Traits I’ve Noticed My Most Successful Students Have Exhibited

In my 30+ years of teaching, I have observed personality traits that aided students to fast-track their learning. Whether it was something they did consciously or unconsciously, here are the traits that I have noticed over the years that seemingly multiplied their growth quicker than others.

One of the biggest traits I’ve noticed is a willingness for experiencing failure but having the resiliency to bounce back very quickly. When learning jazz or any music, there are always “failures” that take place. It’s how you deal with those non-success moments is what makes the difference. There are many floundering moments we experience. Small defeats could be not progressing as fast as you’d like, having a hard time playing chords, or improvising, or not sounding the way you want when you are improvising. There are a myriad of them.

Then there are larger collapses, like getting lost in the song at a jam session, recital, or a gig. Or maybe completely forgetting a section of the song in front of a group of listeners or peers. Death sometimes feels like a better option in those dreaded moments and can be agonizingly torturous. The thing I observed is, yes, they may have felt upset with themselves briefly, but they recovered quickly. They didn’t allow the “bad” experience to allow them to consider quitting or other similar negative thoughts.

We’ve ALL had these moments. It’s like falling and scraping your knee as a kid. You got back up and as soon as the sting subsided you went back to playing, back to living life. Those painful moments never last long. People won’t cast you from society because you made a mistake. It’s just music. It’s not heart surgery. The sun will still come up tomorrow. You and the rest of the world will continue on just like before the disaster occurred.

In other words, they didn’t dwell on the negative thoughts as some people tend to do. In a way it’s akin to having PTSD, replaying that terrifying moment to over and over in their mind where one allows the negativity to grow enough to stifle their progress and question themselves, not letting go.

What I’ve noticed is that the highest achieving students never let any of that faze them. They would use that as a method of simply being shown an area that can be strengthened and inspire them to keep improving. Almost like a challenge. “I’m just going to use these mistakes as fuel to keep getting better!”

It’s almost as if they acted like a self-guided missile. Focusing on the target, but self-correcting, re-calibrating constantly to hit their target. As it turns out, those “bad” experiences weren’t bad at all. They were simply self-correcting signals.

Didn’t Care What Others Thought
This sort of ties into the last trait, resiliency. It’s rare that anyone judges you to the point that they think you suck. If we start getting inside our own heads and we keep thinking that that’s true it has a definite negative effect on our motivation. Instead, I noticed my most successful students only cared what they themselves thought. “How can I work on something so that it doesn’t happen again.”

It simply boils down to personal awareness. Something that has been made known to you that you can change or improve on.

Remember the scraped knee analogy? You just scraped your knee because you tripped. It was an accident pure and simple. Not a character flaw. So you intuitively learned, “I’ll just be more aware of obstacles in my path that will potentially cause me to fall.”

Long Term Mindsets
The students that were the most successful had long term mindsets. They knew that there were no shortcuts, and that through persistence, over time, they would reach their goal(s). They were always happy with their small wins and knew, even instinctively, that the small wins eventually add up to a big win in the end. They were willing to realize that meaningful improvement could take months or even years to achieve.

They were in love with the “process.” They then used the re-calibrating analogy to stay on target.

Willingness To Take Advice
The ones that were the most eager to learn were willing to take advice and change what they were doing on the advice from someone that had more experience than them to more quickly see results. In other words, someone who is coachable.

Remember: What got you where you are, is not necessarily going to get you where you want to go.


By the way, all Insiders can take part of the Monthly Challenge where you send me recordings or videos of yourself improvising through a song so you can direct feedback and advice to aid you in your progress. I’m here to help you!


Not necessarily single-minded, driven by madness type of focus. But understood that life happens and sometimes things will take our attention away from what we would like to do. If your house were on fire, I hope you’d know enough to stop practicing and get to safety. Even though bumps in life will invariably happen, they didn’t let themselves get knocked off course by it. They would take things pretty much in stride and keep focusing on the things they knew they needed to do to get where they wanted to go. Pick up where they last left off, so to speak, and not let it effect them or get them down or discouraged.

Willingness To Be Vulnerable
Most of the time the best students were transparent about where they were in their progress. Many people are afraid to be vulnerable and worry about making themselves look bad in areas of their progress like certain abilities, knowledge, etc. But making yourself open and transparent you will grow much faster because you are opening yourself up for improvement by not caring what other people think. Those students were always open to constructive criticism much more so. Analogous to taking notes (sometimes mentally or literally) and staying focused on improving for their own reasons and desires.


Let Me Ask You
Which of these traits do you possess already? Which ones do you have a bit of a revelation and will start to implement possibly yourself?

I hope you got something from this post. And I hope that you as a Jazz Rocks Insider (or potential one)  realize you have a community here where you can bounce ideas off of me and each other so you can grow faster than on your own.

One great way is to join our monthly online hangs. Whether it’s clarification on a topic, or just wanting to get deeper into the woods on another topic, the online hang is a great way to ask me questions and get feedback from other Insider members. We all can learn from our  hive-mind here.

Being a Bronze Level Insider and above ($5 per month) gets you access to join our monthly online hangs.

We’re better off learning together as a community than we do apart.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there so you can grow and achieve your music goals faster.