Have you felt limited in music, or intimidated by creative tasks like playing by ear and improvisation? Have you wondered if the musicians who can do those things could always do them – or if they somehow learned? You might be surprised by the answer! In today’s episode we discover how a positive attitude and the right “toolkit” can equip you to find your own creative freedom in music.

Today we’re joined by Natalie Weber, founder of the popular MusicMattersBlog.com, a site devoted to inspiring creativity in music education. Natalie has studied music since the age of 7 but it was only later on that she broke free of the sheet music and found the kind of creative freedom which she now shares with students of all ages and levels in her independent piano studio and with music teachers worldwide on Music Matters Blog.

Natalie writes regularly to share lessons from her own piano studio and also keeps right up to date with all the interesting developments from other websites and music educators. Topics on the site range from highly practical guides and suggestions for covering topics like rhythm or ear training in lessons, through to app reviews and conference reports to share the latest goings-on in the world of music education.

We interviewed Natalie for our site back in 2011 so it was high time we caught up again!

In this episode we talk about Natalie’s own journey from being a note-reading pianist to finally breaking free of the sheet music. How that took a combination of practical techniques and a big mindset shift about what it means to make music.

She shares two pivotal experiences that totally transformed how comfortable she felt making music out of nothing and now inspires the creative approach she takes in her own teaching and leadership of other music teachers around the world.

You’re going to hear how important it was that she had a positive attitude in her own music learning – really inspiring if you want to expand your own musicality.

Also: would you guess that Natalie’s new course on music theory and reading sheet music was actually created in partnership with two people who struggled with that the most…

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Christopher: Welcome to the show, Natalie! Thank you for joining us today.

Natalie: You bet. Thanks for having me.

Christopher: Let’s start at the very beginning. Can you tell us about how you got started making music yourself?

Natalie: I can. I was one of those seven-year-olds who was forced into it by my parents. I don’t really remember having any compelling desire myself to start into piano lessons but it was just assumed that that was something that my sisters and I would do. We did and dutifully attended our lessons every week and not so dutifully did our practicing during the week.

Christopher: What was it like for you? You described it there as doing it because you were told to rather than because you had a burning desire inside you. How did those first few years of piano leaning go for you? Did it feel like you had a natural inclination for music? Did it all come easily or was it a matter of working hard for each bit of progress you got?

Natalie: Honestly, thinking back, the first number of years are, I don’t know, not very clear for me. I know that I’ve taken piano for a long time but I don’t have a lot of memories of those early years. I just remember going to lessons and that I was required to practice during the week. I never had a really good ear for music. It wasn’t something that I thought, “This is great. I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.” It was just part of our expectation growing up in our family. It was that we would take piano lessons. So yeah, it’s strange now being in the world of music and looking back. I don’t have a lot of fond memories or memories at all really of those early years.

Christopher: That’s really interesting and I’m sure quite reassuring to our listeners to find out that someone even as accomplished as you didn’t necessarily take to it one morning and find they were a natural prodigy.

Natalie: Yeah. Absolutely. In fact, it’s interesting because probably the thing that I hear people say the most when I tell them I’m a piano teacher is, “I wish that I had stuck with piano lessons.” Even though I am one of those that stuck with piano lessons, I would say a lot of my love for music and development in music didn’t come until quite a bit later in my studies.

Christopher: There must have been some kind of spark or connection because years on, you are 100% immersed in the world of music. You run one of the most popular, if not the most popular blog for music teachers and piano teachers in particular. How did that happen? How did the next ten years of learning piano go? Where did that desire to do it for your life come from?

Natalie: That’s a very good question. There’s a proverb that says, “A man plans his way but the Lord directs his steps.” I feel like that’s the story of my life is that God has really directed my steps. I never set out and said, “Hey, this is going to be my life focus. I’m going to invest myself in music.” But it was one thing after another, it just kept leading me down that path. I can remember getting to a point probably mid teens where being a regular piano student, and a number of my friends were also involved in music. Some of them were incredible musicians. They could do this strange thing called play by ear where they would sit down at a piano with no sheet of music in front of them. They would just play this beautiful music.

One of my friends in particular, I remember doing this little game with her where I would write down several letters from the music alphabet on a piece of paper and give it to her. Then she would just take that and play this gorgeous piece of music based off of that. I was so in awe of that ability being someone trained exclusively through a, “Here’s your method. Here’s the notes on the page. Play these notes and count the rhythm.” That launched me I guess into more of a quest to figure out how do you do that? How do you go beyond just what’s written on a page and really make music?

Christopher: Did you have that confidence that it was possible? Because when I think back, I had a very similar experience to you in being trained to read notes and that was that, and being just overwhelmed by the people who could play by ear and improvise because it was so far beyond me. For me, I guess I didn’t believe it was possible. I thought those guys could do it and they could always do it. I didn’t know how to do it. Therefore, I couldn’t. It sounds like maybe you had a bit more insight that actually maybe that stuff was learnable.

Natalie: In some ways, it’s probably more a sense of wishful thinking. I remember asking my friends, saying, “How did you do that? Show me how to do that.” She wou