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Music isn’t strange

The talent excuse

Here’s what I’ve learned about music.

It’s easy.

Meaning it’s not mysterious. Meaning it’s not something that only “talented people” can do. Meaning anyone can learn how to do it. Like any other skill. Here’s what jazz trumpeter Art Farmer said about getting good at music: “It has so little to do with talent.”

“Talent” is a word people use to not do something. “I could never do that. I’m not musically talented.” This is another way of saying, “I want to do that, but I don’t want to put the time into learning how.” Fine. It’s ok to say that.  But don’t use the lack-of-talent excuse.

I know artists who get angry when someone says they’re talented. They feel that it ignores all the hours and hours (and hours) of hard work they’ve put in. Worse, it assumes that no work has been done. It assumes that they can just sort of do whatever it is they do.

But the truth? They’ve worked really hard. They weren’t simply in the right place at the right time. They prepared themselves by learning about music, about how to play whatever instrument it is they play. They lived their lives consciously observing the world around them, reading books, talking to people.

Doing these things makes you a better musician. Do them for that reason. Do them because it’s more fun than not doing them.

Anybody can be a musician

Anybody (anybody) can be a musician. Anybody can play an instrument, write songs.  It’s not some strange world inhabited by people channeling a muse of some sort. It’s a craft, and it’s learned through lots of doing. Sometimes, through all this craftiness, art happens. It usually doesn’t. So what do you do? You try again.

And please understand that when I say “lots of doing” I don’t mean you have to practice 8 hours a day or make a career out of this. I mean that you have to pick up your instrument every day. For 15 minutes. That’s it.

Sounds easy, but it’s not. You have to ritualize it, make it sacrosanct, create a special time every day that can’t be disturbed. And you have to overcome resistance.

I’ll have things to say about both of these things.

I want you to be able to play the guitar, to write songs, or to just make stuff with sound if that’s what you want to do. It’s not all about playing an instrument. Maybe you’re acloset  sound installation artist.

If you’ve never picked up a guitar before, if you don’t know what a guitar is, if you don’t know the first thing about music, if you sing out of tune, I don’t care. You can be a musician. You can learn to write songs. You can do whatever you want.

And if you want to do it, all you have to do is start.

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