Of all the options available to musicians, how does anyone become an expert?
Perhaps a better question would be…
What should I become an expert in?
We choose what we study
Because musicians focus so much on the technical aspect of performing, many of them get labeled and boxed into believing they are only good at that one thing.
One of the most obvious examples would be “early music” – formal music from the Middle Ages through the 16th-18th centuries.
It’s so much fun exploring and trying all the extinct instruments and techniques and tools they used to share music hundreds of years ago! And some of the specialists of that era really are quite fanatical.
But what if the technical aspects are only part of the story?
What if the sharing of a specific emotion is the same today as it was then? Now THAT would be a fascinating topic to explore, in my mind.
Now we have experts that retain context, credibility, trust, and are moving the human condition forward, not backward. Someone who knows and has experience in helping others process that exact same emotion, whether it’s through ballet, punk rock, baroque or Australian aboriginal music, has tremendous value and respect from me! Far more so than someone who spends their life dedicated to cat gut strings and trying to replicate the past.
So, why do we get so distracted?
We only know what we’re exposed to
Our teachers have their own interests, and many times, if we like that teacher or they have a strong impact on us, then we follow just what we have experienced from that perspective.
Exposing students to multiple styles and genres of music is a rare thing among music teachers. And that limits their students’ opportunities to discover something to get passionate about.
My parents encouraged me to try all sorts of activities – both deliberately as well as coincidentally. I’d help Dad add extensions to our house, and grow the vegetables Mom would cook. I’d help her bake and clean and sew. My own activities included chemistry and electronic sets, driving around the back yard (literally), puppetry, magic tricks, field hockey, the triple jump, swimming, steam train spotting, Scouts, computer programming, and, of course, music.
I was one of the fortunate ones.
During a discussion about famous composers with one of my friends in the Kent County Youth Orchestra, he eventually admitted “I only know what we played in KCYO.” His passion was not percussion – it was fun and he was good at it. But his interests and desire to learn more lay elsewhere. He is now involved in a world I know almost nothing about.
He knows only what he was exposed to musically, and found a way to develop his other interests.
Exploring one thing at a time
Probably two of the biggest problems we have in society are the need to appear busy, and multi-tasking.
Perhaps the worst of society’s social wannabes are those who do both!
It’s since been proven by science that multi-tasking doesn’t actually exist. Instead, we spend fleeting moments focused on one thing at a time. Some folks struggle with even that – two people in my family seem quite incapable of cooking a meal and having a conversation at the same time. While they turn around to talk, the food burns. It’s fascinating to watch. When I cook, I don’t let anyone talk to me!
It’s the same with music and our careers.
Whatever you want to explore, whatever new and exciting things come your way, great! Jot them down. Add them to your list.
Pick ONE and dive into that for a while… until you reach your benchmark. 🙂
If you enjoy it and discover there’s more you want to learn and experience, keep going. If not, return to your list and pick another thing to explore.
Here’s a TRIPLE WIN lesson:
(Succeed as a performer)
Being a better musician includes learning new skills and building on what you’ve learned in the past.
If you listen to your own performing objectively, you may notice some things that could be better – a habit you don’t like, or a note that’s often out of tune, for example.
Choose ONE thing to work on and get it to a point where you are satisfied or you know it won’t change from there. That’s not a cop-out… with a defined benchmark, you’ll already know your point of success. You must simply decide how much time, energy, effort and minute detail you are willing to invest before moving on.
Narrow down the options to learning or improving just one thing at a time, and you will quickly become a much better musician than you are today.