Music moves us, taps into our power of imagination, and connects us together – regardless of languages and cultural barriers. But being a musician isn’t easy. Some of the best musicians “live fast and die young,” but their contribution to music is undeniable.

Becoming a great musician takes drive, passion, and hard work. If you’re needing some inspiration to motivate yourself from time to time, check out these 10 famous expressions from legendary musicians. May their words of wisdom be with you!

1. Billie Holiday

“You can’t copy anybody and end with anything. If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. No two people on earth are alike, and it’s got to be that way in music or it isn’t music.”

What can we learn from the incredible Ms. Holiday? It’s important to be yourself. That’s the only way you can bring the real depth of emotion and intensity to the music you create.

2. Dizzy Gillespie

“It’s taken me all my life to learn what not to play.”

Silence enhances music. Sometimes it’s not about what you do play, but what you do not play. The temptation to add more is strong, but remember to subtract. Quality triumphs over quantity.

3. Louis Armstrong

“If I don’t practice for a day, I know it… for two days, the critics know it… three days, the public knows it.”

A single key ingredient in improving your musicianship is the amount of time you spend playing well. Deliberate practice builds confidence and consistent performances. And when you don’t practice? It shows.

4. Miles Davis

“You should never be comfortable, man. Being comfortable fouled up a lot of musicians.”

A great bit of advice from Miles Davis! Push yourself hard. When you challenge yourself, you unfold new boundaries. It’s not only about getting better as a performer – you’ll also want to work on building your network, community, songwriting, and so on.

Go beyond your limitations. You might fail, but you might also discover something remarkable.

5. Coleman Hawkins

“If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t really trying.”

Mistakes are inevitable and indispensable. They enable you to progress. Don’t be discouraged by the mistakes you make. Continue to practice and work hard on areas that give you trouble. Your perseverance is what makes you a great musician.

6. Pat Metheny

“Listening is the key to everything great in music.”

Active listening is critical when playing. It’s engaging, intimate, and focused. It enriches your musical life and helps you unearth and appreciate any piece of music. Read more about what our bassist friend, Chris Tarry, has to say about listening in our interview with him.

7. Thelonious Monk

“I say, play your own way. Don’t play what the public want – you play what you want and let the public pick up on what you[‘re] doing – even if it does take them fifteen, twenty years.”

Don’t let the voice of others cloud your own music. People come and go in life, so take your time and focus your attention on bettering yourself.  

8. John Cage

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”

Don’t be afraid to experiment with new things. It’s a great way to explore your creativity as a musician.

9. Jeff Beck

“I don’t care about the rules. If I don’t break the rules at least 10 times every song, then I’m not doing my job.”

Innovate! Go beyond what’s been established. It’s how music evolves. Venture out and find new ways of doing things or creating new sounds. You might even find a new way to get a deep understanding of the fundamentals of music.

10. Louis Armstrong

“Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there’s no more music in them.”

We couldn’t help but list the great Louis Armstrong twice! His musical advice is timeless. Remember: age is just a number. If you love what you do, you’ll keep on doing it.


What’s your favorite music quote? Share with us in the comments below!

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