I'd like to spend this edition of "Coach's Corner" discussing how we, as musicians, perceive our stature and talents as players. I feel that it represents a very important topic, because to truly evolve in the most efficient manner possible, how we view our strengths and weaknesses becomes a critical factor. The key lies in honesty, listening to yourself, and maintaining focus.
Let's begin by defining what I mean by "listening to yourself." On the surface that statement seems relatively simple, but I'd like to outline three distinctly different ways to approach this challenge. The first two are the most obvious, and are definitely interrelated. They both deal with how you actually sound during a musical performance, even with an audience of only one.
Now, if you're like most of the guitarists and bassists on the planet, you probably spend 99.9% of your time listening to yourself with instrument in hand. If you happen to be involved with recording or studio work on a regular basis, you get the opportunity to regularly hear yourself from an "objective" listener's point of view. Is there a difference. Yes, a huge one!
What I've learned throughout my career, albeit quite painfully at times, is that the way that I perceive myself "live" is generally very different than when recorded "after the fact." I find that things that I think sound so cool with instrument in hand often sound utterly terrible when I've had a chance to listen from a neutral corner. Conversely, good things that I normally take for granted in my live playing suddenly leap out at me when I'm able to just sit back, listen, and weigh their true value. The real positive thing about this type of experience is what happens after the reality sets in. I never, ever want to hear what I didn't like again, and I become sharply focused on what I "did" like. Bottom line? Get that weak stuff outta here! And did I say right now?
I know that it's tough to be brave and stomach the way that you sound on tape, because we're all our own worst critics. But, trust me. If you do so on a regular basis, you'll greatly accelerate your musical growth.
I mentioned earlier that there was a third aspect of listening to yourself. This one is purely psychological, but I'm sure that you'll be able to relate to it. It deals with understanding your strengths as a player, and being inspired rather than intimidated by the performance of other musicians. Like many players, I fall into that trap often myself. Sometimes when I hear a great performance by another musician, instead of being inspired and driven by how hard that player has worked to achieve their goal, I'll waste time by thinking "Why can't I play that well?" If the performance was particularly spectacular, you can be left questioning your ability, or whether or not you might be better off frying doughnuts somewhere.
Well, I'll tell you what... It's times like those that I have to stop, appreciate all the things I've accomplished (that I take for granted), and realize that one's musical path is filled with many "forks in the road." You simply can't have it all. When you really think about it, it wouldn't be nearly as fun, challenging, and yes, frustrating if you could. What is important is to be hard-working, humble, honest, be inspired by fellow-musicians, and give credit where credit is due. Above all, listen to yourself!
"Coach's Corner" is an ongoing addition to Vision Music. The purpose of these brief articles is to share philosophy, offer practical insights, and to enhance your musical studies.
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