, or just shows that you already have the passion for it.

But I remember years ago hearing Robert Schuller speaking at his church in California about Frank Sinatra. He said that someone once asked Frank Sinatra, “what is talent?”

Without any hesitation, Mr. Sinatra said, “the drive is the talent.”

The fact is, if you’re spending a lot of time with your instrument, you’ve got a fighting chance. Natural ability will take you a long way. But time and time again, I’ve seen it in my students. Drive, determination and hard work will eventually overtake talent without discipline.

Play on your own. Play with backing tracks. Work with exercises. Play with friends. Any and every exposure gets you more familiar with your instrument in contexts that make it second-nature.

You listen. (You listen ACTIVELY.)

Playing is good. But it’s not enough. You will benefit from listening to others, and letting the listening internalize what you hear.

This is not just listening and liking. It’s listening with the intention of seeing if you can figure out WHY you like what you hear.

Jamey Aabersold discusses this in interviews. He talks about active listening and why it’s important to try to understand why you like what you’re hearing.

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See if you can understand what it is about someone’s style you like – what phrasing do they use that catches your ear? What note patterns are part of their musical vocabulary?

Dave gives some examples in the video.


Dave discusses the idea in this video as “transcribing to the instrument.” He is talking about listening to what you hear and imitating what you hear.

This is a critical step – especially for the more technical types of solos and stuff that you hear. Try to emulate what you’re hearing. If you need to, slow it down and try to imitate the phrases note by note.

This isn’t simply about parroting back what you hear; it’s about picking up on a way of speaking musically and trying to imitate the patterns.

Give a listen to the video. He makes a lot of sense.

Dave Good teaches horn by private lessons over the internet, if you’re interested. If you want to reach out to Dave, you can email him:

By the way, if you do contact him, tell him I sent you.

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