A few weeks ago, we discovered what I describe as the Musician Mindset. I want us to continue the thought and not just discuss music for what is, but how the discipline can enrich our daily lives. Humility is worth fighting for.
Humility is not doing anything out of selfish ambition and conceit. Rather, considering others above yourselves. – Paul of Tarsus to the Philippians (2:3)
Humility is a special quality we often hear talk about but know is difficult to attain. Like everything, it’s more than just being nice and smiling.
Humble or be humbled.
Whether it be books, a person, or these days YouTube, learning is unavoidable. Musicians have mentors and teachers that guide every step of our growth process. The amount of care that we receive from these special is reciprocated in the way we practically worship our teachers. We heavily respect their time, open doors for them, and maybe even change our manners of speech. We hold them in such high esteem because of their endless wisdom and knowledge. Our behavior is in a way that acknowledges that we are their students.
In the same musicians treat teachers, why not treat your boss like that? Sure bosses suck, but hey, it’s a part of loving out loud. Put humility into action.
Humility through Teaching
During my time at the New England Conservatory in Boston my studio teacher, world renown Eliot Fisk was a gentle and encouraging spirit. With his wisdom came the awareness of when to be harsh and when to speak truth.
I feel like you play through notes and say, “Oh it didn’t come out good this time, maybe not today, yesterday, maybe it’ll come out tomorrow.” That’s kind of your attitude and you’re not going to get anywhere with that attitude. I can sit here and listen to that, but if I let you get away with that, I’m not doing you any favors.
He was right. These may be painful comments to hear, but serious learners always learn from them. Sometimes we may not agree with what we hear, but we always need to consider the other person and their message. This is why he also said:
Question authority, always question authority. Always question why something is the way it is, and if it could be better, put something in motion to make it better! If you have an idea, test that idea, and if that idea proves to be consistently supported by the evidence, insist on that idea! Because that’s the job on young people! Young people need to be supported and taught to be revolutionary. Young people need to shake up the older people!
Remember, I had 4 years of lessons and hundreds of emails with the guy (and still occasionally do.)
The great thing about private lessons is that it’s the ultimate reminder not to get too puffed up about who you are. Sometimes we get over confident and the remedy for that is hearing someone’s opinion.
It’s even better if you get the opinion from someone you don’t see everyday. For instance, musicians also have something called masterclasses where we perform in public for someone who isn’t our private instructor. This is an amazing chance to learn from our heroes in an intimate setting.
These special sessions can often be painful and publicly humiliating. Not only because of crappy performances but because of harsh words that we may have needed to hear for ourselves.
It’s kind of like listening to your elders. You may not agree but if you listen to what they’re saying, you’ll benefit much. Swallow your pride and carry on.
Listening to others.
In the real world, we know it always sounds better to name yourself as a team player for the interview. For musicians, we aren’t either or. Being both is essential to who we are.
Some people have solo careers but in order to build to that, you need to play music with others. Anyone can attest there’s no feeling like playing music others. Not only in the moment but in rehearsal. Hearing the opinions of others gives your mind ideas to digest and try out for yourself.
Sure that work colleague is always giving someone a piece of his mind. He’s always gotta say something. Maybe it’s time to figure out why. Understand his thought process.
This is what makes jazz musicians so great. They communicate verbally to the point that on stage it looks like telepathic magic to us. On the other hand, orchestras have a conductor up front guiding the music and the way it’s played. Yet because it’s rehearsed they also know what to do.
Regardless of whatever genre you play listening is still key.
When you don’t listen to what the other person is saying, you get conflicting messages and then the music gets cloudy. Just like when you’re conversing with your significant other. Using the wrong work can suddenly turn a nice dinner date into a night long argument within seconds.
The goal of playing with others is to listen and produce the best results possible; together.
The best music is made when we let others shine in their moment and then shine when we’re on cue. Giving an encouraging word and learning how to have better conversations is important. Harmony.
Learning from Others
Who doesn’t like going to concerts?
Concert venues aren’t just places to be entertained; they are the lecture halls of musicians. This is where a display of musical ideas and philosophies happen in front of our eyes through the hands of masters. As we rock our to the music heads literally, we figuratively rock them with the magic we bear witness to. Our butts are kicked without the lifting of a finger…
Watching the masters is great, but why not look at what’s available to you! Learning from your peers is one of the easiest/best ways to be challenged! It’s common knowledge that hanging out with people that are better has its advantages. Look for the strengths that complement your weaknesses and ask for their insight.
Why is this? It’s because it shows you when peers are at the top that it’s possible. It gives you a desire to grow and achieve what you do not yet have.
While at NEC doing my undergrad, I can’t even describe how bad I was.
I didn’t do this consciously, but I decided to challenge myself by working with various musicians, often the best of my school. Their patience was gold. They explained the most basic of concepts to me and let me improve with time.
Instead of just looking at people and wishing I was like them, I just tell myself, “They’re just better versions of me, and what I can be.”
Got someone you look up to? Probably felt you’ll never be as good.
Keep striving. Putting on a new attitude is never easy, but be positive and show the world what you’ve got in the present. How you work in the present only helps better predict your future.
Learning humility in musical terms may be a new concept, but remember the learning never ends! With humility comes greatness. Go for it.