Contrary to popular belief, talent plays a smaller role in becoming a musician than one would think. Most people I talk to are amazed that they’ve met a musician. The longer they talk to me, they realize I enjoy what I do and that musicians are resilient. We’ve gone through and done a lot. I explain to them that musicians don’t run away from challenges and that we tackle things head on for a living. Every day we play our instrument we’re wrestling with our very being to better ourselves and the world around us. Our failure or success is heavily tied to the fact that above all, we have a different mindset.
Discipline is the Name of the Game.
Back in college, I was racking up 4-5 hour practice days like nobody’s business. I had multiple performances throughout the year and wanted to do my best. I wasn’t alone. At NEC (my alma mater), even though you had a coffee date with your best friend at 1 P.M. planned two weeks prior, you could suddenly get a text at 10:30 saying, “Sorry man, I gotta cancel on you because I gotta practice.”
WHAT?? You’d rather sit in a room with a box of wood than talk to me?
Yep. For us, that is/was the norm.
Whenever you play your instrument each new day, you never really pick up where you left off. Sometimes you’re worse and sometimes you’re amazing! It’s inexplicable. Regardless if you want to perform well, you not only have to practice at 100% but at 200% of your potential.
Whenever you get on stage anything can set you off psychologically and cause you to make mistakes you’ve never made before! I’d say the average person performs at around 60-80% of their potential compared to the practice room.
The rule of thumb is: Practice well, and you’ll perform ok. Practice amazing and you’ll perform well.
Everyone knows that learning how to draw isn’t easy, or that become a YouTuber and editing videos takes HOURS of your life away. Learning languages means you have to learn grammar, improve your accent, learn to read and understand what people are saying. This is time-consuming! Hobbies take times, professions takes more.
The main difference is vocational choices. If something is a hobby, it is not vital to your survival.
As a musician, you cannot simply be someone who knows your instrument and nothing else. It’s not only about the hands and 10 fingers. Musicians need to involve the whole of their being.
Hands: Good technique means instrumental facility
Ears: Hearing what’s going on allows for emotional involvement
Brain: Knowledge of theory allows for purposeful musicality
Lungs: Knowing how and when to breathe in order to shape your phrasing
Eyes: Allow for coordination between your two hands and with others.
It’s also worth mentioning that as musicians we must also perform various other roles. In many cases, we are at once historians, artists, teachers, and philosophers.
In my opinion, “musician” is just the umbrella term for what we truly are underneath it all. But what do I know?
It’s easy to hit a block in the road and not know where to go. Often times that’s when people give up. We seek advice from others, but we never really seek for people that are experts in the field.
Musicians are different. We all have teachers and mentors that have walked the trodden path long before we were born. People that live and breathe the essence of what it is that we want to be.
It is to these sages that we turn. These people give us direction based on past experiences but are also able to see through us. They can smell why we are failing in a certain area and help bring us back on the path. Correction of the smallest details in our playing technique can often lead to amazing leaps in our music that we would never expect.
We learn that humility is important. If we never believe we make mistakes, we’ll never grow.
All thanks to them.
Community and Team Players.
I’ve never heard a musician complain about making music with others. I don’t mean that they never moaned about a bad musical partner or the process of working together. I mean the actual act of performing. Even though I’m a Classical Guitarist (which means we are soloists) I do not believe that anyone is a musician in isolation. Working in different groups of musical instruments means we become flexible and learn to work together.
From Sophomore year to Senior year, instead of playing what everyone else was playing I created my own opportunities. Composer friends wrote four different pieces for me. Jewish prayers, Mexican Huapango, Carnatic influences, and avant-guard twists tickled the ears of my listeners. Working with people better than me pushed me to go further (embarrassment is good for you) and simply allowed for people to teach me. The amount of patience they all had was astounding, to say the least.
Mindset: Love What We Do.
There are thousands of other professions on Earth, not to mention stable ones. Jobs with a consistent salary. Why become a musician?
The truest and most authentic answer is because we love what we do. We love the push and pull, the struggle if you will. We love striving. For many of us, a smile on one’s face is all the currency we need to feel that it’s worth doing.
If you’re at a crossroads do what musicians do. Step back, take a breath, reflect and then get back in the water. But when you go back in, don’t do things the same way before. Tackle life through the musician mindset.