Paul Hawthorne's Web Site
Banjo Psych 104

banjo head, banjo psych logoThe Myth: You either have *it*, or you don't.

Sooner or later after you start to play music, you will encounter some self appointed expert who will opinion that musical soul, connecting with the instrument or musicianship is something you either have or don't, and it cannot be trained. Their view will be that the best you can hope to become is a skilled technician, playing without soul. If you don't already have the ability to connect emotionally with music, you are doomed forever to be second rate. Being a great player is not available to you.

Simply put, they say, "You either have *it* - or you play like a technician."

This is absolutely false, and the person saying it is uninformed and/or arrogant. They are preaching the creed of the victim.

Music is a means of expression just as is talking, and we all have learned to connect with the process of talking to express ourselves emotionally and other ways. If someone can learn it in speech, they can learn it in playing. You can bet that when you were first mimicking someone else's speaking at age 1 1/2, it was a pretty technical exercise. Emotions were expressed rather differently.

The intangibles of musicianship can indeed be trained, and someone who now has them usually learned it from someone else. Someone who is a technician can't teach what he has not grokked, and the qualities CAN be learned from people who have encompassing relationship with their music. It is not all transmitted in words, though. Be appraised there are a LOT of technicians out there in the teaching field. The classical music model puts intense attention on technical playing; things are a bit more balanced in the folk derived fields although music schools often try to force these into the classical or elementary school/ high school/ university teaching paradigm.

Technical expertise and musicianship are both qualities of a master. They are separate things and can coexist. Someone like Messrs. Cloud, Keith, Mckinney or Gokey to name a few have musicianship in spades, and are amazing technically too. They worked diligently to attain this technical expertise that lets them express themselves. So did you when you learned to talk. If you study with/ hang around one of these guys, you will learn musicianship, or you will run away. The force of their being is such that that's what will happen.

It does not have to be a banjo player that you learn about the musical life from either. I got some of my lessons from Art Kershaw, a very nimble fingered guitarist. They were not formal lessons. I was around, he was around, we played, talked, ate, hung out at various times. The information gets transmitted.

The hard part for someone looking to gain more musicianship is often actually making it OK to change and then changing the (your) persona to become the person who would have musicianship. It is easy to talk about, harder to do in practice. We are taught to have it all together as we grow up, which excludes many new ideas. Einstein argued for maintaining a childlike vulnerability to be able to find the new.

People ask me for help with their playing problems. When I answer someone's question by talking about things too far outside their habits, the barrier tends to pop up instantly. This is not always so, and it is very common. People usually want a solution that fits their idea of what is right, vs. being very clear about and locked into finding and testing ideas that could work. (Of course, that fits with MY idea of what is right!) They are a part of a society that believes in the magic bullet fix for any problem; take a pill, cure terminal cancer. If there is an annoying car problem, buy a new car. That is when I just stop talking, and move on to something else.

A friend of mine puts it well: "The leopard can change his spots, but only does so with great reluctance."

How much someone wants musicianship (or anything else) is what makes the difference. If you want it with the desire of a grizzly in salmon season, you will incorporate it into whomever you are. Unfortunately, this level of passion is usually kicked out of us as we grow up. A passionate person may be distrusted, because they are not predictable. We learn to keep them at a safe distance. This includes ourselves; who is closer to you than you?

Remember there are no fixed rights or wrongs to where that someone wants to be or is musically. We are all on a journey. To forget that is to be arrogant also. Given, the banjo player that doesn't back off in a jam still has some musicianship to learn, and someone is probably going to teach him. It may not be a gentle lesson.


Last Updated 15 Jul 2006 by PJH

Edited 01 Apr 2007 by WF