How Far Will Talent Get You?

We have heard of the saying, “leaders are born.”  This simply is not true.  Rather, leaders are made. Leadership qualities are developed over time by studying the great leaders of our world and emulating them.  The same principle can apply to talent.  Many musicians relay solely on their talent to succeed.  There is no doubt that some musicians have an innate ability to play music.  I have worked with students where it just “clicks” for them.  But is this enough?  Should a musician exploit this and think this is the only ingredient they need to succeed?  The answer is a resounding no!  In fact, it is mythical to think that successful musicians did nothing but rely on their talent.  For instance, Charlie Parker, one of the great bebop musicians had a cymbal thrown at him from drummer, Joe Jones after Parker messed up during a song.  What did Parker do after this incident?  One can imagine he was distraught and humiliated.  However, he practiced vigilantly and tirelessly and came back a new musician.  Charlie Parker became one of the most prominent and influential musicians in the bebop era.  There is story after story on musicians who worked at their craft relentlessly to be the best they can be.  Some had natural talent while others didn’t, but the common denominator they encompassed was hard work.  They were willing and hungry to go the extra mile from the average musician.  So, we return to our question, “How far will talent get you?”  Apart from hard work, a hungry desire, and daily self-discipline, talent essentially means nothing.  It’s like a seed that can potentially turn into a beautiful tree.  Apart from sunlight and water, it is completely useless.  This is what talent is apart from a strong work ethic.  

Stir Your Creativity! Part 1

Many students feel they lack creativity at their instrument.  As a result, they become intimidated when it comes to improvising, because they just don’t know what to do.  Historically, creativity blossomed in the 1940s during the bebop era.  Prior to this was the big band era.  While both of these genres were manifestations of jazz, big band music focused on the audience.  The intent was to make people happy during a recession our country faced.  The emergence of bebop shifted the focus from the people to the musicians.  The focus was no longer on the audience, but the focus became on the musicians and their talent and skill to play music.  Artists such as Max Roach, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Earl Hines were all game changers.  These musicians had an amazing gift to play solos and freely improvise in the form of a song.  They were not afraid to take music to new bounds and levels, where they brought innovation to the craft of music.  What about you?  Many musicians don’t practice because they either don’t know what to do or plateau.  They fall into a rut and only practice what they know and may spontaneously try a new idea.  They have no direction or goals in their playing.  If you enjoy playing an instrument for the sole purpose of stress relief and a casual hobby to do, this may not apply to you.  However, if you’re a serious learner, this has strong implications to your playing.  The first step to stirring your level of creativity is to have a focused plan on what to practice before sitting behind your instrument.  For instance, if you have one hour of play time, divide that time up into practice maintenance (playing what you know to maintain your level of performance), work on your areas of weakness (if you struggle with left hand technique, allocate time to develop your left hand), and learning a new style (this can be by going through a book of that style or carefully listening to music of that style).  This is just one way of dividing up that hour of play time.  You now have clarity, direction, a purpose, and goals to work on.  You’re not just regurgitating what you know, but have a specific plan.  Ultimately, you will be better from when you leave your instrument to when you started playing your instrument during that time!  In our next blog, we will begin to look at specific ways of building your creativity at your instrument.  In the meantime, know what you need and want to do before doing it!