What Composer John Williams Can Teach Us About Consistent Practice

consistent practiceEven if you don’t know who the composer John Williams is, I am sure you’ve heard his music.

He made the minor second interval famous in the movie Jaws.

The Perfect 5th catapulted to the top of the charts with the main Star Wars theme.

Have you ever heard of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, Jurassic Park, Home Alone, Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, Schindler’s List, Memoirs of a Geisha, War Horse, Lincoln, or any of the Harry Potter films?

Yep, he wrote the entire score for all of those too.

The Early Years

John Williams was born in Queens, New York and grew up in Los Angeles.  The son of a jazz musician, he showed early musical interest and studied with the Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

After serving in the U.S. Air Force, studying piano at Julliard, and playing gigs at studios and night clubs in New York City, he finally broke into the movie industry.

At first, he worked for well-known composers such as Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Newman, Franz Waxman, Henry Mancini, and Jerry Goldsmith playing the piano, scoring, and then eventually writing music.

1960 is when his first screen credit finally appeared.


For more than sixty years, Williams has been working steadily in the movie industry.  He has written over 121 film scores, a dozen concertos, a symphony, and many symphonic works.

Nominated for the Academy Awards 45 times, he has won a total of 5.  Other awards include 5 Emmys, 4 Golden Globes, and 21 Grammys.

He’s still going strong today contributing more and more music to his already impressive collection.

How Does He Do It?

By being consistent.

I developed from very early on a habit of writing something every day, good or bad.  There are good days, and there are less good days, but I do a certain amount of pages it seems to me before I can feel like the day has been completely served.

By doing something every day.

When I am working on a film, of course, it’s a six-day-a-week affair, and when I’m not working on films, I always like to devote myself to some piece, some musical project, that gives me a feeling that I’m maybe contributing in some small way or, maybe more importantly, learning in the process.

By caring beyond just the simple task at hand and developing consistent practice.

Stop Looking for Motivation

If Williams waited for inspiration, none of us would be familiar with some of the greatest film music ever written.

He doesn’t look for motivation.  Instead, he gets up every day and practices the discipline of composing.

Perfection is not the requirement.  It just needs to get done.

What About Writer’s Block?

When he works consistently, this is never a problem.

I never experienced anything like a block.  For me if I’m ever blocked or I feel like I don’t quite know where to go at the next turn, the best thing for me is to keep writing, to write something.

Keep working.

Keep doing.

Push past the mental block.

It could be absolute nonsense, but it will project me into the next phase of thinking.  And I think if we ourselves as writers get out of the way and let the flow happen and not get uptight about it, so to speak, the muses will carry us along.

Get over yourself.

Get beyond your feelings.

Feelings are only temporary anyway.

The wonderful thing about music is it never seems to be exhausted.  Every little idea germinates another one.  Things are constantly transforming themselves in musical terms.  So that the few notes we have, 7, 8 or 12 notes, can be morphed into endless variations, and it’s never quite over, so I think the idea of a block is something we need to work through.

Start where you are.

Use what you have.

Do something every day.

Develop Consistent Practice

This is proof that consistency is the secret ingredient to becoming a highly accomplished composer and musician.

There is no magic formula to use, a wand to wave, or easy button to push. (That only happens in the movies.)

You’ve just got to get up and get something done regularly like John Williams.

photo credit: Chris Devers via photopin cc

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