Few pursuits are as myth-ridden as music. So this is the first of many installments.
Myth #1: Only a select few people drew from the gene lottery and got music.
This is a very pervasive myth, especially in Western culture. Having taught music for twenty-five years, I can attest that there are many, many people out there, of all ages, who are genuinely musical. And with good instruction and perseverance, it is phenomenal how far a person can get with music. I’ve also found that, with the right kind of practice, a student can discover latent ability that didn’t show itself at the outset.
At the end of the day, there’s only one way to see what you can do, and what have you got to lose?
Myth #2: You have to start learning music at an early age––otherwise, it’s just too late.
Okay, just to clear the air, we’re not talking about child prodigies. It’s true, precocious ability needs to be fostered from early on for such musicians to reach their full potential. And I’m happy to tell you, I am no such person! I literally had no experience playing or reading music until I turned 19. But I now have performances of Beethoven and Brahms under my belt, I’ve written a symphony for full orchestra, and I completed a masters in music theory and composition. Cliche or not, it can’t be said enough: you can never start too late. Music can be fulfilling at any stage and any age!
Myth #3: There’s only one way to be musical, and that’s having it all.
Another myth. You might have a knack for reading music, or you might have a terrific memory. You could have an excellent sense of rhythm, or you might sing right on pitch. There are so many dimensions in music, and a person doesn’t have to be equally adept in all of them to be proficient. Even world class musicians have strengths and weaknesses.
Myth #4: Talent is what makes people good at what they do.
Absolutely not true.
I invite you back to The Natural with Robert Redford. When Roy Hobbs plays catch as a boy, his father tells him “you’ve got a gift, Roy, but it’s not enough. You have to develop yourself. If you come to rely too much on your gift, you’ll fail.”
The next time you see some live music, whether it’s a jazz quartet or Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, you might get the chance to meet the musicians. If you do, congratulate them for having worked so hard to get where they are. Of course they have talent–– that’s a given. But talent is about one percent of what makes someone good at anything. The other ninety-nine percent: stone-cold dedication to practicing. Left to itself, talent goes nowhere. It’s practice and determination that turns a gift into a skill, and, gifted or not, no one is born skilled.
This is where we get to be honest with ourselves. Did I give up because it was too hard, or was it too hard because I kept giving up? This question is not an put-down at all…it’s a challenge!
Stay tuned for more myth deconstruction.
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