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An Interview with Author, Educator, and Musician Gerald Klickstein

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Gerald Klickstein, Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, is a renowned guitarist and performance educator. He frequently lectures at prominent music conferences and appears at leading music schools and festivals where he performs, teaches, and directs original workshops. He also serves as Artist/Member-at-Large on the board of the American String Teachers Association and is a member of the College Board’s National Task Force on the Arts in Education. recently sat down with Klickstein to discuss his new book, The Musician’s Way, and his advice for music educators and students alike.

BD: What is the one most important lesson you have learned from your 30 years in higher education?

Klickstein: I’ve learned that, as educators, our primary task is to establish learning environments in which students are successful, their contributions are valued, mistakes are never shameful, and music making is joyful.

BD: What inspired you to write the Musician’s Way?

Klickstein: I wrote The Musician’s Way to help fill the gap between what we musicians typically learn during our schooling and what we actually need to know. As I see it, this gap is the main reason we see such high rates of performance anxiety, injury, and burnout among musicians. I aim to supply performers with the information they need to solve problems in practice, overcome stage fright, prevent injury, and enjoy lifelong music making.

BD: Did you collaborate with anyone to write the book?

Klickstein: I am the sole author. However, in addition to tapping the work of many researchers, I asked a number of professionals to review the chapters in the manuscript. They included instrumentalists and singers, two psychologists who counsel performers, and arts medicine specialist, Dr. Alice Brandfonbrener, who enthusiastically approved the chapters that cover injury prevention.

BD: Who do you think can benefit from reading the book?

Klickstein: The book is designed for a diverse audience, but it’s framed around the learning environment of first-year undergraduate music students. It can benefit college and pre-college students and their teachers as well as amateur and professional musicians.

BD: How is this book different from others on the market?

Klickstein: The Musician’s Way is unique in that it articulates the universal elements of the musician’s creative process. It’s the only book to present a comprehensive system for musicians to advance their creative abilities, develop artistic performance skills, and manage the mental and physical demands of music making. In addition, its companion website,, is the most extensive resource of its kind on the Web. It provides free downloads and also indexes sources for scores, instrument-specific tips, career-enhancement strategies, and much more.

BD: You also author, The Musician’s Way Blog, in which you expand on the content of the book. What do you hope to convey through the blog and who should be following it?

Klickstein: I hope that the blog will inspire and inform as well as provide a venue for the sharing of ideas. And I think that anyone involved in music and education will find that it contains items of interest. One article, for instance, speaks about constructivist learning and points to ways that we educators can stimulate creative thinking. Other posts are directed to broader audiences. Among these are the ones that discuss collaboration, performance stress, and self-recording in practice. I invite readers to comment on my blog and write to me via

BD: Your students have called you “brilliant and inspiring” and “a great source of clarity and wisdom.” What do you do in your classroom to inspire them to reach their potential?

Klickstein: It’s good to hear glowing reviews, but I teach my students to satisfy their own curiosity as opposed to trying to please me. Independent thinking is fundamental to creativity, and I make it a priority to promote such thinking. As an example, I ask students to develop individual artistic visions in which they describe why they make music and what they aspire to achieve through their music making. I also supply students with the tools they need to perform fearlessly (my methods are detailed in the book); plus, I maintain high standards for musicianship and professional conduct.

BD: Any thoughts you’d like to share with other music educators?

Klickstein: Let’s encourage divergent thinking in our students. In our desire to instill favorable habits in young people, our classes can sometimes become convergent in nature. Students then mistakenly believe that there’s one “right way” to do things, and they become narrow in their mindsets and fearful of errors. To help make divergent thinking part of my class culture, when I ask an ensemble to repeat a passage, for instance, I might direct them to listen for fresh things in the music, find novel ways to release muscle tension, and treat slips as information essential to their growth. On another subject, let’s also become champions of healthy music making. For one, we should all take the lead to protect both our own and our students’ hearing – I explain numerous hearing-conservation strategies in the book and summarize them on the blog.

BD: What’s your best advice for student musicians?

Klickstein: Stick to a consistent practice schedule; practice smarter, not harder; find spiritual meaning in every note you play; ask for help when things don’t feel right; share your music with those less fortunate than you are.

BD: Several of your writings and musical arrangements have been published for national consumption. Is there a piece that you are most proud of?

Klickstein: I imagine that all authors and composers feel best about their latest work, and I’m no exception. The Musician’s Way is my most satisfying and important publication to date.

The Musician’s Way is available for purchase through Oxford University Press and other book retailers.