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Being True to Your Musical Abilities - by Kim LaCoste
There are two sides to that title. One way of interpreting the title would be to understand it explicitly. If you are the kind of musician who has a lot of talent, then nurture it, because the gift of music is not something that is given in equal measure to everyone. Then there's the "realistic" side of the title, where it means to accept the level of talent that you have been given...
I know; clarification is needed here: some people are lucky to have a ton of talent. Unfortunately, the history of music contains hundreds of articles about composers and/or musicians, who blew it all away by abusing themselves in one way or another, dying before their time. We have musicians who may not be an "Issac Stern" or "Pablo Casals", but they sometimes work harder to attain a mastery over their craft than someone who was born with great abilities. Why? It could be that maybe some of the ones who have to work harder are more grateful for their gifts than those who were just "born with it". Of course, there are musicians who, if discovered soon enough, they go on to excel quite well, especially if he or she has a teacher to help along the way. You'll find this often with classical musicians. Where jazz is concerned, you learn tunes and life teaches you how to play them. True, you can come up playing with a jazzband in school and all that, but it's after you've experienced some personal "life events" (like marriage, divorce, etc.) that you are able to fully understand what a song means. For years, I didn't understand how blues artists could emote so well. After I experienced some "blues of my own", I learned how to play them! And there are some that have played instruments for years. These folks are sometimes put into the category of "being a very nice person, but can't play". I'm sure you've met at least one of them at some point of your career. These people play for their own enjoyment and couldn't care less what someone thought. The music they're playing makes them happy, so why should they care about someone's pontificated opinion?

In some cases, we never get to know a particular musician because his/her parent discouraged that profession as a career choice. The music business is looked upon with scorn by some, so the young musician was told to get into a profession that was more stable. It's really too bad, because maybe the person had a real talent and it should been allowed to grow...

There are many reasons why some are more talented than others are and it would be fruitless to try to cover them all. I think the best way to convey "being true to your musical abilities" is to use myself as an example. When I was nine years old, I was studying the classical-guitar technique through self-instruction. I had learned works by guitarist/composers such as Matteo Carcassi and Fernando Sor, among others. When I was 14, I added learning the electric-bass because I wanted to be a part of the jazzband in my freshman year of high school. A conflict occurred: with the classical-guitar technique, your fingers are fingerpicks; unless you're going to use a plastic or felt pick to play bass strings, nails shouldn't be on your fingers. I tried using a felt-covered pick for about ten minutes. It didn't work for me; I was too accustomed to using my fingers. I loved the classical-guitar technique, but by the time I was 14, I began to realize that I would not become like my mentor, Oscar Ghilia. There was a level that I needed to get to and even after private instruction in college, I just didn't have the innate ability required to go farther. I was pretty good and my guitar instructor would've begged to differ with me, but deep down, I knew that I was not good enough. I was honest enough to admit that fact - to myself. I found out later and even to this present day, that playing the acoustic/electric-basses were the best choices that I could've made for myself. I still play classical-guitar pieces as a hobby and it doesn't bother me that I didn't make it to Carnegie Hall as a classical-guitarist. I still enjoy playing the music just as much. Therefore, I accepted the level of talent that was given to me for the classical-guitar technique and utilized my time (and life) to learning the facets of bass-playing instead.

That's what I'm trying to point out here: don't waste years of your life trying to play an instrument that may not be the right one for you. How can you know? It's simple - well, sort of. But, it will be the instrument that reaches your heart... Something about "that instrument" will touch you in a way that you may not be able to put into words. Play the instrument that you really desire to play. And if you are capable of playing more than one instrument, then give it a lot of thought and pick the one that will best exhibit your talent. Be HONEST with yourself. We read about musicians who play more than one instrument, sometimes well, but if you really listen closely, the musician is going to sound better on one instrument over the other. There are folks who would dispute that, but the key is to listen "to" a musician and not "at" him. When I say to listen "to" someone, I mean to totally dissect everything. When you listen "at" someone, you're not listening with a critical ear. The music is just nice "noise" to fill up a room.

If some of you are young "musical upstarts" or have been playing for a while and may happen to read this article, do yourself a big favor: don't listen to "yes people". They're the kind of folks who are always giving you compliments when you know that it was not your best performance. I'm not talking about the situations where some performances are better than others are. That happens sometimes. I'm talking about being truthful with yourself regarding how well or how badly you played. It's the only way that you will grow as a musician. Believe me, I've seen musicians who let themselves be swayed by those "yes" types and it proved to be detrimental to the artist. When they needed to listen to folks who could help them to build their skills, they ignored them. By doing that, they closed a branch of their learning. As they got older, they didn't develop the tools of the trade that could have taken them farther. Granted, there are times when you didn't sound as bad as you thought and sometimes - yes - you did sound that badly! But that's what learning is for! You want to be able to discern when you were "in the zone" and other times when all you could think of was looking for a proper way to exit the recital hall, classroom or gig. However, give yourself a break every now and then! I have to tell myself this constantly because I'm very hard on myself. There have been times when I played a solo and even though we're back at the head of the song to play it out to the ending, I'm thinking "I need to work on this" or "I need to work on that." Sometimes that's true; but sometimes you should just say - "oh hell; I'll do it better the next time." I don't want to see any of you getting ulcers because you found it hard to accept anything that you played.

That's another thing: play the type of music that is right for you. If you don't have a sincere interest in it, why waste your time and possibly someone else's? Classical music can be one relentless monster; jazz can be just as complex. I'd be a fool to downplay rock, especially when some musicians in well-known rock groups have composed pieces where the time signature was "7/4", "5/8" or "6/4". This holds true for bluegrass, country and R&B or any kind of contemporary music as well. Play the type of music that you're most comfortable with. For instance, as a bassist, I can play all types of music, but I prefer to play jazz and fusion because I can put my creativity to the best use. Some artists are great at classical music, but won't go near jazz standards because he/she may not know how to interpret them without sounding regimented. Therefore, those musicians have accepted that their strength is in classical music and they work hard to perfect it. I've seen jazz artists who can handle classical music with great aplomb. In direct contrast to that, I've listened to jazz musicians who played classical music and the music had no soul whatsoever. A machine might as well been playing it. I've heard rock guitarists play passages that smack of classical themes and kick you know what with it. That's something, isn't it? It's all in how you accept your level of musical intelligence/talent. If you're honest with yourself, you will save yourself years of disappointment...

BY Kim Michele LaCoste

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