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Passion and Obsession, The "Magic" Ingredients - by Mark Stefani
Being a music coach by trade, I routinely find myself observing and analyzing the types of traits in players and students that are the most important for growth. And although I always trumpet the value of having a powerful, blue-collar work ethic, there are two forces behind the scene that drive the best artists in any field. These forces are "passion and obsession," and I'd like to spend this article discussing the significance of both.

Let's talk about passion first. As far as I'm concerned, you can eliminate the word "art" from the conversation when it comes to a person exuding a certain pride and joy in what they do. I love to see someone accept their task at hand with a smile and a concerted effort to do the job well, and I don't care if the task is writing a symphony, playing basketball, or waiting on tables. On the other hand, there's nothing worse than hearing someone whine about their situation or look like they'd rather be somewhere else, because all too often it means that they lack the passion and obsession to really go after their dream with a vengeance. In a sense, perhaps passion is an inherent trait and not acquired, though the "glass half full" side of me wants to believe that an individual can become anything they wish to be. Of course, it's a much tougher road to success if you don't have an inspired attitude, which is just another way of defining passion.

I must confess that I don't personally exhibit a strong passion for everything that I do, but when it comes to my chosen field the level is very high, probably as high as anyone I've met. It amuses me when people assume that I might be "bored" with coaching other players, because if you have a strong degree of passion for what you do (in my case sharing knowledge with others), it becomes a driving force that propels your own inspiration. And speaking of a driving force?

Obsession. This is a fascinating subject to me. Every accomplished artist I've ever met or read about has exhibited extraordinary levels of obsession in their quest to achieve their goals. Countless hours of inspired study, performances, rehearsals, etc. I could cite many examples in many fields, but I'll limit myself to music and two that I'll never forget.

Now, I'm not a big proponent of scale study, but I recall reading an interview with jazz bass legend Ron Carter in Down Beat Magazine several years ago. He was asked his opinion regarding the "proper" amount of time and energy to devote to scale practice. He very casually replied that "about seven to eight hours" of work with the major scale felt about "right" to him. Are you kidding me? What kind of obsession is that? I'll tell you what kind. The kind that makes Ron Carter the type of bassist that no one is likely to surpass.

Many years ago I read an interview with famed pianist Chick Corea. The subject was transcribing, a topic of great importance to me at the time, because I was in the process of summoning up the courage to really go after it myself. Chick mentioned that he had spent most of the sixties devoted to absorbing the works of great pianists, labeling each one-to-two-year study span his "Bill Evans period," or "Oscar Peterson period," and so on. Leonard Feather asked Chick if he meant "learning their solos note for note?" Casually (like Mr. Carter) he replied that he would play along with his mentor of choice until "you couldn't tell that there were two pianos being played!"

Passion and obsession. Regardless of the level or degree, they're the "magic" ingredients that we all seek.

Mark Stefani is a guitarist, teacher, writer, and founder of Vision Music, an educational website offering over 600 pages of FREE learning resources, including guitar lessons by top professionals, jam tracks, articles, songs, sheet music, and more. Visit:

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