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Clarity, Intention, Discipline


Dirt path in a forest with sun coming through the trees

Conceptually, “Building a Musical Life” is the idea that if music is important to us, it’s worth structuring our lives to support a meaningful and lifelong connection with it. There are three essential principles we can use to guide us in accomplishing this: clarity, intention, and discipline. 


Clarity is about knowing exactly why we’re pursuing music, what we want to do with it, and how it will relate to the rest of our lives. There are many diverse options when it comes to being a musician: We can be performers or songwriters, play solo or with a band, make music for fun or pursue it professionally. There is no one right approach for everyone. What matters is figuring out what will make it a meaningful experience for each of us. Getting clear about the “why”, “what”, and “how” provides our musical journeys with direction and purpose. Without this clarity, we run the risk of taking on any musical activity simply for the sake of it—many of which might not be fulfilling to us. As Michel de Montaigne wrote: “Anyone who has not groomed his life in general towards some definite end cannot possibly arrange his individual actions properly.” 


Intention is about deliberately directing our time and our attention to support our musical lives. This includes making time to consistently pursue musical activities—like practicing, performing, and creating—and selecting the material and projects best suited to our unique interests, strengths, and shortcomings. It is essential to recognize we only have so much time, energy, and attention available. If music is important to us, we need to be intentional about these resources so there is room in our lives for us to pursue it the way we want.


Discipline is all about doing the work necessary to improve as a musician and develop as an artist. This means taking daily, focused action toward your preferred musical outcome. This is the most important part of building the musical life you want. No matter how clear your vision, or how well-planned and organized your schedule is, if you don’t actually follow through, you won’t get anywhere. Your musical life must be, as Marcus Aurelius would likely suggest, assembled “action by action”. This is where we might deploy habit building and productivity tactics to ensure we get consistent, high quality music work accomplished. 


Clarity, intention, and discipline work best together. Having clarity will allow you to guide your time, attention, and actions in support of what you want. Being intentional about your time and attention frees you to consistently work on the right things. Discipline will bolster you to perform the musical actions you’ve selected, which will close the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Taking regular action also provides us with valuable information about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to both our musical life vision, and how we’ve been spending our time. These three principles provide us with the strongest foundation to build our musical lives around. 


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