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Be a Musician, not a Technician

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by iiipopes, Mar 24, 2020.


  1. iiipopes

    iiipopes Supporting Member

    May 4, 2009
    Be a Musician, not a Technician. In this excerpt out of the film, "All the Mornings of the World," an aspiring player applying to take lessons is dismissed by the Master as being merely a technician, not a musician:



    Note that for his audition he plays a technical exercise, fairly well, but without musicianship: no finding the theme, no constructing the phrase, and no bringing the series of notes together as a coherent whole. It is only decades later, and after paying more dues than most of the subscribers to this forum will ever pay, does the young man finally mature into the man and musician he aspired to be, finally playing a duet with the Master, almost too late, The Tomb of Regrets.



    And the audience is left to wonder who is regretting what: is it the Master regretting not accepting the young man as a student early in his career, and now his daughter is dead, so no posterity, or the young man, when in his dotage, has a flashback of playing this duet with the Master at the height of his career at the French Court, and in his dotage is trying to pass along musicianship to the next generation of technicians aspiring to be musicians, but who don't get the point.

    Be the musician. Don't be too enamored by flashy technique. Use the tools of technique as a means to a greater understanding and expression of the music. Study the songs and learn how the song breathes and takes flight, not just which note is played at which part of the song. Study how you, as the foundation, can make the group sound better, not complaining about the drummer.

    Some years ago a conductor under which I played a show in Branson, supporting an entire stage full of instrumentalists and vocalists, sent me a video of a boy on a street corner with superlative technical execution as he played technical patterns in a derivative of Larry Graham style. I replied, "Yes, but can he support an ensemble?" Crickets.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2020
  2. juggahnaught

    juggahnaught

    Feb 11, 2018
    Seattle, WA
    Sigh. This is a false dichotomy.
    • It's possible to be musical and to be technical.
    • It's possible to be musical and not to be technical.
    • It's possible not to be musical and to be technical.
    • It's possible not to be musical and not to be technical.
    It's true that your final goal should be music above all - but that doesn't mean that having amazing technique takes away any sense of musicianship. A musician without technical command will always struggle to express ideas outside of those technical bounds, while the musician with excellent technical skills will never be hindered. The technician chooses what he or she wants to play at any given time, while the non-technician is limited to choices that he or she can play. The musician with excellent technical skill will be able to support an ensemble if he or she has the correct mindset to be an ensemble player; this has little to do with technical skill.

    I'm posting this because, like many threads on Talkbass, I expect replies advocating for simplicity in playing, composition, and instrumentation, and replies disparaging more technical or "busy" players and musicians - a strange mentality of "dumbing down", if you will, because some people simply want to become mired in mediocrity, and some people don't ever venture outside of their own cultural and musical box.

    Bassists - be the musician, yes, but realize that being a technician is not the antithesis of being a musician. They're two different things and can (and should!) coexist.

    Keep playing.
     
  3. iiipopes

    iiipopes Supporting Member

    May 4, 2009
    I disagree completely. It is not a false dichotomy. As the musician develops, the technique becomes subservient. It is not the dumbing down, it is the rising above. I have been lucky enough to see a significant number of people who as children were mastering their scales on whatever their chosen instrument, who later I attended their master's degree recitals, happy to see the musicians they became. A small little book which demonstrates this better than anything else is Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. It is one thing to fly better than any other bird. It is quite another to take that ability and do more with it, whether as a single long note or a complex technical passage at whatever technical ability the player may possess. A technician will always be a technician, and nothing more. A musician will be all the technician is, but takes it to the higher plane.

    And yes, I do keep playing. Thank you.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2020
    SJan3, jamro217 and DanAleks like this.
  4. thabassmon

    thabassmon

    Sep 26, 2013
    New Zealand
    Key here is be musical, to me that means human expression, communication and emotions through the use of feel, pocket, note, rhythmic, dynamic choices and interactions with other musicians either reinforcing their ideas or countering them. Make the listener "feel it".

    Don't be all flash and no smash.

    There are many people that have made careers and amassed a following based on their technical prowess, but there is very little music there, a lot of finger blazing but very little else.

    You need technique too but don't let that become the focus.

    It is better to be primarily musical and have a secondary grasp of technique than being primarily technical and have a secondary grasp of music.

    All that proves is the player sat on their a** long enough to develop some finger gymnastics.

    There are some players that do play musically and have technique but their primary focus will be musical.
     
    SJan3 and ObsessiveArcher like this.
  5. Samatza

    Samatza

    Apr 15, 2019
    Your playing needs to serve the music. Some will require a steady pulse of 8th notes and some will require bass gymnastics. Doesn't matter which you play, most of the time the genre you play will dictate the technique.

    If you merely use the song as a vehicle for your technique you are not serving the music, if you don't have the technique to play the best bass line to support the song you are also not serving the music.

    So it comes down to technical ability, musical ability and taste, it's striking the balance that is the hard part.
     
    todd burns, red_rhino, smogg and 2 others like this.
  6. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Cincinnati
    But, it's just so much easier to define (and pursue) technique than musicianship.
    If I want to play 1/16 notes at 180bpm and I work hard at that, I can tell you the day and hour I meet that goal. But, if playing musically is the goal, well... what sounded great yesterday is now a little better. (can I get even better? I'll try).
    And what if I can play Saint-Saëns' "The Swan" as beautifully as any cellist, or Rachmaninoff's 'Vocalise' as well, but apply what I learned with them to Bach's Cello Suites, is it to the advantage of musicality? What if someone thinks a romantic version of baroque music is a poor choice? Does that take away from my musicality? There's some wonderfully musical moments in Gluck's operas that really shine in the light of mid 19th century expression (Gluck certainly couldn't have known about that). How far do we go?
    Clear, as has been pointed out above, you need both. It's setting the goals that gets difficult.
     
    Nashrakh and dr doofie like this.
  7. Spidey2112

    Spidey2112

    Aug 3, 2016
    My French is kind of lacking... at one point in the movie, did the main character state, "... and one time at band camp...".
     
    JRA, RyanOh, birminghambass and 4 others like this.
  8. OptimalOptimus

    OptimalOptimus

    Jan 4, 2019
    Canada
    On that kind of instrument you need to work your technique a lot more in order to be able to play music.

    I also think your music will improve along with your technic. Your musical sens will develop but if you don’t put some effort in your technic you’ll be left off lacking in your musical interpretation.
     
    Spidey2112 likes this.
  9. iiipopes

    iiipopes Supporting Member

    May 4, 2009
    This ^. As Pablo Casals, the famous cellist, who, still practicing daily in his '80's, said: "The most perfect technique is that which is not noticed at all.
     
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  10. juggahnaught

    juggahnaught

    Feb 11, 2018
    Seattle, WA
    It sounds like this is the beginning of a semantic misunderstanding. I define a technician as a player who is skilled in and actively pursues advanced technique on his or her instrument, whatever that may be. For me, I don't see that undercutting being a musician - rather, I see technique as a set of tools that allow a musician greater choice and freedom in musical expression. It sounds as though you define it slightly differently than I do. If that's the case, then we aren't at odds.

    I absolutely believe that being a technician as I have defined it is completely orthogonal to being a musician. For example, someone who is not a technician may be able to play the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. However, they would likely struggle with the much faster, more intense (but just as musical) third movement. Someone who is a technician can choose to play the single long note or the complex technical passage, while someone who is not a technician doesn't have the option to play the complex technical passage at all.

    So again - why limit yourself to mediocrity? You're only limiting your own options for musical expression. And again, I declare that it's possible to be musical without being a technician, and it's also possible to be musical while being a technician. (Of course - in general - being a "technician" is somewhat measurable and objectively quantifiable, while being "musical" is completely subjective - another fallacy of the dichotomy you support; they can't be compared in the same way.) But the non-technician will be forced to play within the limitations that they have as a player.

    So I say - work on both technique and musicianship, and never stop striving. Artificially limiting oneself because one wants to "be a musician" but "not be a technician" is the mindset behind people not learning to read music, not learning theory, not practicing and acquiring different musical and instrumental techniques, not exploring music outside of their known boundaries....I honestly think it's a bad mindset. Perhaps you're talking about chamber musicians of a very high caliber, and not the average Talkbassist - but I'd bet they're focusing on both musicianship and technique also.
     
  11. dr doofie

    dr doofie

    Jul 6, 2017
    I agree 100% with what you’re saying, but I think the OP mentioned something about using technique, wasn’t an either/or comment
    Use the tools of technique for greater understanding,...I don’t know how to paste a quote
     
  12. iiipopes

    iiipopes Supporting Member

    May 4, 2009
    You misread my posts. And it is not a difference in semantics. I strive for the highest musical expression I can. A technician is one who applies technique, but does not necessarily do more than that. A musician uses the tools of technique to achieve greater musical expression, and not exercising the technique for its own sake. Go back and re-read my Casals quote and the Jonathan Livingston Seagull book. It is only when a player transcends the technique that the player becomes a musician. Any person who is more interested in the technique than the ways the technique can help a player become a better musician is only a technician, not a musician.
     
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  13. gln1955

    gln1955 Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2014
    Ohio, USA
    That says it all. :thumbsup:
     
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  14. dr doofie

    dr doofie

    Jul 6, 2017
    :roflmao:
    I agree 100% with what you’re saying, but I think the OP mentioned something about using technique, wasn’t an either/or comment
    Use the tools of technique for greater understanding,...I don’t know how to paste a quote
    saw your avatar, knew something was coming...:roflmao:
     
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  15. iiipopes

    iiipopes Supporting Member

    May 4, 2009
    No, it doesn't. I invite wide discussion with those who discuss how technique helps a person be a better musician. But I steadfastly refuse to be merely a technician. The difference in a technician and a musician can also be explained by the philosopher Kierkegaard and his philosophy of the leap of faith: going beyond the known into the unknown, forging something new where nothing exists before. A technician does not do that. A technician merely applies what is already there, even if in a different combination. The musician takes the leap to the greater plane of expression, bringing along the technique as a tool, not as a player playing behind the technique hoping it will get him where he needs to go.
     
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  16. dr doofie

    dr doofie

    Jul 6, 2017
    I loooove Semantic Misunderstandings...
    Anyway I can add somewhat intelligently that the first and second movements of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique I could play; the third for me was like I never sat in front of a keyboard in my life.
    So yes my technician side melted at the third movement where my musicianship side somewhat carried me through the first two I guess
     
  17. gln1955

    gln1955 Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2014
    Ohio, USA
    Do you understand what a false dichotomy is?
     
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  18. It certainly varies by person. You can't tell someone how much technique they should or shouldn't have. If you've found the perfect balance for yourself, that's awesome! The main thing is that you have enough technique to say what you want to say. If we're talking bass players, Mark Sandman probably required less techinque than Billy Sheehan.
     
    SJan3 likes this.
  19. iiipopes

    iiipopes Supporting Member

    May 4, 2009
    Yes. This is not an either/or. This thread is to get people out of the technician mindset into the broader musician mindset; to encourage growth and appreciation; to rise above the mundane to the inspired. To encourage greater work, dedication, and application of our common art as bass musicians. It is the leap from the mundane to the inspired as a progression using technique as a tool that keeps this thread from being a false dichotomy, because the key element of a false dichotomy is the assumption that both "sides" are either in competition for each other, or have equally valid or demonstrable attributes. This is not about competitive or equal or inapposite attributes. It is about inspiration, progression, transition, yes, even maturity over time and the journey to get there, as illustrated by my original two movie exerpts.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2020
    SJan3 likes this.
  20. Spidey2112

    Spidey2112

    Aug 3, 2016
    It's the main reason why you're still in the will.
     
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