Playing to Get Better

I shouldn’t be shocked, but when I hear (twice today actually) a famous musician say they are still learning*1 or a successful band say they need time to develop*2, I’m intrigued by the proposition that “great” could’ve been “greater” or that somehow a product to which I hold such great esteem has yet to reach it’s potential.  At first I tend to assume a pretense of modesty or humility – a healthy trait indeed – but now wonder if both kinds of statements, no matter how accomplished or talented one may be, reflect a natural process of engagement within Music: informal learning*3.  

I think that, when immersed in a culture of Music – under the framework/ learning model of situated cognition*4, a musician will and should naturally come across (or seek out examples of) their craft that exceed their own ability or at offer new perspectives about their current abilities, practices and habits – experiencing mistakes throughout.

Learners need the expertise of others.  Seeking out experts who can guide and skaffold one’s development is the greatest platform on which to develop, and get greater, much like we did as babies learning our native language and much like a person now might admit “Oh good point” or “Yeah I never thought about it like that” when immersed in productive conversation.  Making mistakes and witnessing examples of greatness or insight is part of the path and cannot be separated from learning.

A student recently admitted  ‘No man, they’re way too good for me,’ when asked if he had gotten together with any of his musician buddies lately.  Don’t let this happen to you. 

*1  Jazz Drummer Paul Motion on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, audio interview

*2  Tool statement on forthcoming release:

*3  “How Popular Musicians Learn” by Lucy Green see also

*4  Situated Cognition, Wikipedia

Author: aarondoerr

Owner of Fellow Musician LLC, a small music education business specializing in outreach and private study. I'm guitarist for musical theatre and production assistant at St. Louis Public Radio.

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