Opinions From The Road
Since the dawn of music, musicians have measured themselves against their peers. People who have the passion to learn a certain instrument, set goals on themselves like “I’m going to work so hard on this guitar until I can play like Tony Rice” or “Man I am never going to be on Jerry Douglas’ level, but I would like to get close”. While it is always good to have a goal, achieving a level that is impossible to measure can set people back in their development or make him/her give up altogether. This targeted comparison also causes the musician to “clown or copy” their targets traits without neither developing their own “artist” nor realizing the influences that created their idols artist.
After learning the basics on your instrument (and the basics of the music you are trying to play) and basic music theory, it is nearly impossible to quantify your development. There is no “Stage 2” that will take ____amount of hours to surpass or a set of skills that advance you to some next level because growth is not a liner measurement. It is not a point A to point B timeline that you can track, it’s not a check sheet you can fill out. You also cannot measure yourself against another musician properly because his/her timeline is different.
Learning an instrument is like floating in outer space. You want to move, but that movement is only accomplished by what happens to pull you into its gravity. You can want to learn, and practice hard to be better but your growth depends on what is influencing you. Your growth is pulled hard by certain influences and away from other ones. You might become well versed in dozens of chords but not as skilled with the rhythm in which to use those tools. You might become skilled at Monroe style mandolin for instance but struggle to play with bands who play in a more modern vintage.
This is why comparing yourself to other musicians is so detrimental to your development. If you measured a fish & squirrels ability to climb trees, the fish would look worse each time, but if you then do the same for a swim across the pond, the squirrel will look the fool. To take the analogy further, Barry Bales can win Bluegrass bassist each year but not even make a chair in the symphony. That doesn’t make Barry any less of an artist. He’s musical development is just better suited for what he is doing.
Instead of measuring yourself against other musicians, it’s better to just set an ideal or goal of what kind of “Artist” you want to be and be very cognizant of what influences you surround yourself with. You may find yourself surrounded by other players of your same instrument but their development is at a different point in the universe than yours is. Different influences, different goals and so many other factors that it would not be fare for either of you to compare to each other. You will also want to surround yourself with people who want to help you develop, not those who are nervous about that development. Some musicians, like any part of society, want to hold other down in order to boost themselves up. Once you realize these, just pass them by and heed not their drama.
You have to set a point in YOUR universe that you want to achieve, work hard to push yourself in that direction but be ready for that path to be a very windy road that sometimes goes all directions but forward. At the end of your journey, you won’t care you who (or others) compared you to, you will remember that zig-zag line that helped to create the artist you became.
Justin Mason, Florida Bluegrass Network
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