When I was in high school, I had a classmate that was – and still is – a very talented young musician. I often envied his ability to improvise and even though it took me a while, I worked up the courage to ask him what it was that he did different than me. His advice forever changed my thoughts on two things. The first was obvious, his advice influenced every solo I would play in the future and I am grateful for it. The second was less obvious, it was that advice could come from any where and anyone.
1. The best advice may come from the most unexpected places. It’s easy to feel like it is the responsibility of parents, teachers, or other “adults” to teach us everything we need to know, but relying on “mentors” for our education causes us lose out on the thousands of other opportunities to learn everyday. Sometimes the best learning comes out of an experience or from a peer. Don’t forget to take a look around or you might miss some great information.
2. You can learn from EVERYONE. Yes, even the worst music performer has something to teach you. It may be a way to stand or move that looks cool while playing, how to talk on the microphone or interact with your audience. It may even be learning what not to do and what doesn’t work. Either way, you’re learning.
3. Never stop looking for the chance to learn something new. Even if you are – or you think you are – the best jazz soloist in the world, you should always continue to look for ways to grow, improve and learn.
4. Don’t be afraid to share what you know with everyone else. Our first impulse is often to keep what we know a secret, fearing that passing on what we’ve learned will give others the chance to out-perform or outdo what we’ve done. The truth is, no one can do what you do in exactly the same way you do it. “Better” is only a matter of perspective. There is always room for improvement and so you shouldn’t be afraid to share what you know with someone else. Instead, focus on making what you do better instead of constantly comparing yourself to others. No one can be you better than you.
Oh, and that advice that I received? It was that I needed to be an artist and not just a musician. I needed to mean every single not that I played and not just play them. The best way to play is to forget all of the theory I’ve learned and just play from the heart. Great composers didn’t use theory, they just wrote the music in their head – the theory came after to analyse what they did. He told me that I was too caught up in the theory and that I confined myself to the changes but the point isn’t to play fast and crazy to impress. It is to touch someone, to move someone with your music. By doing that, you also impress them. Two birds, one stone.
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