Five Books to Revamp Your Mindset and Motivate You on the Path to Success

As a teacher and a performer, I love reading books about performance psychology and business. Anything that challenges me to reevaluate ways I’ve been thinking and design smarter habits is great for both me and my students. I’ve been thinking for a while about which books I would choose for this post and it was actually been pretty difficult since there are so many great options. I decided to limit my choices to books that are not specifically about music but are still extremely relevant to musicians.

5TF Books

1. It’s Not How Good You Are, It‘s How Good You Want To Be, by Paul Arden

41PKj+kB6BL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_I have been reading this book for years since my parents gave it to me in high school and it is a great book for any creative person with goals in mind. We have all heard the story about the tortoise and the hare – about how persistent hard work will always prevail far beyond raw talent – but it is true!

One of the parts I enjoyed most about this book was its easy to read format; some pages even only had one sentence! Large print and easy legibility make the potentially intimidating ideas this book addresses approachable. The book starts out with these three sentences: “Nearly all rich and powerful people are not notably talented, educated, charming or good – looking. They become rich and powerful by wanting to be rich and powerful. Your vision of where you want to be is the greatest asset you have.”

2. You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, by Jen Sincero

51ypp1C+97L._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_This was one of the first books I read after finishing my Masters degree and, wow, was it helpful!!

Being in music school is a very self-critical experience that can be very overwhelming, even if it is always focused on positive improvement and support. It is so easy to compare ourselves to our mentors and other people around us that may have entirely different personal circumstances and situations. Remember, especially on social media, we only see the everyone’s highlight reel of all of the best things happening. I really liked how this book helped me change my thinking and was exactly the motivation I needed to read after finishing school. Sincero includes actionable steps in each chapter to reevaluate your beliefs and your actions – and she helps you refocus them. This book is great for throwing perceptions back in your face, helping you to face your strengths and work to improve your weaknesses.  Here’s a great quote: “Our entire experience on this planet is determined by how we choose to perceive our reality.”

3. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck

51FexyX8WQL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_This book is so great for teachers and students or anyone that is actively involved in learning. This book identifies the fixed mindset and the closed mindset. The fixed mindset is believing that your qualities are carved in stone – leading to urgently needing to prove yourself over and over. The growth mindset is believing that your basic qualities are things that you can change on your own over time. These different outlooks translate directly into your daily actions and reactions to situations. For those of us who teach, these ideas can frame how we interact with students and how our students and children interact with each other.

For example, what if you are an orchestral trombone player and you get called for a gig you usually play, but one of the pieces has a big featured jazz solo in it? As an orchestral player, jazz may not be your strong suit. So, if you have a fixed mindset, you may believe that this is a situation that will expose your lack of talent and end up labeling you as a failure because you couldn’t possibly improve in that area. You simply are not that kind of musician. If you have a growth mindset, however, then you will react to the situation with motivation, confronting the problem, and believing that your efforts will make a difference in your playing. Of course, we are not all black and white with one mindset 100% of the time. There are almost always things about ourselves that we can feel strongly that we can’t change. And yet, with hard work and awareness of your mindset, anything is possible.

4. Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual (for a Sexist Workplace), by Jessica Bennett

513dD03hR7L._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_Although this book is written for women in a typical business office structure, the way Bennett describes the difficulties women face in those situations feels all too familiar and relevant for musicians. Feminist Fight Club was a very quick read with a conversational tone and fun illustrations in the margins. This amusing style helps hammer some of the points home and makes a book that is primarily directed at people in business in a typical office environment much more relevant and applicable to freelance musicians.

For those who might worry that this book is just a complaining manifesto against men: don’t worry! The book is full of statistics, references from actual studies, quotes, and interviews that Bennett uses to back up her points. She outlines the problems that women face in the workforce by describing characters like the “Mansplainer” who condescendingly explains things to women who usually already know what the answer is. I am sure we have all experienced this. After illustrating each of these characters, Bennett describes ways to fight back and counter the behavior. She also includes problematic behavior that women sometimes display that unknowingly makes these stereotypes worse like the “Credit Defaulter” who upon receiving a compliment about a job well done will immediately respond, “Oh thank you, but I couldn’t have possibly done it without xyz” or will attribute recent success to luck or something else. Sound familiar? Of course it is important to be modest, but in a world where men are quick to point to their own innate qualities and skills it is important to take personal credit when deserved and value your own contributions!

5. The Slight Edge, by Jeff Olson

41hC5Pli3SL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_I recently finished this book and I have to say, it has become my new favorite. In a way, The Slight Edge combines many of the ideas from the four previous books all into one. This book is about evaluating your everyday actions, thoughts, and decisions, and realizing how that all figures into your greater success (or failure). Olson identifies the power of the “slight edge” – the awareness of those daily choices – and how it can affect and impact all areas of your life. Here’s a great quote that summarizes many of the ideas he writes about: “Successful people do whatever it takes to get the job done, whether or not they feel like it.” This book has helped countless people, including myself, become happier and more productive, so check it out!

We hope that everyone has a happy holiday season and is gearing up for 2018 with excitement and motivation. Hopefully these books will help!

NB: These are not Amazon affiliate links and we receive no payment for recommending these books. We just like them!

Five things I Learned from Desk Job to Freelance Life – Caitlin Featherstone

This week we are very excited to presentCaitlin Featherstone for Five Things Friday. Enjoy!


Caitlin Featherstone is a Southern California Native currently residing in Brooklyn where she is working as a full time freelance musician and teacher. Since moving to New York City three years ago, Caitlin has been playing consistently with a number of orchestras, churches, theater companies and opera companies. She has also recently joined The Brooklyn Conservatory working as a music teacher in several of their Public School music outreach programs. In addition to freelancing, Caitlin is the fifth and newest member of the “Deliciously Creepy Cabaret Sensation”, Orphan Jane. A locally famous music ensemble. In 2016, Orphan Jane released their second album, “The Traveling Everything Show”, on which Caitlin is featured. When she isn’t playing trumpet, Caitlin is a professional Dog Sitter in the NYC area as well as an aspiring Sommelier. Caitlin is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory where she studied under Roy Poper and received her Bachelor’s in Trumpet Performance and a Minor in Ethnomusicology.


This past March, I decided to make a crazy and seemingly stupid life change. I decided to quit my cushy day job of two years and dedicate myself to my trumpet career full time. This meant losing the stability of a weekly paycheck and my own personal office where I called the shots, and buckling down to finally take action and move my career in the right direction. However, it also meant finally having the freedom to take chances, having the time to take care of my mental and physical wellbeing, and actually feel like I was being proactive about something that gave me a purpose for being in New York! Continue reading

Five Things to Keep in Mind When You are Stressed and Busy

Hi fellow brass chicks! We didn’t forget it is Friday and hope you didn’t either! It is such a busy time of year with the holidays, school, and gigs and we certainly know things can get a little crazy. Hopefully this post will help 🙂

1. Perspective. 

This one may seem obvious but it is always important to keep in mind that many of the stressful things that we are worrying about may often be “first world problems” that not everyone has the pleasure of experiencing. For example, after a busy day of teaching and  playing, I walked into a cafe and ordered a small salad. The woman behind the counter yawned and apologized and I said, “Oh don’t worry, I am tired too.” But then she asked if I get to sit down at my job, because she was tired after standing all day – and as a musician, most of the time we are sitting so I definitely didn’t have anything to say back.

2. Be Grateful

This is very similar to keeping your perspective in mind when in the face of “first world problems” but more related to simply appreciating everything that you have. Do you have food, a place to live, family, friends, and something you are passionate about? That is a lot more than some people and certainly something to be grateful for.

3. Appreciate where you are and what you have done

Especially in stressful times, it can be easy to lose track of your own personal accomplishments and truly appreciate and recognize everything that you have done. We are getting increasingly closer to the end of 2017 and I’m sure there are some amazing things that have happened that you can be proud of. Make a list and look at it whenever you need an extra boost! This is even more helpful for times when you feel like you are treading water and not moving forward in ways that you may like.

4. Look forward to something in the future.

Many of my students just finished midterms and are now preparing for finals. Some of them have holiday concerts. I personally have many gigs coming up – many of which all seem to be on top of each other and can make maintaining a healthy sleep schedule difficult. One of my mentors recently told me to keep this in mind recently and it is super helpful as a motivating goal to get through a long day or a long rehearsal. And it can be anything from getting to sleep in tomorrow (yeah!), having ice cream at home after the gig, or planning a vacation next year. Always treat yo self and give yourself something to look forward to!

5. Self Care

It seems like we talk about this a lot here on the Brass Chicks but it is super important! Beyond the usual eating well and taking care of your body and mind, when you have a free moment – evaluate your schedule. Do you really need to take on that extra opportunity? Do you really have time to do that other project? Is your time better spent getting a head start on your work or going out with friends? Sometimes the answer might not what you think but make sure to always pay attention to what your body and mind need!

Do you have any other tips that we haven’t mentioned? We would love to hear from you, ei

Five Things I Learned After School

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Stephanie Hollander is an active freelancer in the NY Metro-Area. She recently collaborated with indie-pop singer Giselle Bellas on her new album “Not Ready to Grow Up” where she can be heard on the single “Canary”.  She has performed with many distinguished groups such as; Hudson Valley Philharmonic, Rocktopia, Patriot Brass, The South Florida Symphony Orchestra, Miami Symphony, Bard Conducting Institute, Washing Heights Chamber Orchestra, Bach Festival Orchestra, Vermont Mozart Festival, Albany Symphony, Newburgh Symphony and numerous others. In 2017 she was principal horn for the North East tour of the distinguished pop Italian group, Il Volo.

 Ms. Hollander holds a B.M from the University of Cincinnati, CCM, and a M.M from the Eastman School of Music where she was awarded a graduate teaching assistantship. She also holds an Artist Performers Certificate from Bard College Conservatory and a Professional Studies Certificate from the Manhattan School of Music as a recipient of the 2016-2017 Richard E. Adams Scholarship. Her teachers have included; Barbara Currie, Javier Gandara, Randy Gardner, Peter Kurau, Jeffrey Lang and Julia Pilant.

 Currently, Ms. Hollander is on faculty at the Dutchess Community College Community School and Hartwick University and has been a guest speaker for the SUNY Purchase horn studio, on the topic of, “Graduation, now what”.

In Ms. Hollander’s spare time she enjoys spending time with her husband, she is fluent in Spanish, loves salsa dancing, biking and snuggling with her three beautiful cats.  Continue reading

5 Things I’ve Learned While Traveling with My Trumpets

We are pleased to welcome trumpeter Katie Clark as this week’s Five Things Friday guest writer!

KatieClarkWhen I first set out on my trumpet travels this fall, I was asked if I would like to write a piece for “5 Things Friday” on Brass Chicks about what I’ve learned or discovered while curating my own education this year.

I’ve been blogging about my travels, trumpet, and being gluten free on my blog, Katie’s Trumpet Travels (, so feel free to find out more about me and my story there!

I voluntarily withdrew from my doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia last spring to attend the University of Toronto’s Master of Teaching program. However, after attending Chosenvale: The Center for Advanced Musical Studies in June, I realized that I needed to make the trumpet my career; I love it. So I was unsatisfied with my doctoral program, no longer wished to attend teachers college, and was forced to come up with a plan. I’ve always said that studying abroad would be a dream come true, but I was hesitant to spend two to four years abroad as I am very comfortable living in Canada and wish to work there one day. For some reason, I did not see it as a road block to spend one year abroad. I guess when you’re determined to make something happen, it happens.

I then decided that I didn’t need a school. I had spent the past seven years in music schools and really just wanted to expand my trumpet technique and proficiency. I needed teachers. I then considered the many teachers that I’ve met throughout the past few years whom I’ve learned a lot from and drafted out a travel plan. In doing this, I was also lucky to stumble across the news of a conservatory needing an extra trumpet performer for a concert in March and found a base point for my European adventure. Considering I was not going to be a full time student, I had a lot of free time to schedule lessons and other classes across Europe during my time abroad. I was also very lucky to have a friend who was taking a gap year between her undergraduate and graduate degrees join me on this adventure because travelling with someone is a lot more fun than travelling alone.

Anyways, too much rambling! I am now five weeks into my seven weeks of trumpet travel in Europe, am a contract student at the Koninklijk Conservatorium Den Haag, and have learned many new things about trumpet, travel, and myself that I will attempt to organize into a clear list. Please note that these are the most valuable things that I have picked up while travelling and curating my own education and that they may be different for you!  Continue reading

Five Things I Learned While Making My First Album

Alright – I’ve been saving this post for a little while but now it is officially time since my album came out this week on Tuesday November 7th. Throughout the whole process of making my album, I have learned so much while making “As I Am” and a lot of people have asked me great questions about  the process so I thought it would be great to organize my thoughts into a blog post.

First: for those of you that don’t know me too well: here is a super quick background 🙂 A little over a year ago, I wanted to pick some rep for a recital and found a couple great pieces by women composers. Rather than doing another recital, I knew that I would be graduating with my Masters in May and I thought that an album featuring music by women composers would be a great thing to graduate with…. so here we are! I commissioned about half of the composers featured on the album and found the rest of the pieces on my own. I also crowdfunded about 80% of the costs for the album which was unbelievably helpful. The album would not have been possible without those contributions so if you were one of the 150+ people who helped make the album possible, thank you so much!!

album cover
Here’s a formal description:

As I Am is my debut album featuring new music for trumpet by women composers. This album includes a wide range of contemporary trumpet playing, from lyrical melodic lines to improvisation to extended techniques. The album includes music for solo trumpet, flugelhorn, trumpet with electronics, trumpet and piano, trumpet + electronics + harp, and flute + violin. As I Am presents music by Alexandra Gardner, Ariel Marx. Jennifer Higdon, Jessica Rudman, Jinhee Han, Ledah Finck, Nicole Piunno, and Kate Amrine.  Continue reading

Five Books Every Entrepreunerial Musician Should Read

This post is from pianist Eunbi Kim‘s own blog and yes, it is our first honorary Brass Chick guest post (Eunbi plays the piano). We saw her post and just thought it was so relevant to the Brass Chicks Community so we had to repost it and share it with you. 

Next to music, reading and books have been a great passion of mine, and I’ve been a serious reader my whole life. They provided a huge escape for me while I was growing up. My favorite writers are Haruki Murakami, Junot Diaz, Banana Yoshimoto, Julia Alvarez, Wally Lamb, and Margaret Atwood. Stories and books have the ability to expand our humanity and raise our consciousness. I also read a ton of business and music business books, and I’ve listed below some of my favorites (not in any order).

Continue reading

Five Yoga Poses to Release Neck and Shoulder Tension

We are so excited to share our first Five Things Friday that includes yoga poses that YOU can do on your own complete with photos and videos. From sitting in long rehearsals or standing up when performing or teaching, we all can benefit from these poses so we really appreciate Dr. Kate Umble Smucker for writing and sharing these with the Brass Chicks community and special thank you to Rebecca Steinberg for modeling for the pictures!

Dr. Kate Umble Smucker is a trumpet player and music educator based in New York City. She currently plays with Calliope Brass Quintet and teaches trumpet at the Music Conservatory of Westchester. Kate is also a 200 hour registered yoga teacher. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge of yoga with fellow musicians so they too can experience the benefits she has enjoyed by incorporating yoga practice with trumpet practice. 

Kate is a dreamer who loves to bring big ideas to life. Working with Calliope Brass, Kate assisted in the development of the educational show, “What’s Your Story?” She is a founding member of Spark Brass, a brass and percussion ensemble dedicated to promoting the positive impact of music education. She is also the founding artistic director of Lancaster New Sounds, a concert series that showcases new music by living composers. Her love of jazz prompted her to put together and lead the 18-piece King Street Big Band which is still active in Lancaster, PA.

Kate holds a Doctorate in Trumpet Performance from the University of Missouri in Kansas City, a Masters of Music from the University of North Texas, and a Bachelor of Music Education (K-12 instrumental) and a Bachelor in Trumpet Performance from the University of Northern Colorado. Her primary teachers were Dr. Keith Benjamin, Professor Keith Johnson and Dr. Robert Murray.

  1.    PREVENT strain through awareness of posture and alignment:

The key here is being aware of our posture, especially in tense situations where our mental stress can translate into tight muscles and lead to strain and overall inefficiency. We want to use our body in maximum efficiency mode, letting our skeleton do the work of holding our body upright and therefore allowing our muscles to do their work unhindered. Here is a quick checklist:

o   Weight Distribution: Where do you feel your weight supported in the chair? You should feel your two “sitz bones” directly under each hip where your thighbone meets your hip joint. If you have trouble finding them see this helpful video:

—-> Note: If you are standing to play, you won’t be balancing on your sitz bones, you will be balancing on the “four corners” of your feet (the heel and ball of both feet) with your feet hip width apart, keeping awareness of where your thigh bone connects into your hip joint, keeping your knees unlocked and the same awareness of a flat back, floating head, neutral chin. Thank you to Lindsay of “Thousand Petal Lotus Living” for this excellent graphic showing the pitfalls of standing and proper alignment:

o   Head: Your skull “floats” on a ball and socket joint. Slowly and gently trace an infinity sign with your chin. Can you feel a length in your neck and free and easy movement through the whole movement? If not, take a pause at the spots where you feel tension and breathe in and out through your nose for a few breaths as you release the tension in those spaces.

o   Chin: Are you bringing the instrument to you or jutting your chin toward the instrument? Is your chin in a neutral position or aimed down at the floor or up toward the ceiling? (It should be neutral)

o   Shoulders: Bring your shoulders up to your ears, roll them back to squeeze your shoulder blades together and then bring them down away from your ears. Do this a few times until you can feel the weight of your arms hanging from your shoulder joints and a length across your body from the top of one shoulder to the other.


  1.    Shoulder stretch and neck release with Chair

This simple stretch can be done any time during practice or a rehearsal break. Simply stand behind a sturdy chair and place your elbows on the back of the chair. You can rest your forehead on the back of the chair between your elbows or, if you are open enough, you can let your head drop between your elbows as you see Rebecca doing in the photo. Be sure to walk your feet out and away from the chair so you ankles are directly under your hips to give you a flat back (no sway back or arched back).  Hold for several minutes, breathing deeply and out through your nose, making sure you don’t lock your knees.

  1.    Eagle Arms

Many of you have probably come across this one before, but I had to add it into the mix because it works so well! Standing or sitting, bring your arms out to the side so you are in a T shape and then bring your elbows together in front of your body, crossing your right elbow over your left elbow. If it is available to you, bring your left fingertips to meet your right palm so your arms are twisted around each other in a spiral. You should feel a stretch across the back of your shoulders. Be gentle! If you want a deeper stretch you can pull your elbows down and/or out away from your body. ** Do this on the other side by releasing your arms and crossing left elbow over right elbow.



  1.    Rag Doll

This is a simple forward fold, folding forward from the hip joint, staying balanced on the four corners of your feet.  Bend your knees as needed to feel the lengthening of your spine. The neck and shoulder release is created by adding downward weight when you clasp your elbows or, (if available to you), placing your palms under your feet. Hold this for at least a minute, longer if possible, concentrate on breathing in and out through the nose, and come up slowly when you are ready to release.



  1.    Wall Twist

This twist is less intense than what you might do during a yoga practice because you should be properly warmed up before you jump into a really deep twist. Keep that in mind as you do this at the wall! Place your chair about 1-2 feet from the wall and stand beside the chair, between the chair and the wall. Place your right foot on the chair. Keeping your right knee above your ankle, turn your torso to face the wall and reach your left arm straight out along the wall. You can reach your right arm up or straight out in line with your left arm. Repeat twist on the other side, placing your left foot on the chair.  


Further Recommended Reading:

Great insight into proper alignment and how to incorporate free and open breathing into your playing:

The Breathing Book, David Vining (this is the trumpet version but there are also versions for trombone and bass trombone)




Five Ways to Keep Your Chops in Shape After College

This post from tubist Genevieve Blesch has some great tips on how to keep your playing up after graduating and even features a bonus Five things to cover in each practice session.


Genevieve Blesch is a freelance tuba performer and educator in the tri-state area. After spending her freshman year at The Ohio State University studying with James Akins, she received her bachelor’s degree in music education and master’s degree in tuba performance from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, where she studied with Alan Baer. Genevieve frequently performs with orchestras, quintets, school ensembles and marching/pep bands. Noteworthy clients include The Pennington School and Patriot Brass Ensemble. Genevieve teaches private and small group lessons in central New Jersey. Orchestras that Genevieve has performed with include Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra, Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonietta Nova and Gateway Classical Music Society. Outside of music, Genevieve teaches Japanese and pursues her interest in technology.

Thanks Genevieve for sharing your thoughts with the Brass Chicks community!  Continue reading