Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Toughest Question, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at fears that keep us from asking ourselves the toughest question that we all must face as musicians looking to have a professional career:

Do I have what it takes?

In this part, we’ll look at the next step in the process:

After we ask ourselves, who else should we ask this question?

I think that the best way to start looking at this is to flip it over and look at it from the other side. What do we need to have in order to succeed as a professional musician? Here are few I think are important. Some are more essential than others, and some aren’t strictly necessary, but they all make success in music more likely:

- Musical talent, including but not limited to a good ear, a sense of good sound, and rhythmic skill. We all can work to improve in these areas, but if you have major deficits in any of them it can be very tough to catch up to the necessary levels for career success.

- An ability to effectively organize one’s own work and practicing.

- A strong drive to succeed - this can mean having a competitive nature, but it primarily means an intense need to complete any task that one starts, and a desire to always do one’s very best.

- A supportive family and friends.

- Adequate financial resources to help pay for school and to afford a good instrument and necessary supplies.

- Good academic skills so that your school work doesn’t take up too much time or effort.

I’m sure that you can think of more things to add to this list, but these are a good group to start with. Ask yourself: Who from among my friends, teachers, and family knows me well enough to tell me whether I have some of these things? The answer may be different for each item on the list. Your music teacher is probably a good source for an assessment of your musical talent, but may not know much about your financial situation or your academic talents. Your parents may be highly supportive and you may have lots of financial resources, but they may not be well qualified to tell you whether you have good intonation.

As you think of people whom you feel could offer you some insight on these questions, go ask them. When you do, try to be specific and explain that you’re trying to figure out whether to choose a music career - this way they can make sure their answers reflect on your goals and don’t end up getting off topic. I encourage many students to ask for answers in a written form - usually email. Face-to-face or telephone conversations by their nature can sometimes make it difficult for people to express thoughts that they might be uncomfortable with, and it can also be harder to organize your thoughts when you’re in a conversation with someone. You want to person you’re asking to have a chance to reflect and pick the right words to express their feelings and opinions. It also can help to have a written text to refer to later. When we don’t have a written record, we can forget or even unconsciously reinterpret what someone said to us.

No one person knows everything about you or completely understands you, and you shouldn’t base your decisions about your career on any one person’s opinion. It’s even possible that someone may give you an incomplete, biased, or even dishonest answer to your questions, for reasons good and bad. But it’s just as true that none of us can ever have a totally accurate picture of ourselves! We need the opinions of others to help us make important decisions, and by collecting the views of others we can start to get a sense of whether our own self-image is accurate or whether we need to reconsider some of our beliefs about ourselves.

In the next section, we’ll take a look at how to start to use all this information and self-reflection to make the best decision we can about our futures in music.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Must-read post on

I had actually just finished the next segment of the "Toughest Question" series when I read this incredible post by Jason Heath. This post is a must-read for aspiring musicians at almost any place in their careers - deciding whether to be a musician, in the midst of their studies, or even an old wizened professional like me! Check it out.... I'll post my new stuff in a couple of days.