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What to do when ambition exceeds talent

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by progrmr, Apr 2, 2013.

  1. progrmr


    Sep 3, 2008
    Columbus, Ohio
    I've been trying to summarize my musical experience for some time - I have this "affliction" where I switch back and forth from guitar to bass. Each time I make the switch I have hit a wall with whatever instrument I'm working on and the drive to keep working at it wanes.

    Then while watching TV the other day I heard something that summarized my musical experience: My ambition exceeds my talent.

    I have spent a long time studying the theory of music - I know what scales are, what modes are, the difference between major/minor/augmented/diminished chords...but I just can't put it to the fretboard on either instrument. I can find notes and know some right off the top of my head...but I can't memorize the notes on each string and "see" them while playing.

    I also can't remember all the notes for triads or arpeggios - I know some patterns but that isn't helpful overall. When I need to play over a chord I need to know what notes are good notes and where they are on the fretboard. If I go nice and slow, I can find the notes...but again, I can't "see" them.

    So I feel like my ambition exceeds my talent. The ability to see the information I need seems to be totally out of reach.

    I feel like I need to break the cycle somehow or quit playing music altogether. The essence of music is doing - and I'm not in any bands nor do I play for anyone. I would like to, but feel that I need to be much more developed before trying to be part of any creative process involving other people.

    Am I describing something that others go through? How do I get past this??
  2. wrench45us


    Aug 26, 2011
    the point is patience and perseverence.
    I was always one to look for shortcuts and 'the easier way'. It took a long time, but now that I'm in my 60's I've learned there are no shortcuts.
    Settle in.
    I'm not sure ambition exceeds talent, but it often exceeds performance. It's when one knows how to play something, but can't do it repeatedly or in time or with any nuance and it seems like its taking way too long to get something down. What the mind understands takes a while to commit to muscle memory. Settle in. A lot of areas of the brain and body have to be trained and some take longer than others.
  3. St Drogo

    St Drogo

    Oct 9, 2009
    I'd say music theory is a lot like typing blind. Wheb I type, i don't 'see' the letters on the keyboard, but i've done it so much it's been totally ingrained in my brain and fingers. The only time i look at my keyboard now is when someone makes a typo and i want to know if that's an easy typo to make :D
    I don't have a talent for typing. It's just been done sooooo much, it kinda stuck. I guess through osmosis or something. Different example of something similar: basic times tables. They've been repeated to an extent that i don't need to work out what, say, 7 x 8 is, it's just 56. Like from memory.
    You say you can't see the notes. I'd say don't try to. Just do what you love (which doesn't necessarily have to be a band btw, if you are content just noodling on your own, then you are still content).

    About your hesitance to join a group, if that is something you want to do, you should do it. I understand there can be a daunting treshold in that you feel inadequate in prowess, but find people you get along with, are around your level (ideally just a tiny bit better), and have fun. Your playing and understanding will get better a lot faster than when you play alone.

    In the end, make sure you have fun, you know? Music is not serious business.

    Edit: I see I've made a typo. I'm typing this on my phone. Just sayin' :D

    Editedit: ooh i forgot. I have a (totally unsubstantiated) theory that ambition equals talent. Or there's at least a huge overlap. You can be born with a bit of innate capability at something, but as most succesful people say; it's 1% inspiration and 99% transpiration'. Jimi wasn't born a guitargod. He just got so much joy from playing, he did it a lot until he got where he was. And i believe that goes for almost everyone, a very few random freakish outliers notwithstanding.
  4. lowJPG


    Feb 4, 2013
    Get a day job.
  5. Eric_71


    Jul 22, 2011
    It sounds like you just need to find an outlet for music. Practice is all well and good, but if I'm not learning something for a specific purpose like a band, I WILL get bored and stop practicing as much.

    It can be a big hurdle to get over, but there are lots of really really bad musicians out there who are learning on the fly. So no matter your level of proficiency (which I'm guessing is actually pretty decent), you probably don't have to be that worried. Continuing to try to develop and putting in the effort are the important things.

    Seriously -- I'd encourage you to at least find a jam buddy and start working on songs. If you can find a jam night/hobby band/church band, that would be even better.
  6. All of the above.

    There's a lot of behavioral psychology one could bring into this discussion, but for me it boils down to this: Barring physical limitations, you absolutely CAN elevate your talent to serve your ambition.

    Success is a choice. Make the decision that you are going to become a better bass player. Find a good teacher. Play with people (don't be afraid!). SET ACHIEVABLE, INCREMENTAL GOALS because you can't do everything at once.

    Dedicate yourself to improving and you will improve.

    And yes, have fun.

    Good luck and best wishes.
  7. Yes, it finally dawned on me that the music I play I use only a small amount of the theory I know. All that stuff is good to know. But I bet you only use a small percentage of it when actually playing the songs.

    My point -- we play the bottom end and follow the chord changes and at the same time call attention to those changes, now that is not rocket science. but takes a lifetime to master. The challenge in all this is to play the song better. Play with each other, better. Just get better. And yes there are times when we hit the wall. That normally happens just before a breakthrough. There are peeks and valleys. Just keep moving through the valleys.

    You've got theory down, now go work on technique and how you could play this specific song better. That will give you something to work on for the rest of your life.
  8. Roy Vogt

    Roy Vogt

    Sep 20, 2000
    Endorsing Artist: Kiesel, Carvin, Accuracy, Hotwire, Conklin Basses, DNA, Eden
    +1 on getting involved with a band. It gives you a goal, you have songs to prepare and playing with real live musicians is another set of challenges than jamming in your practice space. I would also suggest getting a good teacher if you can afford it. Even Tiger Woods has a Golf Pro and Muhammad Ali a trainer. A teacher is your "music coach" and a good accountability partner.
  9. I think almost everyone's ambition exceeds their ability. Who on this forum wouldn't like to have Victor Wooten's chops and John Patiticci's understanding of harmony? I certainly would. I'd also like to run a trillion dollar hedge fund and be married to Heidi Klum. None of that is going to happen. But I can still enjoy what I do with music, even if it's just playing Blue Bossa one more time.
  10. progrmr


    Sep 3, 2008
    Columbus, Ohio
    This seems to be a common sentiment for this post - forget the theory and just play..just like typing, you just do it.

    Where I get stuck with this - I sit down with a song or a backing track and I'm all set to play...then I realize that I don't know the chord being played, I don't know the chord progression so I can't know what notes to play.

    I suppose I could just start playing and learn by hearing when notes sound good and don't - a form of ear training I suppose. Frankly I think I'd be better off going down this road...at least I'd be able to play with some spontaneity. Right now if I want to play something I need a chord sheet at a minimum lol!

    Thanks for the encouragement too - I'm pretty persistent but I've been switching between guitar and bass since 2008 and I'm no where near where I want to be from a playing perspective.
  11. Eric_71


    Jul 22, 2011
    I think you're overcomplicating it. I don't know what you like to play, but for me I thought Ramble On by Led Zeppelin sounded cool. So I looked up a tab and learned it. Some friends were over and wanted to play Gold on the Ceiling by the Black Keys. So I looked it up and learned it -- it's like 4 notes.

    I had an audition and the guy wanted to play Cumbersome by Seven Mary Three, Man in the Box by Alice in Chains, and Hot Blooded by Foreigner. So I looked them up, listened to them, and played along. And I learned them.
  12. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    It is not talent, you just haven't done the work. It takes a lot of work to sound like you're "talented".
  13. henry2513

    henry2513 Supporting Member

    May 9, 2011
    Los Angeles, Ca
    Practice, practice practice and then practice some more and when you're done practice again.

    Unless you've got some rare genetic gift like total recall there's no such thing as talent. It comes down to how bad do you want it and what are you willing to sacrifice to get it. That "I'm not talented enough" line is any easy out to not pushing yourself past plateaus and putting the time in that's needed.

    From what you say it looks like you're overcomplicating by the notion that you have to know what the "good notes" are. All scales, triads, arpeggios can be looked at as a few different geometric shapes and it's the same shapes no matter what key, chord you're playing anywhere on the fretboard.

    For instance a G minor arpeggio starting on the low B (5 string) is a rectangle connected to a isosceles triangle (triangle with two even sides) with one additional note on the G.

    On a 4 string it's 2 points on a line connected to two different triangular shapes.

    Take a look at the attachment for an example of what im talking about

    When I'm playing I'm thinking shapes, never notes. Thinking "I'm going to play a G followed by a Bb when you're playing a minor arp is waaaay to complex.

    Attached Files:

  14. IncX


    Jul 23, 2007
    you know, that is the reason why i only join bands with interesting vocalists and talented song writers ... to make up for my lack of talent lol
  15. Plucky The Bassist

    Plucky The Bassist ZOMG! I'm back from the dead! Supporting Member

    Jul 30, 2010
    Houston, TX
    Some people do better with planning before they play.

    I can jam and come up with a cool line if we sit down and play a part over and over again in my band, but I prefer to (and feel like it comes out better) when we have a riff or so to go off of and then build on that using theory to plan out some changes and fills for the rest of the song. Nothing wrong with that at all, it's just a different way to tackle a problem or goal.

    If you find yourself with a lack of inspiration, try listening to or playing along to music you normally wouldn't. For bass players, funk and reggae can have some very very style-altering effects to your playing. Reggae has such a rhythmic element to it, it can take your mind off notes at times and make you focus more on your timing. The style can be different for everyone, metal or salsa or polka might be the genre that gets you the same effect that reggae did for me.

    It is funny though, because there are plenty of "successful" people who perform music or have music as their main profession and their ambition FAR outweighs their talent (Gene Simmons comes to mind). It's not a nail in the coffin for you, you'd be surprised how untalented some famous bassists are compared to average joes and janes that you'd find around here or your local bars. Anybody who tells you that success in the music industry is 100% based on talent is flat-out lying to you lol. You will probably get farther than the guy who has talent that exceeds his ambition.
  16. Me too. Yes we could jam along, but, in my case I want to nail the chord changes and to do that I need to be following the lyric line so I know when the chord change word is coming up.

    I see you are a Praise person also, so you understand, with six new songs each week and these selections only being repeated twice to three times a year, I do not know the songs well enough to play with out sheet music. Every one of the members in our Praise band, including the drummer, play from fake chord sheet music.

    When the other guys leave their music stands at home, so will I, but, in the mean time I do not mind being seen with a music stand.

    Relax and enjoy the ride.
  17. maxiegrant

    maxiegrant Bassist in Transition

    Nov 26, 2007
    Sellersburg, IN
    I've just come back to the bass after about a four month hiatus.

    I'm playing faster and with greater accuracy than I've ever played. I have about three forks of study I'm working on, one of them the continuing build-up of my hand strength, one of them a quest to ensure I know the fretboard for every scale (I take a scale each day and work it) and another to perfect the weight and articulation of the standard eight-note pulse most bass lines actually end up being.

    I also do a thing where I take a key and just riff in that key for as long as I can, until I reach a conclusion. I then switch keys and do it again, and I challenge myself to come up with a riff that sounds completely different.

    "Talent" is a lot of practice summed together. You don't say how long you've been playing, but if you are still trying to match the names of notes to the frets on the board, I can't imagine it's been more than a couple of years.

    So I've been playing for 29 years, and this is how things are for me now. And I think right at this moment I'm the best player I've been in my life. Really done a lot of work on my tone and my command of a beat, and on nimbly moving around on the board. I think it shows.

    So you need more time. And you sound also like you hit a "wall" and take that as a cue to stop. That wall means you need to keep going. It is something you can't do yet, so stop and master doing that one thing.

    For example, if you're currently hitting a wall on the bass, write out (even do it for us here) what it is you are trying to do, and where it is you are failing.

    That second part, the where you're failing, is what you now take as your thing to rehearse. Fix it. Then find something else to fix.

    That's what I've been doing for 29 years. It works. Trust me. I had no musical "talent" before I started this.
  18. frankweir


    Apr 2, 2013
    Get to a jam group. Google in your area. Look at "meetup.com" and there should be a good listing for your city. You dont have to be "performing" just playing with others. This will do wonders for your enthusiasm and help you over the times you get bored or doubt yourself. Also work with simpler three chord music...I'm in a cajun jam group which is all about the accordion and fiddle so its easier for me on guitar and bass to work with. You meet other people and often they are in other jam groups so you can participate with different groups playing different music. Also consider attending instructional festivals where youll meet tons of people, attend instructional workshops, and hear the leading musicians in that music area. Also a lot of fun. Take a look at Augusta heritage Festival in W. Virginia...cajun, blues, folk, old time...maybe you think you would only like rock based music but youll meet new people and be exposed to other traditions by looking at other genres. That will help kindle your enthusiasm as well.
  19. gavinspoon


    Feb 11, 2008
    Cardiff UK
    When you were a child and you sang Happy Birthday at a Birthday party, did you know the chords in advance?, did you agree the key in advance, or did somebody start singing in a random key and you just joined in?

    When you were 5 years old you could join in vocaly with a song in a random key, not knowing the chords or the theory. You don't need to learn much to be able to do the same with bass. If you can sing it, you can play it, it's just a case of working it out.
  20. Joebone

    Joebone Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2005
    Los Angeles
    Play with people, play along with tunes, just play. Note that we PLAY, we don't "work" music. Theoretical knowledge is a great thing, but sounds like you're putting yourself in a bit of a box. Just play. Play with better people, play along with more ambitious music, get better...

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