Michael Engdahl

The Blog



Let me get something off my chest that’s been bothering me for awhile –
(At least, this is how I’ve felt recently.)

This isn’t a new concept by any means, most of us (whether we admit it or not) are going through life essentially ‘faking it’ till me make it. I bring this point up because I’ve felt the fraud police coming out in full force as of late which has caused me to really doubt myself. I should feel secure in what I’m doing; after all I’m entrusted with educating others, have support from a wonderful company and am fortunate to gig regularly. But therein lies the problem; I should be better.

Aren’t you being a little hard on yourself? You’re fine. You’re doing great. Blah Blah Blah.

If we’re being honest, I haven’t held myself accountable. At least, not to the standards that I should be.

My reading should be better.
I should be able to play faster.
My lines cleaner, more musical.
There should be more compositions written by now.
The list goes on.

I’m on both sides of the fence; engaging in a professional career while still (and forever being) in the student role. These are interesting times indeed.
Stretching myself thin, always being the ‘yes’ man, and not taking time for myself has finally caught up with me.

Because of all this internal dialogue it’s made the last several weeks difficult to enjoy the music. I have found myself in a rut. This past week, I made a conscious effort to spend more time on the areas that need it the most – take a deep breath, shut off the phone (the world) and get to work. It has helped immensely. Here are a few things that I’ve done to get myself back on track and get back to the start of it all.

  1. No electronics

I use the MusicJournal app to keep track of my practice routine, but I went back to keeping a timer going and writing down what I’m working on. Not as cool and color coordinated, but it allows me to dump the phone in the other room and focus on being in the moment.

  1. Going on a walk(exercise in general)

Either with a specific album in mind to listen to (Jim Hall Live! 1975) or sans earbuds, taking 15-30 minutes out of my morning or afternoon, pre practice session, has been invaluable. I can go through all my thoughts, try to analyze and organize what I’ll be moving on to next, and feel energized to sit down and get to work as soon as I get back. Run, bike, lift, whatever it is you do, get your body moving to clear your head.

  1. FACE THE MUSIC (your weaknesses)

Sight reading is one of my weakest areas and I made it a priority to spend a good portion of my practice routine on it. Reading exercises, etudes, transcribed solos, whatever I can get my hands on. For most of us, we avoid our weaknesses and focus more on our strengths. Take some time to revisit those problem areas and work on evaluating them to a new level.

  1. Active listening

When we get caught up working on new pieces, it’s easy to forget to enjoy the music. Find a favorite album and sit down in a comfy spot with headphones and tune everything else out. Listen for the subtleties and find why you fell in love with it in the first place.

  1. Step away from the bomb

If your instrument is causing you grief and you’re having a real tough time shaking the mental block, step away. There’s a fine line between disciplining yourself to practice when you don’t want to and literally FORCING notes out. Put it down, walk away, and go do something that has literally nothing to do with music. Taking a short hiatus can sometimes help your playing as much as practicing.

6. It’s OK to say NO

For the last couple years I have been the ‘yes’ man to any opportunity that has come my way. I believe that because of this, it has allowed me to grow and lead to many more open doors that otherwise would have stayed shut. I have followed the mantra of ‘Don’t turn anything down!’ for a long time and I feel it catching up with me. It’s okay to say No. It’s not the end of the world if you have to turn down a gig. If it comes down between your well being and a performance – that decision is up to you. Stay hungry, but pick your battles. You’re no good to anyone if you’re run down and frazzled.


There will always be times where we need a hard reset. It’s up to you to acknowledge when it’s time to take a break and reevaluate your situation. Fear not, it’s temporary! You’ll be back on the horse in no time. It’s incredibly hard to accept that things aren’t perfect (they will never be) and that we don’t have it all together (we don’t?) but by accepting it you can take all the weight and pressure off your shoulders and can start again. I know I feel much better.

Let’s exceed our expectations this week. Breathe – let’s make some music.



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