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Maddening Musical Myths

Mark Stefani

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JGT contributor Mark Stefani gets down to the facts with some popular ‘myths’ – and why they should be ELIMINATED from the minds of all aspiring musicians

During the past four-plus decades of teaching and coaching fellow players, I’ve heard more than my share of opinions regarding our music journey. Some of these views are grounded in fact, but several of them are based in fiction yet continue to persistently hang around like a disease. I’m going to discuss some of my favorite myths, hopefully reminding you of why they are indeed unfounded and why they should be eliminated from the minds of all aspiring musicians.

Great musicians have natural talent

This very popular myth is simply false, and in a sense is a slap-in-the-face to the work ethic of every notable player who’s had to labor and overcome numerous obstacles to achieve their “natural” reputation. The truth of the matter is that there are many, many stories of superb musicians, even legends and innovators in the field, who were at one stage in their career so inept that it’s almost beyond belief that they would accomplish what they did.

Then how did they do it? Simple. Great musicians have one universal thing in common: a strong desire and the patience and perseverance to reach their goals. Call it “talent” if you must, but it wasn’t just handed to them at birth and every one of us is capable of working harder.

I started playing too late in life

Wrong. The pursuit of any art form has nothing to do with age. Sure, there will always be tales of child prodigies and terrific players who picked up an instrument at a very early age, but guess what? There are countless stories of musicians who took up playing at an age that society would consider old for learning a musical instrument. And again, I’m not talking about some marginal club musician. The great Wes Montgomery, the man many consider the father of bebop guitar, started playing at 19-years-old, and because he didn’t feel talented enough to improvise on his own, learned and performed Charlie Christian guitar solos note-for-note for the first three years of his playing career. Plus he had to work two tough jobs and support a large family at the same time. Wes shattered two myths, not just one.

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And that’s not all. The man whom he learned from, Charlie Christian, didn’t start playing the guitar until he was 17-years-old, yet still managed to affect the history of jazz in just six years by the time he died in his early twenties.

Lack of theory is holding me back

Hmm.. you mean like the way it held back Wes, Joe Pass, Jimi Hendrix, and B.B. King, or continues to hold back George Benson, just to name a handful of guitarists you might recognize?

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In all fairness, perhaps we should redefine the theory word, because while those players sorely lacked any real classroom knowledge or the ability to read music fluently, they clearly made up for it by being rich in real-world theory (i.e. theory that you use as opposed to just talk about). Same goes for technique. I only bring these myths up not to keep you from learning theory and acquiring technique per se, but to discourage you from putting far too much emphasis on music abstraction.

I just don’t have enough time

Well, I decided to throw this one in at the end. It’s not quite the same kind of myth as the others, but it is a myth nevertheless. Why? Because when it comes to getting down to the facts, the lack of time is just another maddening musical myth!

Have some myths of your own – share on Facebook.


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