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Psychology of being a musician

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Lucky Strike, May 23, 2011.

  1. In a psychology class today we talked about 'growth mindsets' vs. 'fixed mindsets'. A growth mindset is belief that one's abilities are malleable qualities, that they can cultivate and grow. A Fixed mindset is the idea that we have a set amount of ability that cannot change.

    People with fixed mindsets often compare themselves to lesser talented individuals in an effort to support their self esteem and feel good about their abilities. The fault in this mindset is that these individuals have no real incentive to continue hard work and growth in their skill/talent. When a fixed mindset person fails at something, they will often ascribe their failure to their personal dispositions, (Well, I guess I'm just not born to be good at math..)

    With a Growth mindset, we compare our abilities to those who are greater than us in an effort to strive to reach a higher level. Such as comparing ourselves to Victor Wooten or Jaco... To us, we understand that failures are not reflections of our character or skill, but reminders that practice and hard work will lead us to achieve greater things.

    Michael Jordan was once cut from his high school basketball team, resolving to practice and cultivate a skill that would make him the 'best' basketball player in the world.

    So what do you think? Haven't you heard a thousand times people tell you "Well, I just don't have rhythm, I couldn't be a musician". Or, "Your family just seems to have music in it's genes".

    Personally, I don't believe I was born with any special ability to 'pick up' music and become 'talented' any more than the next guy. I think it is a mindset. I believe any young person who has the right mindset can pick up an instrument and become the next Victor Wooten...

    But if your old... face it; you can't teach an old dog new tricks... ;)
  2. ugly_bassplayer

    ugly_bassplayer Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2009
    IMO work is a big part of the equation, but natural talent makes a huge impact.

    The greats of this world are naturally talented & very hard workers.

    Even if I would practice for 26 hours a day I would be nowhere near Jaco or Jamerson.
  3. Aussie Player

    Aussie Player

    Apr 20, 2011
    It is my experiecne that the best guitar players are illogical screwballs, short on IQ, and distant from reality. I look for that in a player these days as it helps him pass the audition. Good drummers are a but that way too. Now I think of it, so are the best singers.

    Thank God for bass players, I guess it is our job to hold it all together?
  4. I've always joked that there's two types of musicians... those who are born with it and the rest of us that absolutely hate their guts. :)

    Honestly though, after I put my 10K hours in, I don't want to sound like Jaco or Jamerson. I want what my fingers play to sound more or less exactly what I hear in my head.
  5. colcifer

    colcifer Esteemed Nitpicker Supporting Member

    Feb 10, 2010
    A Galaxy Far, Far Away
    Coltrane was not a talented musician, he just worked harder than anyone else in the business. Kenny Burrell once told me that there was no more determined person.
  6. Skitch it!

    Skitch it!

    Sep 6, 2010
    Nothing worth doing was easy, even for the greats. I'd agree that if you want it bad enough, you can get somewhere near it, but I am aware of folk over the years that have no natural rhythm or any kind of pitch recognition, and I mean none :)
  7. rosanne


    Sep 30, 2004
    SF Bay Area
    Sorry to disagree but.......old dogs *can* learn new tricks.

    I didn't start to play bass until I was 62. Sure, I'll never be a Victor Wooten but that doesn't matter to me. What does matter is that whereas I could not play before, now I can. Just like everybody else, I hit plateaus and then get past them and improve. No reason to think things won't continue that way.
  8. ugly_bassplayer

    ugly_bassplayer Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2009
    Wow, I died inside when I read that.
  9. Aussie Player

    Aussie Player

    Apr 20, 2011
    Seriously, I think being a good player has a lot to do with the influences you start with and the time in history is equally important.

    There are some players who can play what I can't and some things I won't learn because they offend me. Slap is one. I absolutely despise the sound of it. When a bass player starts to slap, I leave, turn off, hit the stop button. or what ever is needed to remove the offensive sound.

    I like smooth flowing bass runs and especially highlight runs at the end of a vocal sequence. Equally, I play fast run intros to basic songs before I settle down to the smooth rhythm..
    You blokes call it "Groove" here and that is a good name for it.

    The bass intro on "Sweet child of Mine" is so simple, but it fits and it flows.
    The progressive flow up the neck in "White Room" is wonderful and drives the basic chord pattern.
    I like Entwistle a lot but never learned any of it or played any of it in a band.

    But the older I get, the more important tone is to me. I like to listen to what I play and if I like the tone I am getting, I tend play less and listen more.

    Enjoying what you play is a singular function. It is your time to enjoy selfishness in a group situation. As bass players, we tend to please ourselves anyway, 'cause the audience does not know zip about what we are doing anyhow.

    If another bass player comes up to you and likes what you do, that is better than 200 in the audience that stand there and spill their drinks on each other.
  10. I think you're right Aussie.. The more mature we grow into the instrument the more we focus on the finer parts of our bass lines and our tone. We find that we can fill a song perfectly with simple and tasteful playing, that the song is calling us to play.

    Young cats who are still growing like to throw out a little too much sometimes. When you mature, you step outside of yourself and hear the song as a whole, your bassline is just one part of that whole. Pretty soon the song will create the bassline for you, of course, your influences and musical identity will color what that bassline will 'naturally' look like...
  11. colcifer

    colcifer Esteemed Nitpicker Supporting Member

    Feb 10, 2010
    A Galaxy Far, Far Away
    Well, he had talent but not the way other people who reached that level did. It's a great reminder of how much practice can do (though he would even run scales between sets, a level of diligence few would be inclined to observe).
  12. teleharmonium


    Dec 2, 2003
    I don't believe in talent. I mean, what is talent ? It's a really vague, abstract term that basically means ability separate from earned ability, sort of like an inclination or capacity.

    Everything I know about creative enterprises tells me that there is no such thing. On the contrary, ability always grows with practice. That's the way the brain works; neural pathways for new tasks start slowly with lots of copy errors and slow progress; then with practice eventually we can use them to perform complex operations without much effort, including accessing the auditory nerves when we are thinking about, not hearing, music. This can be seen on MRIs.

    "Talent" may be a more attractive thing for other people to believe than the reality, but that doesn't make it exist, other than as a highly dubious figure of speech.

    You show me someone with "talent", and I'll show you a person with an intense interest and motivation. Ability comes easily when those people put in the effort - especially when it's combined with the humility to realize that they have a lot to learn.

    Sometimes people that are that focused on one thing are not so great at or concerned with other areas of life, which can mislead other people into thinking that they are screwups to whom success in the one area they are passionate about, comes easily.

    IMO modern society has a huge narcissism problem, which we prefer to describe as anti-elitism. This is a motivation for many people to devalue whatever they cannot do themselves. Hence the resentment and devaluing of musical and many other skills as well as education and culture other than the low - to medium- brow, which is obvious in the way creative people are thought of and depicted in culture and in the easy nonchalant way that their intellectual property is disrespected.

    How could you know that ?
  13. oldcatfish


    Jan 8, 2011
    Here's my opinion.

    Anyone who puts 100% effort into something for years can get very good at it. But to be great at it, there has to be some natural ability.

    But if the person with a lot of natural ability doesn't put in 100% effort, they'll just get good too (as opposed to great). I form my opinion on meeting people over the years who only seem to put in 1/2 the effort at something, but seem to be among the best at whatever they do. This is true not just with music, but in most activities.
  14. Bloodhammer

    Bloodhammer Twinkle Twinkle Black Star

    Jul 7, 2009
    Shreveport, Louisiana
    The psychology of being a musician:

    Completely gonzo crazy
  15. Skitch it!

    Skitch it!

    Sep 6, 2010
    +1 With this :D
  16. FuManChu


    Mar 3, 2005
    I have been fortunate/unfortunate enough to play with both types of musicians. The fixed mindset individual was a drummer who would try to make himself feel better by putting down every other drummer in town when he was actually adequate at best. Luckily the majority of my experiences have been with musicians who possess a growth mindset.

    Having a growth mindset is necessary, but that alone is not everything. Not everyone develops at the same rate and some plateau more quickly than others. If it was all a mathmatecial equation,

    Bass Player + Practice Hours + Gig Hours = Wooten then there would be many more "Wootens" and he wouldn't be so unique.
  17. I have a degree in Psychology and graduated cum laude. I respectfully disagree with your point. If everybody could become a great musician simply by having the right "mindset" there would be many more people achieving greatness. Are you trying to tell me that Paul McCartney or Eric Clapton are great just because they chose to be? There is much more to it than that. The fact is that like it or not, some people are just not meant to play music or sports or anything else you can think of. I have a good friend who constantly practiced guitar. He was never able to become a good player despite taking lessons and working at it harder than I ever had to. He decided to become a sound man instead and was great at it. Music came easy to me. Many people have said that I have a natural sense of timing. I also believe that some people are naturally better at sports. I played college hockey. I practiced all the time. I was one of the best defenseman in the area but never got a chance to play in the NHL. I played in pro am leagues and tournaments in the US and Canada and was always looked at as one of the best players in the league. I had the right mindset, I was fast but I didn't have a 90 mile per hour slap shot. I worked very hard because I was more passionate about hockey than music. Former NHL coach Pat Burns used to come see my band all the time. He once asked me if I had the choice to be an avergae NHL player or the greatest bass player who ever lived what would I do. I told him that I would play hockey. Despite the fact that I had the right mindset and worked hard at hockey, I never got a chance to do more than play in amatuer leagues. I never worked very hard at music but became a very good player and toured, did music for televison and have been an technical advisor for many shows.
    The problem with many Psychological theories is that they try to paint things as balck and white. It's either one thing or the other. Such as nature versus nuture. The fact is that we are all blessed with some sort of natural ability. Maybe it's math, or science, or sports or music. Everybody is different. We must realize what that ability is and then develop it if we choose to. It is possible to become better even if you do not have a lot of ability but practice alone will not make you great. You still need a certain level of natural ability.
  18. rosanne


    Sep 30, 2004
    SF Bay Area
    Go Sharks!
  19. I posted this story in a thread earlier, but in all honesty I'm not going to elaborate further than it because
    A. I'm starting a job tomorrow and don't feel like typing a lot more.
    B. I will elaborate further when asked to.
    C. My views on this matter are for the most part unshakable, so I'm just stating it for the sake of it, not for arguing.
    This is a story of my musicianship teacher:
    "When I was a kid I wanted nothing more than to be the principal trumpet player of the Los Angeles Philharmonic...One day I asked my dad if he would get me a trumpet and he grinned a toothy smile and said 'Okay, sure son!' When he returned home with the trumpet I grabbed it and put it to my lips and tried to make a sound...and nothing came out. My father then laughed and said "OH, I guess you don't have it". And then he went back and returned the trumpet to the store. You want to know what he told me when he got back (broken question mark button) he told me a story about bill.

    Bill's son: Daddy, what is that (points at piano)
    Bill: Why son, that's a piano!
    Bill's son: What does it do!
    Bill: Well it makes boogie woogie son!
    Bill's son: Can I touch it (pleadingly)
    Bill: Why, go ahead son!

    The next day, In conversation with his friend.
    Bill: Oh boy, my kid has it

    Ted: Well whacha mean bill (question mark)
    Bill: My son went up to the piano, and That boy played boogie woogie all night long!"
    Do you believe this story, because it's a load of ********.
    My teacher went on to become the principal trumpet player of a philharmonic just as prestigious as the L.A. one, for 12 years. Why (question mark)
    because he WORKED HIS ASS OFF!
    EVERY DAY as a teenager, he would walk miles to a bus stop, only to journey to various orchestra's, to just SIT with the players.
    He would watch what they did, look at the scores and so on....for most of his life, and you know what, one day he was asked to sit in for one of the trumpet players, and thus began his life as a musician.
    So that's my view on "talent".
  20. teleharmonium


    Dec 2, 2003
    But that's not really the argument. You have to have the mindset (which is a big subject, not to be minimized), and you have to put in the work... but it has to be the right kind of work, consistently, for as long as it takes.

    Lots of musicians do what they can already do, halfheartedly, when they feel like it.

    If the goal is to maintain the current skill level, that's a way to do it. But nobody advances that way. Advancing requires efficient use of time working on what you can't do in an organized way. You have to develop a taste for the small increments of progress so that you get the positive reinforcement you need to keep going. It's hard to make it fun, have a coherent flow and variety in your practice, and still work through real challenges, but it too is a learnable skill.

    a google search on deliberate practice will produce lots of links on this subject. Here's one -

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