The term “Music Hack” deserves some explanation…

Lately, I’ve been excited about a new type of musical mini-model that I call a “Music Hack.” But first, I need to explain what modeling is.

Long ago, during the peak of the Human Potential Movement, the mind technology “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” was created by some very colorful and controversial characters in California.

The eccentric Richard Bandler (known for his unconventional and provocative therapy) and the former military Captain John Grinder (who specialized in the transformational grammar of Noam Chomsky) first developed Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Through “word of mouth”, NLP grew to the point where coaches like Tony Robbins were charging between $5,000 and $20,000 for a single weekend of coaching.

Just before I hooked up with NLP developers David Gordon (who specialized in therapeutic metaphors and, for the past 20 years, modeling) and Charles Faulkner (who has worked closely with futures traders worldwide and helped them make millions!), I produced my first absolute pitch ear training course.

Soon after, I became an NLP Master Practitioner — a massive 28-day affair in Winter Park Colorado, complete with major NLP developers (Steve Andreas, author of ““, finished the event)… NLP coaches (from all over the world–even as far as IRAQ!)… and a jaw-dropping stable of the best NLP trainers.

That wildly-successful training seminar taught me the “model” for almost everything I’ve done since… because at its core is killer information and a powerful “tool box” to build your life exactly the way you want!

I enjoy NLP. I’ve been using it for over 15 years. I’ve written about it extensively. (Most recent: Hacking Your Self Concept) I have even been paid as a life coach — to help people achieve their life goals in everything from relationships to finances.


…Where I have found NLP to be most useful is in using the core of NLP to capture and acquire the skills and abilities of the world’s greatest musicians.

It is the one thing that made NLP so powerful.

Specifically: Modeling.

You see, back then during my NLP training, David Gordon showed me how experience has structure. Skills as diverse as being able to effectively negotiate, tell a joke, manage a large group, write a book, promptly pay bills, plan the future, learn from the past, or compose music, all have a structure. Every human being is a vault of abilities in which they are an expert, or in modeling terms, an “exemplar.” All you need to open the vault is the correct combination.

But… that’s just the beginning. Because if an experience or behavior is possible for one person, it is possible for anyone.

I went crazy when I thought about that. But I went completely insane when I actually experienced it…

Let me tell you, the “real” training didn’t start… until we began with the “Hot Seats“. We all got our chance to be in the spot light and become the “exemplar.” We modeled each other. I mean, everybody’s an expert at something. Wanna hear the great part? I wasn’t at this training alone. I was there with some of my closest friends… who just happened to be musicians!

Every night, after hours, we would retreat into our mountain hideaway and hack into each other’s minds just like pale, sunlight-starved computer geeks (think of “Neo” in The Matrix). We modeled jazz improvisation, songwriting, engineering, music production, we took orchestration manuals and turned them into detailed models, we dug into biographies of great composers like Beethoven to find models for creativity, and the most important model of all… Stretching the limits of hearing.

Modeling is exciting, isn’t it?

But let’s get back to Music Hacks

In February 2004, British technology journalist Danny O’Brien coined the term lifehack, which refers to productivity tricks that programmers and other geeks devise and employ to cut through information overload and organize their data. Since that time, websites devoted to lifehacks have proliferated the web. (An was highly regarded at on May 31st, 2006)

The “hacker ethic” is based upon the computer geeks at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and is similar to the values existing in the open scientific community: information-sharing is powerful and positive, “cracking codes” is acceptable as long as it is virtuous and ethical, and hacking develops individual character. These values are closely related to the virtue ethics found in the writings of Plato and Aristotle.

I came up with the term “Music Hack” to reference these little mini-models that I was using to create slick solutions for my students’ and colleagues’ creative and musical challenges. The idea was to help you learn to hack your music and creativity intentionally, so you never get stuck and experience more joy out of playing.

I started using my Music Hack concept publicly during my first big advanced absolute pitch coaching teleseminar… when I discovered that I had more time than I’d planned for at the ends of these calls. So I randomly picked someone… put them down in the “Hot Seat”… and proceeded to grill them on the specifics of their “problems.”

And then, as casually as if we were discussing the weather…

I Solved Every Problem
They Had.

I did it to fill up time. Almost as an afterthought.

Yet, those first few Music Hacks immediately became the talk of the attendees. People in the teleseminar were stunned at how quickly we were able to solve what seemed like truly impossible challenges and unsolvable problems.

The folks in the Hot Seats actually seemed dazed. These were problems that had consumed their waking hours, exhausted their emotional resources, and frustrated every other music teacher they contacted… and we took maybe 15 minutes to uncover the root problems, redirect the energy, SOLVE the biggest problems… and even lay out a quick plan, complete with simple and specific assignments.

It happened so fast, some people thought it was a trick.

It wasn’t. In the beginning, I just needed to calm the Hot Seat hackee down enough to clearly tell me what the problem was. (That took a little skill — and it’s a critical lesson (use today: Your first step to fixing anything is to clearly identify the problem… in one or two short sentences, without any jargon.)

It wasn’t a trick, and it wasn’t magic.

It was just experience and modeling. Plus decades of hard-core, “stay at it until it works” effort, with my butt on the line…

Combined with the ability to TEACH — to understand how to communicate, and “translate” all that experience in a way that was easily absorbed… and learned.

And what about those problems that each Hot Seat participant was so sure was unique to him alone, and so challenging they were nearly impossible to solve?

Child’s play. I learned long ago that there aren’t all that many things that can go wrong in playing music. The blunders made by the concert pianist or singer-songwriter aren’t all that different from the mistakes made by the jazz cat or the guitar shredder.

And the solutions don’t always have to be made up fresh and new for each problem. Still… getting to each solution — even the simple ones — nevertheless…

Requires Hard-Core Expertise That ONLY Comes From Years Of DOING It.

That… plus the advanced knowledge of modeling and music psychology that ONLY a veteran musician and NLP Master Practitioner ever acquires.

The heart of successful musicianship is all about understanding humans. Your listeners are humans, and that means they share ALL the same unconscious listening patterns as everyone else. (If you’re playing music to zebras or insects, you’re excused.)

And you, as the performing musician or songwriter or whatever, are also human… and you share most or all of the same “mind screw ups” that other folks suffer whenever they encounter the thought-provoking, emotional and often confusing “real world” of music.

A good Music Hack, really, is like…

A Vicious “Intervention” In Your
Life And Music…
By Someone Who Knows The Right Path.

It can be startling, having everything you’re doing ripped apart and reassembled in front of your eyes. But it works.

I do not enjoy crushing anyone’s naive ideas of how things get done in the music world.

But if that’s what I have to do to get you on the right track, I won’t hesitate to get out the dynamite. That’s the way I learned — with some of the most intense (yet basically caring) mentors around. And that’s the way most of my most successful students and colleagues have learned fastest.

Here’s what you get during a Music Hack Hot Seat, as performed by yours truly:

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5 Responses to The term “Music Hack” deserves some explanation…

  1. Craig March 16, 2007 at 7:15 am #

    Hey Graham 🙂

    The above is really interesting!
    I’m a teenage trumpet and piano player and for sometime now i have been hugely fascinated with the seemingly infinate abilities of the mind.
    Even more than performing and playing music i love writing it! I love Beethoven and Mendlessohn through to Debussy, Ravel and some shostakovich.
    I have been told that i am probably the best composer that my music teacher has taught but i am never satisfied with what i write and it really annoys me.
    I want to write something big but i am constantly having trouble expressing myself musically and really unleashing my musical creativity. I feel like i’m being held back by something and i want to get past it.

    Is there anyway i can ‘hack myself’ to be a more creative and expressive composer and really ‘unleash myself?
    Any tips? Suggestions? Ideas? etc

    Thanks Graham and Keep up the Good Work!

  2. Graham English March 16, 2007 at 8:40 am #

    Let’s see, to be more creative, you need to create more. That’s where the “big” pieces of music are. They’re edited out of many hours of hard work. They’re not going to come out of you in one piece, that’s for sure. Maybe a simple pop song can come out of one sitting, but I seriously doubt a symphony can.

    To unleash yourself, ask yourself what’s holding you back? What is this “leash?” You see, all the clues are there in your language. If I had to guess for you, I bet the only things holding you back are skills and time. So put more time into polishing your skills and improve your musicianship.

    Finally, get a mentor. Agree with yourself that you’ll always need to improve as a musician and then get the coaching that works for you. You’re never done learning!

    I hope that helps. 🙂

  3. Craig March 16, 2007 at 5:36 pm #

    Amen to that…
    Cheers Graham 🙂


  1. The Graham English Blog » Links for 2006-08-16 - August 16, 2006

    […] The term “Music Hack” deserves some explanation… Lately, I’ve been excited about a new type of musical mini-model that I call a “Music Hack.” But first, I need to explain what modeling is… (tags: absolutepitch coaching goals LifeHacks modeling NLP psychology MusicHacks perfectpitch eartraining) […]

  2. New Technology - September 22, 2006

    Neurolinguistic programming…

    Neurolinguistic programmingis a set of techniques, axioms and beliefs that adherents use primarily as an approach to personal development. Neurolinguistic programming was influenced by the ideas of the New Age era as well as beliefs in human potential….