The futility of comparing yourself to other musicians

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Nashrakh, Jun 14, 2019.

  1. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    Just thinking out loud here.

    I think we all know this situation. You watch a video or listen to a recording of a virtuoso or maybe a ten year old kid tearing it up, and you get that sinking feeling. You're comparing yourself to them. Your first response to that may be one of two: you either say 'I may as well give up playing now, I'll never be as good' (though no one has ever done so!) or you buckle down, fully motivated to improve. I've been there dozens of times.

    Last night, I was watching Scott's videos about Miller and Jaco. And I had a revelation.

    Those guys could play circles around me and no matter how much I practice, I'll never obtain even a fraction of their chops. There's no denying it. The same goes for any virtuoso and it's certainly not limited to those two. Insert your favorite chops monster or player here.

    But it dawned on me that it doesn't matter. They could play anything I come up with the instant they see the music. But they don't and they won't. We're not playing the same music. They would never think of writing music like me. We live in different worlds.

    Their artistic vision is wholly apart from my own. This means it's unimportant how fast I can go, how well I slap, how wonderfully awful I can solo over Giant Steps. It's not the path I have carved for myself. Virtuosity has no place in the music I want to make. And this music is nothing anyone with monster chops will want to play.

    This frees my mind on so many levels. For years I have strived to get to someone else's level of expertise. But now, I can still admire their skill and musicality without the need to constantly compare myself to them. Or other musicians period. In the end, we're all just hairless apes flying through space on a giant dirt rock shaped like a potato. Okay, nevermind that last thought.

    Tell me how you feel about this. Maybe this is the privilege of the niche musician and this line of thinking only works for originals.
  2. JeroB666


    Dec 22, 2012
    This is one of the reasons I tend to stay away from Instagram/social media unless I am using it for marketing purposes.

    I used to love to see people play when I first started as it made me practice harder and more often, BUT as you mentioned the downfall is some people (like me) might feel like it is becoming impossible to reach such levels.

    That got me thinking and from my end I had to take a step back and re-evaluate what I was doing wrong, and essentially it came down to: I have a life outside of playing, I have a well paying job, I have a family (kid on the way) and I also enjoy climbing/biking and other activities, so essentially I have way too much going on and on top of that I also keep busy playing bass in my studio when I get the chance. So at the end of the day I can't really compare myself to these musicians who are touring 24/7 for the past 30 years, or even "virtuoso" players who have unlimited time to sit down and play.

    Maybe it's time they compare to us and figure out how we manage to even get the time to play bass with everything else going on :roflmao:
  3. DirtDog


    Jun 7, 2002
    The Deep North
    I caught myself in this trap around '92 or '93 when I was in my mid 20s. Slowly strangled my creativity and desire to play/perform to the point that I quit music for a number of years.

    It was never about monster chops for me, it was about the creative milieu/musical experience that I thought I'd never be a part of or attain. What set me off was the Temple of the Dog album - about what those guys were doing at that time and place and compared it to my own lacklustre musical existence at the time. I still have a hard time listening to those tunes without feeling a bit of the angst that I experienced.

    It took me time, maturity and a lot of self-reflection to realize that it was counter-productive for me to compare myself to others - in anything really - musical creativity/experience, "success", material possessions - the house I live in, the car I drive, the instruments I own - the places I've travelled, kids, etc. etc***. Follow my own path, as it were.

    These days I can appreciate differing musical/creative abilities without getting myself in knots about it. I do what I do, I'm pretty decent at it, I enjoy it and so do a few others. That's good enough for me!

    *** I also have limited social media presence.
  4. farace


    Jul 9, 2016
    Connecticut USA
    Absolutely. It's demoralizing to see ten-year-olds on YouTube that can play circles around me. But they don't always feel what they're playing. A pianist friend calls it typing. I gave up comparing myself awhile ago; I'm happy being the best Bob Farace-style bassist I know. Still I often feel like an imposter. Someone once said to my partner, "he really doesn't know how good he is, does he?" I honestly don't know what he sees. I always feel like I'm stumbling, and there are huge holes in my knowledge. But I'm me, I'm not a wanna-be Jaco or Jamerson, for better or worse. Though I may never understand why, my band seems happy to have me, and I take some comfort in that.
    Mr_Moo, 2playbass, jmon and 11 others like this.
  5. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    Like impostor syndrome? I totally understand. I often feel like I'm actually much worse than what others take me to be, but unless someone actually comes out and tells me what's wrong, I'll keep doing my stuff.
  6. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru..........

    Apr 11, 2006
    Out there!
    Never. This is no competition.

    The great Chris Squire said it best: "I do what I do, and am comfortable with that".
  7. Spidey2112


    Aug 3, 2016
    When I first started, I set my goals high... gave me something to shoot for... after +30 years playing, I'm better, but no where near the level of my idol(s) then, or now...

    ... however, I'm still a whole lot better than when I started.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to shave my back...
    Mr_Moo, MynameisMe, Stumbo and 6 others like this.
  8. Biffa

    Biffa Inactive

    Apr 16, 2019
    County Durham, UK
    I wish I could have that revelation, I've tried, God knows I've tried, but every time I see or hear someone better than me it's like a kick in the gut and I end up thinking "why bother?" But then I see bands like The Police and U2 and think Sting and Clayton have made a career out of playing simple lines and I'm happy again, so I pick up my bass and turn on the radio

    ...and YYZ is on and I reach for the razor
    Mr_Moo, 2playbass, PaulS and 5 others like this.
  9. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    I get that feeling even just watching local guys playing. Almost every bassist is better at something than I am.
  10. Spidey2112


    Aug 3, 2016
    I've finally gotten comfortable at 10% of studio speed...

    ... wife still laughs when I try to play it, at speed.
    Mr_Moo, 2playbass, Biffa and 3 others like this.
  11. Koala of Doom

    Koala of Doom

    May 4, 2019
    I can relate to, and agree with what everyone has said thus far in that I no longer get frustrated about my lack of would-be virtuousity. I am mature enough now to accept that everyone has a different playing style and level of technical prowess. I also have grown to realize that, while some of my favorite songs are very complex, with the musicians playing them being veritable wunderkind of their respective instruments, I love just as many that are relatively simple, with musicians who, while not the most technical of players, are very good at what they do.

    I think that I would like to sit in the middle. I do still hold the ambition of developing my technique and general knowledge to the point of where I can play almost anything that I would like to learn/write/improvise, but I don't think that I should let the desire to enhance and hone my technique blind me to remembering why I started playing in the first place: To get chicks and discounted beer.....I mean...uh....because it's fun.
    Mr_Moo, maverick49 and Nashrakh like this.
  12. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

    being comfortable within one's own skin is a life-long chore for many...and impossible for some.

    good luck to those who suffer the most! :thumbsup:
  13. EatS1stBassist

    EatS1stBassist In Memoriam

    Apr 15, 2016
    So cal
    I played with the famous Bubba Bryant Junior percussionist drummer extraordinaire if you look him up you won’t believe how many famous people he played with Backstreet Boys George Benson Temptations on and on. He has passed on. :rollno: great great drummer!! we were playing together for about a year and he said Ron you don’t play a lot of notes but you’re a bad cat!:)
    Mr_Moo, HughC, Stumbo and 5 others like this.
  14. seilerbird


    Apr 12, 2012
    In the 60s I realized I would never be able to play any lead like George Harrison. But I have a blast trying and since I know I will never get that advanced I don't worry about it at all. And for me having fun is all that matters. I am not going to let my lousy playing bring me down. I don't want to rain on my parade. I play a bunch of instruments and suck on all of them. But I don't care that I suck.
    Mr_Moo, lat, EatS1stBassist and 2 others like this.
  15. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

  16. vvvmmm


    Dec 6, 2016
    I don't try to be, much less to best, Jaco or Mike Mills, Larry Graham, JPJ or Keef - my fave bassists.

    But I do gleefully steal from them and sometimes grin when I nail a percentage of what I like about 'em.
  17. farace


    Jul 9, 2016
    Connecticut USA
    Sometimes I think it's more difficult to play fewer notes than many. I'm not a big Sting fan, but I greatly admire the way he can pare a bass line down to just the few notes that matter most. That's something I've been trying to accomplish--simplifying my lines, finding an economical, flowing, pleasing, and meaningful path through the changes.
  18. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    Don't get me wrong, I steal from my favorite musicians like a cleptomaniac.

    Just turning music into a competition has run its course for me. I always used to wonder 'what if someone shows up who's better than me?', and when they inevitably did, I felt down. Like orz.
    Mr_Moo, lizardking837 and zubrycky like this.
  19. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    May 24, 2006
    Weird. I never once felt that somebody who knew or could do something I couldn’t do was a reflection on me personally. Or any real cause to feel inadequate. I guess just always assumed there will always be people who can do it better than me. And by the same token there will always be people I can play better than as long as I can still play.

    I never felt intimidated by the better ones, nor felt superior to those not currently where I was. But I don’t bring much by way of ego into anything. I never found ego to be all that necessary for the things I do. Most times I just see ego as yet another impediment to getting things done. But maybe that’s just me.

    Besides, it’s only music. Not a competitive sport. Not even a competition at all unless you’re in a pool of musicians auditioning for a job.
  20. I can understand why someone would feel inadequate if they compare themselves to a virtuoso. I see many with great skill, but few that play with heart or feel. The good news is you can get nearly as good, or maybe even better, with enough time and practice. It really depends on your goals and desire. Ask yourself if you really want or even need to be playing at that level.

    When I'm working on learning how to cover a song, I start to discover the thought behind the creation of the bass line. I also often have to learn or improve a technique in order to make it sound "right". It gives you a bit of insight behind the musician that wrote it.
    Will I ever be exactly like that bassist when creating my own music? I doubt it. Instead, I want to take away something from that song and see how I can apply it to me and my creativity.