August 25, 2015

Better Person, Better Musician: Responses to the Venn Diagram

UPDATE: You can now order the poster, shown at left, at! Also available are T-shirts, pins, magnets, stickers, mugs, coasters, postcards, and even a clock, notebooks, and more…

Since I posted my PSA Venn Diagrams back in June 2015, hundreds of thousands of people have viewed it—well, at least one part of it. This particular diagram has been liked/shared in the upwards of 28,000 36,000 48,500 60,000 83,000 248,000 times on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and the like:

The original Venn diagram.
Thanks to everyone who has shared it (without cropping out Pwuth!). Here are some of the greatest comments out there…

Immediate Responses

Heheh. Mission accomplished.

Loving on music, hating on charts.

These folks hit the nail on the head, I think:

Moral of the story: to be a better musician, be a better person. One of my personal idols, the great musician Wayne Shorter, has said:

“Your ideas about music sometimes are ahead of your growth as a human being.”

“When I do interviews, they say music, music, music, music, music…and I say no, no, no, no. Music is second, the human being is first. What is music for? What is anything for?

Music Education

The other big-picture point I intended to highlight the value of learning music. If being a better musician necessitates being a better person, music education must include this.

I was very happy to see many high school bands and choirs, college music departments, and private music studios share this in the cause of promoting music education (and sometimes themselves, understandably).

It was also touching to see so many music students share it, along with messages of thanks, with their music teachers. I certainly did this too!

Undoubtedly a few from the inner circle as well, along the way.

Finally, it can’t be said enough:

Overwhelming evidence from science research has shown that music education leads to improved language abilities, increased emotional resilience, increased empathy, increased attention span and focus, and increased self-confidence (The Benefits of Music Education: An Overview of Current Neuroscience Research, 2014, The Royal Conservatory).

More specifically, studies indicate that music education:

  • Prepares students to learn by enhancing fine motor skills, fostering superior working memory, and cultivating better thinking skills
  • Facilitates academic achievement by improving recall and retention of verbal information, advancing math skills, and boosting reading and English language arts skills
  • Develops the creative capacities for lifelong success by sharpening attentiveness, strengthening perserverance, and supporting better study habits and self-esteem
(Music Matters: How Music Education Helps Students Learn, Achieve, and Succeed, 2011, Arts Education Partnership)

Thanks to VibratiousViola for this adept summary:

I agree completely.

For Musicians 

I was a bit surprised at how many people shared this saying “this is for all my musician friends”—I would’ve thought this would be obvious for anyone with music education. But after further thought, I suppose everyone (myself included) can sometimes get bogged down in details—elements only in the outer circle, say—and neglect the more important fundamentals.

Thanks to these folks for their wise reminders:

Your Suggestions

In creating this chart, I whittled down a long list of items intended for the inner circle, trying to carefully judge whether each did, in fact, make one both a better musician and person, and if so, whether it was universal enough to be widely accepted as such. Apparently, however, there were also things I just plain missed:

Others suggested Guinness specifically.
Hahaha, great! Though…could this have something to do with the young child in your photo?
Correct…I didn’t.

On a serious note: there were indeed many items I just barely refrained from including in the chart myself, and many of you suggested these very things in comments, including: gratitude, empathy, and various rhythm-related things such as timeliness and perfect timing. Nevertheless, I feel some of these things logically follow from items included in the chart, such as gratitude flowing from honesty, humility, thoughtfulness, and love.

But there was one item I immediately regretted not including, so much so that I mentioned it specifically in the original post, as did many people in their comments, and that was: PASSION.

I present the updated Venn diagram:

Now, there were also a few folks who disagreed with the placement of certain items in the diagram. One such, with an amusing husband-and-wife exchange:

Granted, I’m a music snob as well.

On the other hand, here’s Russell’s attempt to call me out:

Things that do not make you a better person: poor spelling and grammar.

The thing that Russell fails to grasp is that I designed this diagram this way on purpose. There is no area for things in the purple circle and NOT in the white circle, and why? Because I’m not sure there ARE any. I challenge Russell, and anyone else who cares to try it, to think of something which makes you a better person WITHOUT also making you a better musician. I can’t think of anything that fits!

The Great Debate: Clapping 

Finally, many people felt like Ken here:

To say that people revealed strong feelings about “not clapping on 1 & 3” would be drastic understatement.

YES. I can see the interview at the pearly gates now.

People were also quick to offer impromptu lessons on how not to suck. My favorite how-to explanation came from David:

Who’s to Blame For Clapping on 1 & 3?

Now, in many comments about the clapping issue, people lay blame on a variety of others. Most common was—well, see for yourself.

An odyssey of self-discovery.

Note that I myself make no claims and place no blame on any groups of people, save for the musically uneducated.

The 2nd most common group to blame? The ones you see once a week.

At least this seems to inspire a lot of people to take direct action.

My utmost favorite:

Angels smile down upon you, sir.

But there’s always hope.

Coming in at 3rd most popular scapegoat:

Although I haven’t witnessed this myself, there’s one possibly related thing I can verify first-hand: when Japanese people choose to sing the birthday song, they ALWAYS clap—as if it’s part of the song—and they clap on EVERY beat—1, 2, and 3. It gives it a very stilted feeling.

Other blame recipients include:

And then there are the poor Oklahomans, who, according to Chad, can’t even clap on 1 & 3.

Finally, there’s the possibility that who’s to blame may be much more insidious.

I think it is kinda fun for you to do that at home, please.

Thanks to Chris for the perfect description of these monsters:

What If…?

Many people raised the questions of how to clap if the music is a march, reggae, classical music, Indian music, country, Afro-Cuban, Caribbean, Flamenco, etc., as well as if the music is in time signatures other than 4/4.

The short answer: when in doubt, don’t clap.

The longer answer: really, every music has its own set of rhythmic conventions, as well as attendant cultural conventions about interacting with musical performances. I acknowledge that there ARE limited and specific times when it is acceptable to clap along on 1 & 3, or, more commonly, just 1 (as in marches, which are most often written in cut time, 2/2). I also believe, however, that within the majority of musical genres listened to by readers of this English-language blog, clapping on 1 & 3 would be considered inappropriate by performers and devoted fans of said genres.

Why Not Clap on 1 & 3?

This is a confusing and divisive issue, even for musicians.

This is correct: in most 4/4 music, 1 and 3 are the strong beats. The bass often plays / moves on these beats, even exclusively. The bass drum often accents these. Chords change overwhelmingly on these beats rather than on others. However, this means:

The great musician, composer, and bandleader Duke Ellington said “Of course one never snaps one’s fingers on the beat. It’s considered aggressive.” See him teach audiences how to snap and be hip here:

How to Clap Instead

You all said it best:

Personally, I’d guess that the primacy of the modern drum set, plus the historical roots of its individual components, is a lot of what makes clapping on 2 & 4 feel so good. In the majority of Western popular music in 4/4, the strong beats of 1 & 3 are marked by the bass drum, as well as the bass itself. As a backbeat response, the snare drum, the hi-hat, or another cymbal usually marks 2 & 4, or variations thereof (such as 3 and 7, when bass plays 1 and 5, or just 3 when the bass plays just 1).

Mapping the sounds of the human body onto these, stomping or tapping a foot is closest to a bass drum; clapping is closest to the snare drum, the hi-hat, and other cymbals. So as these folk say…

As for how NOT to clap on 1 & 3, Mr. T said it best:

For musicians faced with audiences clapping stubbornly on 1 & 3, I refer you to this excellent video, mentioned often in comments following my diagram:



Alas, there are many Lilys out there.

No, you’re not a bad person! My diagram does NOT say that clapping on 1 & 3 makes you a bad person—only that NOT doing so can make you a better person. Of course there are far worse things. Let’s not kid ourselves: this is a pet peeve. A #firstworldproblem.

Jane puts it in perspective gracefully, using my words: 

I say hate the sin, not the sinner. Say to yourself: there, but for the grace of ____, go I. I also say the best response to wayward clappers is to bring them into the fold of the Light Side, as James says:

Thank You!

I thank all you hundreds of thousands of people who viewed this diagram, and shared it, and commented with so much humor as well as thoughtfulness. You enrich my life, and make me a better person, and a better musician.


  1. Your website is really cool and this is a great inspiring article. sham idrees nayab

  2. Where's subdivision?!

  3. Is there any way that I can purchase the new, improved version as a poster for my band room?

    1. Thanks for asking! I may have news on that this summer.

    2. The official poster is now available here:
      Thanks again :)

  4. Its great that you have published the users opinion as well. I found your example be very interesting in terms of the topic. Please find my Venn diagram examples in the diagram community of Creately diagram community. They are free to be used.

  5. Hi, this is fantastic!
    Is it possible that I translate it to spanish, and post it in my blog?

    Of course ALL CREDIT will be yours, I'm only going to transform it and present it.

    Fran from Chile

    1. Hello Fran, thank you! I would be open to that, but for which website? That blogspot one doesn’t load anything for me.

  6. I love the breakdown of things that make you a better musician/ Things that make you a better person. "not clapping on 1 and3" was the clincher. How can I get that on a T Shirt?

    1. Thank you! You can now order T-shirts and more here: