regarding music > on being an amateur

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I am not so very great at writing music and songs – but it brings me such pleasure I can’t imagine life without it. In a lot of ways I am an amateur. “What” someone might say – “an amateur”…?… you have work on Mtv, VH1, National Geographic etc – you’ve been broadcast on top 40 radio… you’ve recorded in some of the best studios in the world, worked with major labels, toured the world, played in front of tens of thousands, clubbed, made a living, published on and on and on…. how can you be an amateur? I would answer (and I have said this before) I don’t really know what I am doing. Sure in a basic sense I understand how to play instruments well enough to make a song. Sure at some level industry professionals and peers have rewarded me with money and recognition for my work…but still… there is so much I don’t know. Charlie Chaplin once said “That’s all any of us are: amateurs. We don’t live long enough to be anything else.” I think he is right. I can’t remember the quote right now, but CS Lewis said something similar – that at the end of our lives the most we can hope to become is an amateur in any given discipline… specifically in the book Reflections on the Psalms Lewis said “I write as one amateur to another, talking about difficulties that I have met, or lights I have gained, reading the Psalms, with the hope this might at any rate interest and sometimes even help, other inexpert readers. I am ‘comparing notes,’ not presuming to instruct.” It seems to me the amateur is better positioned to discover (In the beginners mind there are many possibilities, in the experts mind – few”). Amateur in French means literally “lover”. In many ways I feel “in love” with the possibilities of the mysteries in music. Rhythm, frequencies, technologies, instruments, melodies, theory, VSTs, programming, Rock / Classical / R&B / Blues / World, words, rhymes – know what I mean? “Bah” – someone might say – “I am a rockin guitar player! I am a pro”! “Cool,” I respond ” how are your bass skills”? “Can you compose? How is your music history? Have you ever built a guitar? What do you know about Bach? How are your production skills? Have you built a home studio? Have you ever written a piece of music, then recorded it, produced it and mastered it?” You see, in any one of these areas there is a lifetime of study and excellence to master. To me it seems the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. Some might argue this is the approach of being a jack of all master of none. I would counter that even if one were to take an extremely limited view – it still holds true. Just in drumming alone – there are so many instruments… just in the drum kit alone there are so many styles. Seriously. Let’s say I am a good rock drummer – and can keep solid time and I make a living…am I a master or virtuoso? Well, how is my cultural understanding of “pop drumming” in music globally > Persian / African / Greek / Brazilian … how is my brush work? How is my cymbal technique (apart from hitting them)? How well have I integrated electronics into my “kit”? You see? The learning is endless. Even if my ability as a drum-kit player was on the level of a virtuoso (in the aforementioned areas) I would still be an amateur in the broadest sense regarding music as a whole. Many songwriters with a history of massive hits still do not know why or how a song is popular… it’s a mystery. To me it is a disarming and exciting reality that I don’t really know much… it gives me a lifetime of adventure and the daily possibility of discovery and surprise. It’s fun. With that I would encourage everyone reading this to embrace the uncertainty and unknown – you may feel a little less “secure” in your knowledge – but life will most certainly present itself in a much more interesting way!

4 Responses to “regarding music > on being an amateur”

  1. DCusaNo Gravatar says:

    What a great post! Thanks!

  2. JohnstellNo Gravatar says:

    Yes.

  3. richaNo Gravatar says:

    This pretty much applies to everyone working everywhere! 🙂 However I think being focused on a single skill and being good at that makes me an expert, if I make an amazing sandwich which the world wants I am a PRO! Yes, a virtuoso sandwich maker. In this instance I can be a pro without knowing everything!

  4. drhillNo Gravatar says:

    oh yeah … ok you can be pro – but you still probably are an amateur in the wide variety of culinary possibilities… to me the important thing would be to stay on a trajectory of learning and improving

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