This week in Musical U, we answered the burning question: what are the must-have skills you should have in your musician’s toolbox to succeed in songwriting, composing, and performance?

The list may be long, but we picked out a few key skills to explore: writing songs in minor keys, finding success as an independent musician, overcoming performance anxiety, and recording yourself to self-critique and improve your practice.

Composing in Minor

The I-IV-V progression may be the most popular chord sequence in modern music, but sticking exclusively to major chords in your songwriting has its limitations – all music can’t just be statically happy!

So, how do you inject harmonic richness and shifting moods into your music?

Dip your toes into the world of minor with Discovering Minor Chord Progressions. In one article, you’ll learn how minor chords are built, hear some beautiful examples of minor progressions, and examine why they work. Then, you’ll put your skills to the test with four exercises guaranteed to cement your understanding and get those creative juices flowing.

Learning minor chords is a great way to expand your musical vocabulary and play with different tonalities. Many musicians actually prefer to play within minor keys, depending on the genre of music they play. Guitar Chalk gives a great introduction to the F# minor chord, and the various positions in which it can be played.

Why learn minor scales? Because this will directly impact your ability to learn minor chord progressions! The circle of fifths is a great way to learn all of your minor scales. And it’s not a one-trick-pony; to learn more about what else the circle of fifths can do for you, check out Pyramind’s 5 ways to use this indispensable musical tool.

Learning about minor chord progressions is one thing, but how can you apply these progressions to your instrument? Youtuber GuitarLessons365 shows you some easy ways to incorporate minor chord progressions into your practice!

Success as an Independent Artist

There are countless perks to being an independent musician. You are in the driver’s seat, with every facet of your music, from its conception to its promotion, under your full control.

However, this freedom can be a double-edged sword. Without a label to back you, you need to wear multiple hats: songwriter, manager, accountant, publicist, and so on.

Beyond this, you need something that makes you stand out in a sea of fellow musicians. This week, Musical U interviewed one musician whose success lies in her versatility. With a voice that blends seamlessly with everything from folk to jazz, Kendra McKinley has carved out a name for herself in the Bay Area music scene and beyond with both her original tunes and intriguing covers. In Singing, Songwriting, and Success as an Independent Artist, with Kendra McKinley, she shares her songwriting philosophy, her wide range of influences, and how developing her ear has helped her in her musical journey.

Kendra shared her approach to songwriting in the interview, and her tactic of recording evolutions of the song as it develops. Writing music is a skill that many musicians desire, but some are not always able to make that transition. Perhaps it would be helpful to consider songwriting as a hero’s journey, as Tony Conniff explains.

What makes a song work? And how can you, as a songwriter, learn some of the same techniques that were used by legends such as George Harrison? Learn about the songwriting magic that you can use when writing a bridge with the help of Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers.

Kendra has found a niche in writing her songs while also incorporating cover songs into her music career. Many artists have taken very similar approaches, and it is a great way to diversify your material! But how should you go about creating your cover song? Dylan Laine talks about three different approaches that you can take when doing a cover.

Getting Musicality Down To A Science

What if there was a surefire way to build your confidence, make the most of your practice time, open up new creative avenues in songwriting, and eradicate performance anxiety?

In Making Music with Ease, with Gerald Klickstein, we are joined by the author of one of the most influential books in the music education world: “The Musician’s Way”. This isn’t your average self-help book. It emphasizes an individualized, holistic learning framework not found in traditional music education, involving creativity, positive energy, accuracy, and competence – four factors that empower and encourage growth.

“The Musician’s Way” isn’t just written based on opinions – as a lecturer who has served on the music faculties of several US universities, Gerald has built up his book on the foundation of careful research and evidence-based methods.

Being a musician can be stressful, as we put so much on our shoulders before each performance. In “The Musician’s Way”, Gerald shares some great insights on how to excel in high-pressure situations.

Gerald devoted a whole section of “The Musician’s Way” to talking about performance anxiety. Performance anxiety is an issue that affects nearly every musician at some point in their musical journey. Getting used to playing in front of people is not the easiest thing for most musicians, but there are ways that you can push through and succeed. The Flute Coach offers some great advice on beating stage fright and nailing your performance.

However, for some musicians, the feeling of panic when performing is so strong that it can threaten your very identity as a musician. They may try every tip that experts provide, but it is never enough to overcome this dread of performance. For these cases, there is therapy that can help you achieve your passions. The Cross-Eyed Pianist discusses the option of Cognitive Hypnotherapy and how it can help you overcome those nerves.

Listening to Yourself

It’s a piece of advice you’ll hear over and over again: “to improve faster, record yourself playing and listen!”

However, any musician can tell you that this is much, much easier said than done.


Because recording yourself is a little bit like performing, bringing with it some of that associated anxiety. While initially intimidating, recording yourself and listening back is actually a great way to dip your foot into the pool of performing, rather than diving right in at the deep end with a live set in front of other people.

In About Learning Faster by Recording Yourself, Musical U founder Christopher Sutton divulges the three major reasons you should take a deep breath, hit “record”, and play. He also shares ways to make the emotional process of recording yourself playing smooth sailing.

Even the most seasoned musician can greatly benefit by recording themselves and listening to their performance. This will allow you to hear your playing from your teacher’s perspective, and make honest evaluations of where you can improve. Wondering how to get started? FiddleHed explains the science of recording yourself, providing tips on how to make the most of your sessions.

Christopher talked about how recording your music practice is almost like keeping a diary of the progress that you make. Think of how fun it would be to revisit the journey that you made to achieving a great goal! For your reading pleasure, Collabra shares even more ways to making music practice a habit and keeping yourself motivated.

Every musician wants to see continuous progress in their musical performance, and recording your practice is only one part of a strategy to track your progress. Many musicians also use practice journals to document observations and other insights that they gain during a session. Flutist and music teacher Jolene Harju shares the important revelations she has had during some particularly memorable practice sessions.

From Learning to Doing

A major hurdle for some musicians is actually working up the courage to apply what they’ve learned. So, go ahead: hit “record”, play, and listen back. Step away from the realm of only playing major chords. Try your hand at songwriting, even if you’re primarily a cover artist. And most importantly: build your confidence so you can excel in those high-pressure situations, like your next important recital or a big audition.

The road to musicality involves leaving your comfort zone and taking some risks. The lessons offered in this week’s interviews and guides are a great starting point to expanding the scope of your practice and venturing into new and exciting musical territory.