How to honestly practice like a boss with Chris from Honesty Pill

Season 1 - Episode 6


Michelle Lynne: Welcome everyone to our fearless artist podcast. I’m really excited today to be with Chris Still from Honesty Pill. Chris, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Chris Still: My pleasure, Michelle. Thanks for having me. Can’t wait for this conversation. 

Michelle Lynne: Yeah, we have so many good things we’re going to chat about. First of all, we found each other on our favorite app, pretty sure… Instagram. And that’s for me because you’re making hilarious reels. And I am someone who… anytime someone is making funny content that’s on brand, it really catches my attention. Because I know what it takes to be that courageous and like put your face on camera… cause I’m doing it too. And I’m like, Oh, I like this guy.

Chris Still: Thank you. I think, if you can make someone smile and pause and take themselves less seriously for five seconds, they might be more likely to actually listen to whatever the thing is that you are trying to say. So ask my kids if they think I’m funny and they’ll probably tell you no, but I try and bring some levity. Classical musicians are notoriously… very serious and everything they do is so serious. And it’s not, you shouldn’t clap at the wrong time and don’t wear the wrong thing. And my kind of part of my mission is just to get people to take a breath, relax, shake it off a little bit. And a great quote that I heard once was… take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously. And I try and live by that, but I definitely screw it up sometimes… but I’m glad you liked the reels. I will be continuing to post those.

Michelle Lynne: Yeah, no, I love that. That’s so funny. I had that thought literally yesterday, how classical musicians take themselves so seriously. And there’s this understanding that if you’re not serious, then, it reflects on the quality of the work or what you think about the work. Because in order to be serious, if you’re a serious musician, that means your personality wise also has to be very, you know, maybe withdrawn or like aloof or mysterious. And this openness can kind of lead to like goofing off or something. So I’m glad you brought that up. That’s really cool. I think also maybe creating relatable content. I mean, that’s how people relate to you and they say, okay, this person understands me, understands what I’m going through. And I think that’s a lot of the work that you do with honesty pills.

So anyway, just for everybody listening, please tell us. A little bit about you and your background and, how it all started.

Chris Still: Yeah, sure. So I’m a trumpet player with the Los Angeles Philharmonic… been there since 2007 and then a whole bunch of other orchestras all around before that. But during that period of time, since I’ve been in the orchestra, I’ve realized that I have other interests and other things that I can do with all the skills that I developed as a musician. And one of those is helping other people figure out how to do what they want to do. So whether it’s winning an orchestra audition, which is something that is one of the most difficult things to accomplish as a classical musician… is getting a job at an orchestra. I think it’s probably as difficult as getting a position on a major professional sports team, although we never get paid as much as those guys in the end.

So it’s a really difficult thing to do and I love the background of all that. And the other thing that comes out of that is just helping people be productive, balanced, healthy, impactful, leading with service in other areas of their lives… whether it’s yoga studio or helping people get into college or, nutrition for musicians… I’m helping people build those businesses as well. And it’s been the most rewarding thing. And I would say that I like it as much or sometimes more than playing the trumpet in the orchestra. 

Michelle Lynne: Oh, wow. Balanced and healthy. I think those are two things that all musicians need to think about, talk about if we want to go for the long game. Now you started Honesty Pill… can you remind me which year that started?

Chris Still: Oh, I should probably know the answer to that. Oh, I don’t know… 8 years ago, 10 years ago, somewhere. I don’t even know, maybe 8.. 

Michelle Lynne: And this is your coaching company for musicians to help with auditions. 

Chris Still: It started out as coaching to help musicians with auditions and it has quickly grown into… just all instruments, mindset, productivity, just general coaching, business development, website development, social media marketing, email marketing, messaging, public speaking, all the things that musicians are really good at doing… that they don’t realize they’re really good at doing because we spend so much time being focused on such a narrow target, which is play your instrument great, which think about most people in conservatory is that they ended up focusing on only that part is play great, go in that practice room and make it perfect. And that’s definitely part of it, but there’s a lot more available to you if you want to be creative. 

Michelle Lynne: Okay, so talk to me a little bit about this, more than a musician concept. Because I know a lot of people, like you just said… have been taught to kind of go after this one narrow road. And if you divert your energy, you won’t have enough energy necessary… because you just said, which I’ve never heard before, that it’s hard to get into an orchestra as it is for a professional team, a sports team. I mean, that’s insane if you think about what it takes to make the NBA. So yeah, tell me a little bit about that, about diversifying your energy and losing out.

Chris Still: Well, first of all, the concept of a finite or a zero sum amount of energy is a topic probably worth investigating a little bit. Do you really need herculean amounts of energy to accomplish what it is you want to accomplish? The answer is no. You need focus and efficiency. And I mean, we can talk about practice room strategies.

We can talk about exercising, whatever it is. You are probably not being as efficient in what you’re trying to do as you could be… and why does that happen? It’s because we are generally driven through one of two motivators, fear or love basically… fixed mindset, growth mindset, lack abundance, call it whatever you want. Every decision that you make is either a love based decision… I love this, I’m doing this because I want to help, this makes me feel good, it makes other people feel good, I feel good about myself when I do this… or fear, I’m not enough, I’ll never be enough, I don’t have enough time, et cetera, et cetera. That person is doing better or more than me. 

So getting aware of where your motivations lie will instantly level up your efficiency. If you’re willing to be vulnerable and honest. And that’s where the name of my business kind of comes from… Honesty Pill… it’s time to face the music… just look at those things with clarity and honesty, and you will instantly optimize your efficiency… which means you’ll be able to do more of what you want and less of what you don’t want. So, I don’t think we should be just one thing. It’s kind of boring. I mean, it’s easy for me to say having won the big dream job in the LA Phil, it’s, it’s not enough. Like I, I want to do more things and there’s so many more things available based on what it took me to get mastery as a trumpet player. 

Michelle Lynne: There’s so much to unpack here. I love how you are describing abundance mindset so clearly… like either from fear or from love. And of course we’re called the fearless artist because we have discovered that you kind of have to, you know, feel the fear and do it anyway, that anytime you’re going to put yourself out there, take action on your goals, go after ideas or dreams or anything, you’re going to have all of this uncomfortable stuff you got to get out of, getting out of our comfort zones. I mean, many musicians don’t like having to put their face on Instagram or make the pitches or make the calls or all of the, you know, why do we have to do it? They should just come to us. And so we’re kind of overcoming these mindsets of… it’s just going to come to you. But, talk to me a little bit more about… when you’re saying getting honest makes you more efficient. Tell me what you mean by that.

Chris Still: Well, so here’s something I talk about a lot… what is a belief? A belief is a thought you keep thinking over and over again. So what are your beliefs inform? Your beliefs inform your actions. And your actions create your reality. Therefore, your thoughts create your reality. So if you believe that to be true, which I do… and even if you don’t believe it, it’s still much more fun to spend time in positive fantasyland than negative fantasyland. If you can optimize your thoughts in terms of… what are we really trying to accomplish? What do I really need to do to get this work done? What am I not doing that I know that I need to do? That will go through that little calculus to end up creating the reality that you want with less bumps and less wasted energy along the way. And that, I think, is something that is scary. It’s scary, scary, scary. Because we don’t want to do the things that we’re not good at. Nobody likes to play what they don’t sound good at as a musician. And that’s true for human beings in general.

Michelle Lynne: What am I not doing that I know that I need to do? That’s one of your three questions. I love that.

Chris Still: I mean… think about it, like, right now, picture what is one of your goals, okay? So picture that goal right now. I want you to think about the things that you’ve been doing and the result you’ve been getting. Okay, are you getting the result you want? If the answer is yes, pat on the back, good job. If the answer is no, then clearly doing what you’ve been doing hasn’t gotten you the result you want. You probably know there’s something you need to be doing that you’re not doing because it’s uncomfortable or scary or requires a big leap of faith or something. That is the thing that’s going to be your game changer and have the most impact anyway… so why not get vulnerable, get some outside views on it… I talk about this thing with the jam in the jar a lot, where if you’re the jam inside the jar, you can try as hard as you want to read the label. You’re not going to be able to see it because it’s on the outside and you’re on the inside where somebody else can literally walk past you in the store and go, Shmuckers, Strawberry Preserve, 16 ounces… get some help from outside to figure out what it is you need to be doing that you’re not doing. And but reality for me, it’s almost always something that I know and I’m just sort of brushing under the rug that’s where you need to start.

Go go look under the rug. That’s where the secret is. 

Michelle Lynne: Oh man, this is getting deep really quickly… how do you stay so objective about it though? Because… coming a little bit about my stories, there’s so much shame attached to knowing that you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. You know, because it’s basically just not practicing enough hours. I just need to put in the time. I need to work harder, you know, but that’s That’s a whole other concept of like being efficient versus constantly pushing. I’m always looking for that balance of like, how much can I push? Where is my breaking limit? You know, especially when you get a lot of outside perspective.

And my second question is… the outside perspective can be wrong. People can look at you and read you as a blueberry jam, but you’re actually strawberries. And then you have to have trust at who you’re allowing to read you. Right?

Chris Still: Well, that’s true. One of the things I talk about in an audition accelerator, which is an audition program I run, is having a practice buddy that checks certain boxes. You could have a practice buddy, you could have a best friend, you could have a therapist, you could have a coach, like, it’s all the same. That person should have a common goal… let’s both get orchestra jobs, let’s both finish the half marathon… whatever it is… common goal… that person should do one thing better than you. You should do one thing better than them. And you need to both be open to give and receive instructive and effective feedback. If you can find a practice buddy like that, they might look at you and say you’re a blueberry jam when you know you’re strawberry and you can have that conversation. But fun fact, Sometimes it’s like, oh, damn, I am blueberry jam. 

How did that happen? And you might actually try it on and think, maybe I’ve been wrong about something I thought was true.

That’s what I call limiting assumption. That when you assume this is true, and you dig in and double down and it’s not serving you… that’s the thing that’s interesting to look at with objectivity and say, is this really true? Has this been serving me? If it’s been serving you, double down. If it hasn’t, let it go 

Michelle Lynne: You’re, you’re so good at this. You’re just so clear cut with it. Like if it’s working, keep going. If it’s not… so where do people get stuck in this? 

Chris Still: This is where they get stuck… When they don’t understand that failure is not only part of the process, it is integral to the process. And, you know, like… I hate to use the word should. You never should on yourself. This is why I like to avoid the tendency to, is a better way to say it, to correct my child, for example, by saying, good job, you’re really good at drawing. Because then if she tries to draw something and it doesn’t work out, she’s lost that validation of I’m good at this… which means I’m a good person. And that’s another topic we can talk about is internalizing feedback as some sort of definition of ourselves and our identity. Not a great idea. But if I say, I really love the way you experiment with the charcoal today, that’s praising the effort, not the outcome. And that is where people fall down, is they’re focused on the outcome, not the process. And just to tie this all up, if you identify yourself based on outcomes, you are going to have a long and struggle bus filled life. If you praise yourself on the process and you’re giving some integrity and intention to the process, life is good man… you may never win the orchestra job, but it’s still a life well lived.

Michelle Lynne: Man, you’re like, creating such healthy mindsets in musicians, which is so necessary. I learned very young, you learn so fast, you’re amazing. And so then later, when I couldn’t learn as quickly, I’ve associated all of that praise and affirmation as like, I can play it right now without practicing. So then I don’t want to practice because then that shows that I’m not very good because I have to practice.

It takes me time now to learn it because it’s so hard and I used to be able to get it right away. So if it takes me time, that means that I’m not as good as everybody said I was. I don’t want to be bad. You already said it earlier. Nobody wants to be bad at something. So I’m just going to avoid it at all.

So that’s why when you’re saying, you know, do what’s working and don’t do what’s not, it’s like, yeah, how can I make it that simple?

Chris Still: And then you get like, have to ask yourself the question, what are we doing here? Like, what, what is, what are we doing here when it comes to what we’re trying to accomplish and have in our lives and how we want to feel? And it just gets so convoluted and twists it up and it’s like the game of telephone, but you’re playing it with yourself where you just keep morphing the thoughts and getting more and more bogged down by limiting assumptions. And, if somebody’s listening and they’re like, what does this have to do with winning an orchestra job? It has everything to do with that because it has to do with how you show up for things, how you meet yourself where you’re at. And… I don’t know, I wish I could pull people behind the screen and listen to a few rounds of an audition. It would change their perspective on what’s really happening back there. And a lot of this stuff isn’t about how well you play your instrument or not. It has to do with what’s going on up in here. I talk about this all the time, and I get pushback from it all the time, but I’m telling you right now, this is more important than this. These were trumpet fingers, by the way in case if anyone watching..

Anyone’s watching. 

Michelle Lynne: you’re saying your mindset is more important than your abilities to play.

Chris Still: What’s going on in between your ears is more important than… If you’ve got an expensive violin or, great mouthpiece or the best teacher or a degree from Juilliard… great for all that stuff. But you have to like have the mental awareness and vulnerability and honesty to actually present that stuff when it matters. 

Michelle Lynne: So when you say you want to pull people behind the screen, you’re talking the jury screen.

Chris Still: Yeah, I meant literally like behind the curtain at an audition. So when you audition for an orchestra, there’s a big screen so no one can see you… there’s a carpet, they can’t even hear your footsteps… it’s just about what is the music communication that’s happening. And when you sit on a committee and hear a hundred people play the same music over the course of an afternoon… 90 percent of them are all making the same mistakes. And most of those mistakes have to do with how they prepared in the previous months, rather than actually what they’re capable of doing. And that is a lesson that every musician should learn. Actually, everybody who’s trying to accomplish any goal should know that we’re all making the same types of mistakes.

You’re not special and all of your mistakes are totally solvable because somebody has done the thing that you’re trying to do already. 

Michelle Lynne: Okay, talk to me about your quote that I really liked. You got into LA Phil by being a very good musician who’s a genius strategizer because I think that’s what we’re tying into here, the strategy behind the prep.

Chris Still: So I was always a good trumpet player and I was always praised for being very musical. So I always had like a musical thought or character I wanted to communicate. I was never praised as being a very technical trumpet player or having a great articulation or flexibility or sound or whatever. I had a lot of technical problems with my trumpet playing. Over the years of trying to figure out how auditions worked, I took 8 auditions, I didn’t advance at any of them, and then I discovered, like, my x factor. And my x factor was not the perfect mouthpiece or studying with just the right teacher. It was self recording and looking at myself in an honest way and using a practice buddy, those are my X factor, self recording, practice buddy. 

That’s the jar in the jam 

Michelle Lynne: Okay, tell us what an X Factor is for anyone who’s not familiar.


Chris Still: The X factor is just something that I called, if you were drawing a line of eight auditions that went straight across flat line… and then all of a sudden it shoots straight up in the air. What happened at that moment? That’s, that’s the X factor. It’s your game changer. It’s the thing that would have the most positive impact on your goal if you started to do it today. For me, self recording and practice buddy. 

 What that was… wasn’t about getting better at the trumpet. It was about having some sort of strategy, a goal that I can then reverse engineer and say, what works, what doesn’t work. And, by the way, like, ask for help…. getting somebody who knows more about that to say, You just won 4 auditions in a row. What questions am I not asking you? That’s part of strategy too… is just asking the questions and then being able to do something with the feedback that you get. It’s complicated. There’s so many pieces… winning an orchestra job is like, building an engine out of little tiny parts that you machine together one piece at a time… and you build this thing and then you’ve got to like turn it on and see if it works. And the strategy the plan of how to do that you don’t have to reinvent that somebody else has already figured that out you can learn from them and then meet yourself where you are with all the stuff we’ve talked about already… and that’s how you can become strategic in your goal setting 

Michelle Lynne: So, I’m hearing leverage point, like you find that place that you can be efficient with your energy and just go after that, that’s going to make the biggest amount of difference.

Chris Still: yes can i add something to that… which is measure, measurement, metrics, and reasonable goal setting. And one of the things that I talk about in my practice chart that I teach with, is just whatever it is you’re doing… measure it right now. Just put a line on the sand, put a mark on the wall, whatever, before you move too far or get too bogged down in all your squirrels running around your head about what your limiting assumptions are, what you can’t.

Measure it. 

Just get some sort of scientific method to measure. Is it… how many pull ups I can do? Is it… what’s my miletime? Is it… how fast can I articulate single Gs above the staff at mezzo piano? Write it down, get some tools, and then get a strategy around moving the needle. And this, this is the most important part. 

One percent at a time. 

 Just tiny little increments and those 1 percent start to add up and guess what? There’s only like 99 more percents to go and then when you reach 100 percent you get to move the bar and start all over again until you reach a level where it’s ingrained into your DNA. 

Michelle Lynne: Okay. I love this. I’m so resonating with everything you’re saying. What about… you know, if you’re tracking things and you’re saying, okay, time, it’s just amount of time. I need to practice more hours, you know, five hours a day. Let’s track it. And then you’re doing that, how do you know what’s working? That’s, I think, where I can get stuck too. I’m like, I’m trying different things, but maybe I don’t do it enough times to see if it actually works. Like, okay, if I increase my practice hours by this many, is it really going to make that much of a difference that I need? Or is it just because I’m not being efficient with the three hours that I’m doing?

Chris Still: I’m gonna say something radical and I know pianists and violinists particularly are gonna get their hackles up by this, but I would say the following… if You are practicing five hours a day, I think you’ve lost your mind. I think that is an insane amount of practice. Okay. You can flame me at… you can just send me your hate email for that. All right… now, I’ll be real about the question. 

Now, look, you do have a lot more notes in the trumpet. I mean, I played the promenade from pictures at an exhibition for my wife and she’s like, why is that even an excerpt?

That’s just like a bunch of quarter notes. You’re not wrong… Here’s a better way to say this in a less combative way to say it. How long should I practice? Okay. Here’s a different question… how long is a piece of string? What type of string are we talking about? Is it a shoelace, is it a electrical cord that goes across the state? Is it a clothes line? It depends on the string. It depends on the purpose. It depends on what is the goal of that string, so know what the job at hand is, and that will determine what you need. If it’s a shoelace, it has to crisscross so many times and tie a bow on it. We know that it needs to be this many inches long. Same thing goes for your practice… know the goal of the practice… have a way to measure it. And we can talk about ways to measure things so you know if you’re getting it or not. But have a tool in place to measure it. And then your practice session is over when you’ve hit the point of diminishing returns where you’re not getting anything out of it. Two, you’re physically tired and you need to stop because your form is starting to suffer. You can see that in the fitness realm a lot. People working past their ability and their form goes out the window, bad. 

Or you’ve accomplished the goal and you can move on. 

That’s how long a practice session should be. And you need to fly the helicopter way out and see what is it that I’m trying to do in each of these sections. You may have actually have five hours worth of work to do, but I find that in reality, that is an unsustainable amount of practice. And also when you talk about what is practice, where does like warm up, maintenance, practice, and prep, and then the other ones start?

It all gets blurred together. 

Michelle Lynne: And if you count score studying as practice or listening to recordings or whatever, I mean…

Chris Still: do you count meditation as practice? Do you count hiking as practice? I do. 

Michelle Lynne: Yeah, no, I hear you completely. This is really, really powerful. Please go back to how to measure things. I think that’s really crucial. 

Chris Still: Uh Ok… so… it depends on what we’re talking about here. I will give you an example. Let’s say you’re trying to figure out if you’re getting better at a certain excerpt. Okay. Let’s say Petrushka, number one requested trumpet excerpt. What I can do is record that right now.

Again, leap and build the helicopter on the way down. Do it right now. Don’t wait. Just record it. And then listen back and say. Does this sound like I want it to sound? Does this match my reference of what I think this excerpt should sound like? What’s my reality? And then if there’s any discrepancies, you go back to your practice room and say, what do I need to do in this practice room so I do sound like my reference?

How do I make these match? That’s the practice. So, over here we have what do you want it to sound like? What does it actually sound like? What do I have to do to practice to connect those dots? Then there’s a bottom box here, which is, does it hold up under pressure? And that’s where you stimulate with mock auditions, with playing for a coach, whatever taking a real audition and seeing how that goes. That’s the way you can measure that. You want to take that one step further. I think that I just talked about this in my newsletter this week. Are you communicating something musical? All right, let’s test it… pick an excerpt, Michelle, or piece of music, anything. What is it your favorite piece of music to play? 

Michelle Lynne: oh man, I hate that question. Favorite piece of music. Let’s do Brahms first piano concerto.

Chris Still: Okay, pick a spot in Brahms First Piano Concerto. What is the one word you want me to feel? What, like, what’s the

character you’re, like, trying to get across? Wild.

okay? So, first of all, I would dig a little deeper and like, get little bit more specificity on the word wild because that can mean a lot of things, right? But let’s take the word wild and let’s write down nine other words that are not wild on a piece of paper. Um, passionate, smoky jazz club, pedantic, bleak, majestic, brooding, wild, okay? Slip that piece of paper to a person who just walked in off the street, your grandmother, somebody who doesn’t know anything about the Brahms piano concerto, and say, hey, Grahams, I want to play a piece of music for you… circle the word that you think of… which word on the page does this make you feel? If they circle wild, you just did something amazing. You communicated through a big box full of wood and strings to another person and made a connection with them. 

Michelle Lynne: Yeah, 

Chris Still: And if they’re searching the wrong word, either you need a more clear word or you’re not actually communicating what you think you are. Those are ways you can measure the 1 percent that I’m asking you to accomplish. And you have to be creative, and there’s a hundred other tools like that. You’ve got to either create them on your own or learn them from somebody. But those are the ways that we get better at all this stuff with objectivity, vulnerability, and honesty.

Michelle Lynne: This is fascinating. I’ve never heard someone explain it so precisely. I think that’s really helpful. I think it gives a lot of power to the person preparing, because I have known it to be such a subjective or… well, I like this measuring aspect because I think we are so emotional with things.

We’re emotional with our interpretations. We’re emotional with maybe practicing or like identity. The whole identity question gets twisted up so much, but we touched on earlier. That when you make it so straightforward, black and white, practical, get it on paper, get your graph. Let’s see what’s working… and also not hammering in that it has to be amount of time.

I think what you already said, your practicing stops when you’ve reached your goal. I’m like, what does that feel like? I don’t know what that feels like. I literally don’t know… unless my goal has been to like, you know, kind of read through the notes and get a, get a semblance of the piece, but then it’s like, well, you can always go deeper.

So then it’s a matter of creating smart goals for that practice time that are actually achievable within the 45 minutes that you give yourself. That’s a whole other skill set that I don’t think most of us learn.

Chris Still: Look at it this way. Here’s a simplified way to think about this. Over here, you’ve got you. And over here, you’ve got your goal, right? whatever it is. And we could be talking about music. We could be talking about just about anything, learning French, you know, whatever, learning Dutch. What’s, what is in between you and the goal? It’s a gap. There’s like a chasm, there’s a gap and the gap is scary because it’s unknown and it’s filled with our own negative thoughts and assumptions. And we have to figure out a way to bridge the gap, whether that is through self reflection, or getting help from someone else, or getting a degree at a school, or learning how to meditate, whatever the thing is for you… you need to figure out what the bridge is and be able to cross it. Once you get to the other side, it’s not like life ends and you’re done. But you also need to celebrate and say, I just crossed the gap. And the gap might be moving your metronome from 112 to 116. That is worth celebrating. And it was also worth saying, I just moved the needle. First of all, if you don’t acknowledge the gap, you’re going to fall in every time. And if you don’t build a bridge, you’re never going to get across. Okay, let’s be fair. But once you get across, celebrate that win. And notice the work that you did that got you there, and say what worked, what didn’t. Then you can move on to the next thing. So you, it’s not like you’re ever done, but you do have to stop. And notice your wins all the time. In my Audition Accelerator group… on Mondays, we post our goals. On Fridays, we post our wins every single week. Even if you don’t feel like you have one, you’ve got to come up with something.

Because there’s always a win, and there’s always one small thing to work on. So just even saying it out loud, I think is helpful.

Michelle Lynne: I love this… what’s coming to mind is… then we need to make goals that are small enough to see that bridge being crossed. Because I think a lot of us can make these huge lofty goals, like the goal is to win the audition, for example. And that’s a bridge that you might not cross anytime, much less in the next few months.

I love this 112 to 116… but what do you say to the person who would scoff and roll their eyes? I mean, we were trained four hours a day, four hours a day. If you don’t do that, you failed. And so now if it’s like, well, I only had 30 minutes today, that inner critic just like rises up and says, you’re, you want to be a real musician.

You’re only putting in this much time. I mean, how do we navigate all this?

Chris Still: Well, I don’t know the answer to that, but I know that if you’re spending four hours a day and accomplishing four hours of just golden work… hats off to you, do it up. And if your energy level and your schedule allows for that kind of focus, I think that’s fantastic. I would bet though. That I accomplish more in 30 minutes than most people do in an hour.

Or 15 minutes than most people do in 2 hours. Because, and it’s not because I’m a super practicer. I’ve just gotten very, very, very uncomfortable with myself. and said, okay, this is where the darkness is. This is where the stuff that’s not working lies. We’re going to focus on this right now, only this and a very small piece of it.

Just one little blip. I do a thing called a practice window. I don’t have my post it notes here, but I will take a piece of music and cover up everything around in every four directions up, down, left, and right. So that the only thing you can see on the page is that one passage. And then the rest of the piece is gone. It doesn’t exist anymore until I can move the needle one percent on that one passage. Try this next time… you have a device in front of you. Get a PDF of your part of your music and literally zoom way in to that one tricky trill or whatever it is… all you can see on your whole computer is that. Take a screenshot of it. That’s all that exists. That’s all you need to work on. Now get creative on how can I bridge this gap? How can I measure it? What help do I need? What am I doing right? What am I doing wrong? And then you feel a sense of accomplishment. Then when you zoom back out, you can notice a hundred other spots like that.

But you can’t, eat the whole thing at one time.

Michelle Lynne: I love this. It’s so empowering. I love having a strategy that is doable that breaks down all of this irrational big things. I think things get really big in our heads. We hear a lot from our mastermind clients, people in the membership, like what they want to achieve is this… you know, more concerts, more students, it’s always these undefinable ideas that they have.

So part of our work is breaking that down and saying, what does that look like specifically? And you’re applying this in the practice room. And I think it’s so empowering and helpful for people who are listening to have these specific tools. I love all those adjectives that you threw out. I think that’s really good to have a clear, clear in your mind.

One thing I wanted to go back to that you were saying is you record yourself first. Whereas maybe a lot of people would say, no, no, no, like give me a couple hours to practice it. Then I’ll record. Cause I don’t want to, I don’t want to look yet, you know?

Chris Still: So I have a trick I do in a master class frequently. Maybe I’m manipulating my students, whatever, but I’m trying to set them up for success. And the way I’ll do it is I’ll talk for a little while and then I’m basically icing the kicker on purpose. Like I will talk and talk and talk and then I’ll say, okay, John, why don’t you hop up and play the Strauss for us?

Here we go. Just go for it. Ready? Off you go. No, no, you don’t need to tune. You’re good. Just off you go. Here we go. 

Strauss, please. 

Michelle Lynne: Oh, it’s so uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable. 

Chris Still: And I’m, and I’m trying to make them uncomfortable.

and I’m trying to put them on the spot and say, you don’t need to warm up, just get up here and play. And I’m trying to make them scared and shake them because I want it like… you know, when you take a rug and you go 

and all that dirt flies out the end, I’m literally wanting to do that to them in front of everyone. And I always do this with much love and respect, by the way, I’m never giving anybody a hard time. I want to test the engine… is this thing going to blow up right now? Or is it going to hold together? If we can’t test that, then what are we doing? Then I will take them and build them back up so that not only do they go back to where their optimal performance is, but hopefully beyond that, because they just experienced this incredible boost of confidence from going from feeling terribly uncomfortable to feeling very supported, very comfortable, and very capable. So, I mean, that another way you can do with your practice buddy or your coaching group or whoever is to see where you are at your worst and find out why… see what’s going on in your head, notice what’s going on in your head, and then build yourself back up and figure out how you got up there. Repetition, repetition, repetition. That’s what’s going to deliver you to a win at an audition. 

Michelle Lynne: This is excellent, excellent advice. I’m feeling so inspired. I want to run to my piano and drill some six that are in this Chopin Polonaise Fantasy I’m playing. Please tell us about Audition Accelerator and what you do in that. I 

Chris Still: Sure. Audition Accelerator is a hybrid online program that I created probably four years ago. And it is just basically taking three decades of mostly failing at 40 auditions, I won a bunch of jobs too, and reverse engineered what I think is an appropriate way to spend your time and your energy in preparing for auditions. And it, it has, um, been the, one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done in my career is helping musicians get their jobs and advance for the first time… take an audition for the first time, get a job in the orchestra that they wanted to get and go to a festival, get into the DMA program. It’s all part of this audition process that we talked a lot about a lot of the tenants of it already. But there’s a timeline I take people through and, uh, it’s a 16 week course that has an online academy… there’s about eight weeks of content there and about 70 hours of office hours available in my Slack channel, where we’ve talked about every topic I can think of. And, it’s a really great program. But the point of it, why I created it, which is probably more to the point… which is people would fly to LA to play their list for me, and they spend money on airline, hotel, rental car, lesson fee… and then we’d spend the first 40 minutes talking about some basic tenant that everybody should know, but… doesn’t, and then we’d only have a little bit of time left to actually get to work. Audition Accelerator puts a lot of that stuff out there already so that you can start to absorb and digest that information. And then we can actually get down to the work where you are, where I can meet you where you are. So it’s been a lot of fun. I’m a weirdo. I love auditions. I think they’re fascinating because I like to watch people think, and that is a great lens through which to do so.

Michelle Lynne: this is so awesome. This needs to be taught in every university. This is what students need to prepare for the real world.

Chris Still: Well, one of the things that I have in my column of what I stand for and stand against… I stand against students going 40, 000 in student loan debt and graduating with a master’s degree in orchestral performance and not having had taken one single mock audition. Like where is my how to get a job class? If that’s not part of your education, go ask for it. Go bang on somebody’s door like this week and say, why aren’t we talking about audition strategy? Why aren’t we talking about nerves? Why aren’t we talking about mental health? Why aren’t we talking about nutrition, energy, sleep, hygiene… These are all part of the tools you need to get a job 

you guys… and to be fair, there are some schools starting to do it. New World Symphony is probably the best example of a place that is teaching people how to do this from what I understand. But when I went to school… zero information that was available and I had to figure it all out by screwing it all up. I would like to help you do that without screwing up the same things I did for 10 years. 

Michelle Lynne: That’s so great. Uh, yeah. At Codarts where I teach in Rotterdam, the conservatory, they actually have psychologists on staff for the students. They have this incredible thing called a mock lab.. Where it’s from. I haven’t seen it yet in person, unfortunately, but I’ve been told it’s kind of a cinema thing and you walk in and you tell it to project whatever you need.

So if that’s a stadium of 50, 000, or if it’s a small jury, or if it’s a chamber music hall or whatever it is, and then you perform in this lab to practice. So I think there are some cool things that are starting to come up, in some schools, which is really encouraging. Um, I need to go see that place.


Chris Still: I love that so much, I actually created something like that for my program, which is I rented out Colburn music school here in LA. I rented out their big hall and I got a fake committee of friends and a screen and a really like 4k camera…

Maybe it was even more than that. And we did our first person perspective of the entire audition process… three rounds, two with a screen, one without. And it’s you walking down that hall, getting that speech from the proctor, the doors open, you walk out to that lonely music stand and there’s a committee… please start over… it’s a, it’s an audition simulator, which is part of my course.

And I think… that alone, just the ability to face that scary thing over and over… and learn how to build that bridge is something I think that everybody should have… With all these VR goggles and stuff now, that’s going to be really fun for somebody to create. That’s techy for me, but I love that idea.

Michelle Lynne: This is like the next level of a vision board, all of us printing out our images and sticking them on the wall and looking at that every day… like immersing yourself in where you want to go, what you want to become, I think is crucial. This visualization to prepare you.

Chris Still: But let me just say one quick thing. Musicians who are listening and are thinking, I need to record a mock audition simulator for me to be, no, you don’t. Don’t use that as an, as an an escape route to the work that you really need to do. This is a great example of I need to go and have a vision simulator in Rotterdam. No, you don’t. That is deflective… go and figure out what you actually need. And if you want to do an audition simulator, call me or talk to Michelle… we can hook you up with a wall full of stadium people. But that’s probably not the game changer that you need. That’s just a nice to have. 

Michelle Lynne: Okay. But wait, wait, wait, you’re saying you could not know what you really need to do, but how do we know? Is it just this inner voice that’s telling you?

Chris Still: I can’t answer that for everyone, but I would say for myself… I know what it is that I’m scared to do. And if it’s scary and I want to shove it under the rug, that’s probably the thing I need to lean into. 

Michelle Lynne: Okay, so you’re saying fear is the indicator. 

Chris Still: Fear is a great indicator. It’s called your emotional guidance system. You know that thing where they say, listen to your gut? That’s what that is. And we usually don’t listen to our gut. We ignore it. We make up reasons why it’s making stuff up. But if that’s not working, go ask for help. Go play for somebody. Go talk to somebody. Do a Nancy Klein thinking session with someone.

The truth will come out if you give yourself the space to actually get vulnerable and honest with yourself. I guarantee that. Promise you.

Michelle Lynne: I need to listen to this episode like five times. I’ve been so inspired. Thank you so much for your wisdom, what you’ve been sharing with us. There’s so many different things that we explored… fear and love, that’s going to stick with me for a long time… measuring what you’re actually doing, finding out what’s working, putting that on repeat, getting people in your life to speak into your life, telling you what they’re seeing, how they’re picking you up… getting really honest with yourself. I mean, you, you named your company after this very crucial thing to say… what’s going on? What do I need? You know what you need. And then comes the work of not avoiding it. Renee Brown says, embrace the suck. I think that’s another version to kind of, to say that

Chris Still: I love that…

If you wanted an action item for me today, I will give you this right here… if you don’t listen to anything else in this whole episode… I would hear this. And this is one of my great mentors, Seth Godin… if you don’t know his books and his stuff, go read everything by Seth Godin. He says… start small, start now. And my way of saying that is build the helicopter on the way down… leap and build the… heli just go… jump. I mean, jump with materials and a working knowledge of how to build a helicopter, but don’t wait until you feel ready because you will never feel ready. For whatever it is, just, just start small, start now and leap and build a helicopter on the way down. 

Michelle Lynne: Start small, start now… I love that so much. I’m going to go zoom into a few iPad scores of mine. Chris, how can our listeners connect with you? How can we follow you and get all of the good stuff?

Chris Still: just go to honestypill. com and click on any button that says subscribe or book a call or whatever and get on my list. You can find me on YouTube. Actually, we’ve got Michelle as a guest on my YouTube channel. Go subscribe to YouTube. I’m trying to get to a thousand subscribers. I just started my YouTube channel, so it would help me tremendously. I’m on Instagram. Everything is at honesty pill, so you can find me just about anywhere. But, reach out, ask questions, and I’ll share with you guys a link, if it’s helpful. It’s sort of a video practice chart that explains how to create metrics that you can actually measure and create relevant efficiency and focus in your practice sessions.

And, uh, anybody who wants that link, you can just, uh, I’ll share it with Michelle and you can sign up and I’ll send that right to your inbox. 

Michelle Lynne: We are definitely going to get that in the show notes. Chris, this has been a goldmine of wisdom. Thank you for your time. Thank you for investing into our community. We’re going to send everybody your way and I really look forward to having you back sometime soon at the Freelance Artist Podcast.

Chris Still: Thanks, Michelle. Been a pleasure. And I love the work that you’re doing too. I think that’s why we connected and get along so well. So thanks for having me. It was a pleasure. 


  • Christopher Still

    LA Phil | Honesty Pill, Inc.

    Christopher Still, the founder of Honesty Pill, joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic as Second Trumpet in 2007. Prior to this, he held significant positions including Principal Trumpet of the Colorado Symphony, Associate Principal Trumpet of the Dallas Symphony, and Principal Trumpet of the Charleston Symphony. Christopher has also served with the Grant Park Festival Orchestra in Chicago’s Millennium Park and as Guest Principal with the St. Louis Symphony. His extensive recording work spans major orchestras like the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Grant Park, Dallas, and Albany, and his talent is featured in numerous major motion picture and television soundtracks. Recognized as a Yamaha Artist, Christopher is also an avid educator and clinician.

    Raised in a musical household, Christopher initially aimed to become a band director, earning a Bachelor of Music Education from the Crane School of Music at SUNY-Potsdam. His passion for performance led him to pursue a Master of Music Performance degree from the New England Conservatory in Boston, after which he was a Tanglewood Music Center Fellow. Despite facing challenges and navigating the complex landscape of orchestra auditions, Christopher found success. He now loves performing contemporary music, especially in the Green Umbrella concert series.

    Christopher’s journey inspired him to create Honesty Pill, addressing the gap he observed in musical education that often leaves essential organizational, social, and professional skills underdeveloped. Through his programs, he helps musicians and creatives enhance their practice and performance skills and effectively navigate their careers.

    Living in Altadena, CA with his wife, Amanda McIntosh, and two children, Christopher enjoys long-distance running, skiing, brewing beer, and hiking the trails behind his house. His experiences have shaped his approach to teaching and his commitment to guiding others in achieving their artistic goals.