What musicians think they do best and what skills they want to improve

I sent out a survey this week to my customers–musicians who have bought mainly books from my store. I’m thrilled that more than half of the people to whom I sent it filled it out. I guess it didn’t hurt that I gave every respondent a free shopping spree in my digital product catalog! But even that allowed me to see what people truly want when money isn’t involved.

I want to share the answers to the first two questions on the survey so you can see what others feel they’re doing well, what they want to improve, and how you compare. I found the answers interesting because they point to products I can create that better align with what people want.

1. What one musical skill are you best at/most proud of on your instrument?

30% Playing well with others
22% My instrument mechanics/my chops
10% My sense of rhythm/groove
10% Playing what I hear in my head
8% My ear

The remaining answers included “I like my sound”, “I can play high”, and basically “I suck”.

Musical skills musicians felt were strongest
Skills musicians believe are their best

I find it interesting that the minority of players consider their ear their best attribute, claiming instead for the more physical elements of their playing. Playing well with others certainly required good ears but as it relates to improvisation and hearing chords, people are not as confident. I probably should have drilled down a little to better understand what they meant by Playing well with others. I intended the answer to mean that players know how to blend and contribute to a musical group.

2. What skills do you most want to improve

Unlike the question above which permitted just one answer, multiple answers were allowed for this question. The percentage reflects how many of all respondents chose that answer.

59% Knowing what to play over chord changes
52% Making my improvised lines more melodic
50% Making my improvised lines more interesting and exciting
48% Playing my instrument better technically
44% Hearing the harmony of tunes better (ear training)
35% Sounding truer to the authentic style of the music I’m playing
29% Having a stronger sense of rhythm
19% Making my improvised lines faster and more complex

The written “Other” answers included “breath endurance”, “range and endurance” and “all of the above”.

Skills musicians most want to improve

The answers to this question really got me thinking about some sort of basic method product for “What to play over this chord”. I know that associating notes with chords is a dark mystery to many. I have avoided getting into depth on the subject because I’m an advocate using one’s ears before eyes and intellect. I’ve opted, therefore, to focus on simply hearing the music and building the connection from one’s inner musical ear to their instrument.

With that said, I do have some thoughts on making the chord/note connection more intuitive and useful. In the end, however, forget about it and just listen. If you listen deeply enough, the harmony, groove, and the musicians playing along will all guide you to a beautiful solo.

John Coltrane
John Coltrane

I like the fact that more people are interested in making their improvised lines more melodic that faster and more complex. Nothing wrong with faster and more complex (thank you Mr. Coltrane), but my style seems to be aligned with what the people taking the survey desire. By the way, they were mainly trombone players. Shocking, huh?!

The rest of the survey asked their thoughts about the good and the bad of my books. The positive responses were the overwhelming answers to the survey. Maybe the people who didn’t answer the survey would have balanced things out, but the answer I received confirm that I’m providing value to players wanting to be better.

I’ll post the thoughts on my products in a later article.

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