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Discussion Starter #1
In another forum Spiderjames said:
Any one of us hobbyists could rival any saxophonist from any era within the next few years, if we put the time and energy necessary to learn the craft. Bold statement perhaps, but it is true. It is a craft and it is learned and earned.
And DanPerezSax replied:
LOTS of people put in the time and energy to learn the craft, and there are a lot of great technicians out there. Does that put them on a level of innovation to parallel Bean, Bird, Trane or Brecker? No way. Besides there is an element of talent that dictates your potential... I think of it as specialized intelligence. Sure, a cat with no talent who works hard will sound better than a talented guy who never sheds, but he's got more potential. There's a certain spark you hear with some guys, even before they get "good," that soul that they can communicate to a greater degree... some will never have it. You can fake it, but your audience can tell. On the other hand, enough hard work will make you suitable to play any gig, for sure. You'll never be embarrassed by being a technique robot, because you'll always be able to play the "right" thing.
And I thought it was an interesting discussion, but as it was a separate one to the subject of that thread I thought I'd start another one.

I see the logic behind the "it's 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration" theory of rising to the top in anything one does. But even assuming that that is correct (and I'm up for learning otherwise), I'm still left asking some questions...

1. Perspiration

If everyone put exactly the same amount of time and effort (ie the 99% perspiration) into becoming technically accomplished at playing the sax, would they achieve the same results?

My answer to that has to be "no, different people would use their natural abilities and become more or less accomplished in the different skills that make up technical accomplishment." Maybe other people think different, but I see inate intelligence, physiology (and OK health) making a difference here. ANyone think otherwise?

2. Inspiration

So where does this part of the equation come from (always assuming it exists in the first place of course)? Is it learned and if so can it be formally taught or is it purely experiential, alternatively is it genetic in origin and either you have it or you don't? And what actually is it? Creativity? Artistry? Empathy? Intelligence? Humour? A combination? Could a computer be taught to do it if you had the right computer and the right software, or is it something intangible that only humans have and if so then what?

It's easy to see how for example a top sprinter needs to be blessed with the right genes in order to rise to the very top of their profession, so is it the same for musicians? Do you need "music genes" to be a truly top flight musician in the same way that top athletes need "athlete genes" to rise to the top of theirs? Or is it just a case of receiving the right training?

Anyone out there studied this sort of stuff at uni and have any of the answers? Anyone else have a theory of what makes a musician "great"?
 

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i think most anyone can become great at most anything if inspired at a young enough age and is exposed to the best. it takes belief first. if you think you can you can. if you think you can't you won't. everything in this world started out as a thought. the belief that you either have it or don't sounds good but i don't believe it. it gives people who haven't achieved an excuse and people that have a sense of god given superiority.

If you have seen early videos or tapes of now great musicians, actors , athletes or whatever young enough you will see no great spark. just a kid like any other learning his craft.sure some get great very young but it is because they were exposed to the craft an inspired very early on and their training began very early too.i've seen guys who can't hit the end rail go on to become a great pool player.time and circumstance usually determines how far they can go. if they have the time and money then they can believe they will be great and work on the things that the great ones do to achieve that. what people call natural talent i call personal desire. not every one wants to be a great sax player. not everyone believes they could be great sax player.but if you really want to, and you have the time and proper training, anyone can.

about 15 years ago i was talking to a pro bowler and casually mentioned that i wished i could play like a popular sax player we heard on the radio.he then asked how much i wished that. i said a lot. he then asked how much did i practice ? i said not a lot, not even everyday. he then asked how much i thought that sax player practiced.i said a whole lot. then he stated that i really didn't want to play like him or i would practice like him. he was right. i was instantly enlightened.

our "natural abilities" are simply our own desires to be good at something manifesting itself.

tiger woods is a perfect example of this. he loved to watch his dad play golf and wanted to learn like him. he loved golf from a very early age. he had a father who inspired him and gave him the mental belief that he could be the greatest golfer in the world if he worked hard enough.using training techniques he had learned in the special forces he installed a rigorous mental and physical training program for tiger. Tiger himself will tell you that he is a product of hard work and desire, not talent.
just my 2 cents...........
 

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Rick Adams said:
It's easy to see how for example a top sprinter needs to be blessed with the right genes in order to rise to the very top of their profession, so is it the same for musicians?

An interesting discussion you have raised, but this statement in my opinion is not true. Possibly they had to have had the genes of an athletic build, but the lonely hours spent on the race track, towing a tyre tied to their waste in order to build up the correct muscles to sprint extremely fast, while everyone else is kicking/throwing a ball around is what takes them to the top of their sport. Do not underestimate the amount of work that goes into a 9 second performance.

The same can be said I think for proffesional footballers. I have played amatuer football for 15 years now and have played with and against some very talented players who will never get a penny for it....the difference between them and the worlds top players ( my experience is limited to the UK admittedly ) is the training and lifestyle . You're spotted as a youth and spend the next few years doing nothing but train, eat, live and die football and of course you'll be good.

Of course there are many more variables involved. I say if you want something bad enough....you can earn it.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
saxxsymbol said:
i think most anyone can become great at most anything if inspired at a young enough age and is exposed to the best. it takes belief first. if you think you can you can. if you think you can't you won't. everything in this world started out as a thought. the belief that you either have it or don't sounds good but i don't believe it. it gives people who haven't achieved an excuse and people that have a sense of god given superiority.

If you have seen early videos or tapes of now great musicians, actors , athletes or whatever young enough you will see no great spark. just a kid like any other learning his craft.sure some get great very young but it is because they were exposed to the craft an inspired very early on and their training began very early too.i've seen guys who can't hit the end rail go on to become a great pool player.time and circumstance usually determines how far they can go. if they have the time and money then they can believe they will be great and work on the things that the great ones do to achieve that. what people call natural talent i call personal desire. not every one wants to be a great sax player. not everyone believes they could be great sax player.but if you really want to, and you have the time and proper training, anyone can.

about 15 years ago i was talking to a pro bowler and casually mentioned that i wished i could play like a popular sax player we heard on the radio.he then asked how much i wished that. i said a lot. he then asked how much did i practice ? i said not a lot, not even everyday. he then asked how much i thought that sax player practiced.i said a whole lot. then he stated that i really didn't want to play like him or i would practice like him. he was right. i was instantly enlightened.

our "natural abilities" are simply our own desires to be good at something manifesting itself.

tiger woods is a perfect example of this. he loved to watch his dad play golf and wanted to learn like him. he loved golf from a very early age. he had a father who inspired him and gave him the mental belief that he could be the greatest golfer in the world if he worked hard enough.using training techniques he had learned in the special forces he installed a rigorous mental and physical training program for tiger. Tiger himself will tell you that he is a product of hard work and desire, not talent.
just my 2 cents...........
Well I entirely see what you're saying saxxy and I absolutely agree with it up to a certain point, and that certain point is precisely that 99% perspiration. But even though I would definitely say that most of it is time and effort I think there's also a small amount of something that is genetically given to some that perhaps allow them to give that focus to something in the first place but more importantly to the point I'm trying to make in giving them an extraodinary result that goes above what other would achieve even when they put the same level of effort in.

Your example of Tiger Woods for instance - how come there are specific competitions for female golfers, tennis players or indeed pretty much any sport with an athletic side to it? Boxing is of course another great example, where men are categorised into body weight in order to prevent an unfair advantage through sheer body size. And there is a physiological side to playing the sax. It's not about raw strength, it is about motor skills and fine control.

Leaving physiology aside for a moment though, I think intelligence plays a large part in being a really "great" musician. It's not sufficient on its own of course, you need to make use of it - that's the 99% perspiration - but if you have less of it in the first place then you can only maximise through training what qualities you actually have.

Don't get me wrong, I definitely think that an average Joe who puts the effort in will succeed over someone who's genetically gifted in most endeavours, but I think that it's when you get someone with the right genetic makeup and who puts the effort in that you get a true great in that particular field.
 

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You can always point at the platitudes and point out that greatness is 10 percent inspiration, but now matter how much you practice the 90 percent perspiration can just get you tired. The Tiger Woods analogy seems to pop up more frequently than others, but I personally think environment plays a more major role than a lot of others. Tiger has undoubtedly more natural talent than many if not most people. It was the Earl Woods part of his environment that instilled the "love" he had for the game. His father was one of the most supportive people anyone could hope for. Golf was fun for Tiger all of the time. I'm sure jazz was fun for Bird most of the time and that the Kansas City jazz scene was the environment that kept him at it. Phil Woods is over 75 years old and still talks about his association with Bird and that part of his environment that captured his heart and imagination. If the talent is there but the environment is not, you can practice all you want and you'll be like a tree falling in the woods. It's environment that joins people to other people and fosters imagination... sometime you need someone else's imagination to stir new beginnings and nurture your own creativity.

I'm starting to rant. I'll shut up now.
 

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This topic is so massive, really, it seems almost impossible to discuss. It does seem to me though that very broadly speaking the end result - "great" musician - must be a result of a combination of different proppotions of nature and nurture in different cases.

On a slightly different line, one thing I think is rarely remarked upon is the fact that the capacity to really work at a skill to the highest level and to maintain proper concentration for the extended periods required is itself a talent. If most of us practised for 12 hours a day for the next 4 years we would not reach the level of a "great", IMHO. Practise means little unless it is properly focused and if the practiser isn't properly engaged he/she might as well not bother. This, I think, is the most difficult aspect and is what would set Tiger Woods apart from all the other kids being drilled by Daddy to become a great golfer/nice little earner. (edit: not a dig a Tiger Woods late father, that, BTW). Most of us simply don't have the (quasi-autistic??) powers of concentration that some of the greats possessed, in my opinion. But I wouldn't rule out the possibility that there are also other routes to greatness in music. The music/sport analogy may be a deceptive one.
 

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that undefined thing that makes the truly great is passion. passion can come from a born love of the game, or music or whatever. it can come from your parents or anyone else, yes there are some genetic limitations, let's say some one who his mentally retarded or has some kind of mental or physical defect. good genes are ok but not necessary. passion is what makes someone practice when everyone else goes home. makes you practice when you are tired. makes you do the same scales over and over. that is not a gift, it is passion and no one truly great has ever achieved that without it.

horse breeders pay a lot of money for stud services and they will tell you it is no guarantee that the son of a great horse will become one.there are plenty of greats in all things that came from humble backgrounds. passion is that missing 10%. some are born with it and some develop it later but IT IS the common denominator.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
davesaxa1 said:
An interesting discussion you have raised, but this statement in my opinion is not true. Possibly they had to have had the genes of an athletic build, but the lonely hours spent on the race track, towing a tyre tied to their waste in order to build up the correct muscles to sprint extremely fast, while everyone else is kicking/throwing a ball around is what takes them to the top of their sport. Do not underestimate the amount of work that goes into a 9 second performance.

The same can be said I think for proffesional footballers. I have played amatuer football for 15 years now and have played with and against some very talented players who will never get a penny for it....the difference between them and the worlds top players ( my experience is limited to the UK admittedly ) is the training and lifestyle . You're spotted as a youth and spend the next few years doing nothing but train, eat, live and die football and of course you'll be good.

Of course there are many more variables involved. I say if you want something bad enough....you can earn it.
Well I entirely agree with all of that, in the sense that I do believe that 90% - hell 99% perhaps even - of musicianship is purely and simply down to the "perspiration" side of it (although you have to do the right things of course, it's not just a factor time but of how wisely you use it) and I absolutely accept that time spent practising beats "inate ability alone" every time and for everything, but to take an exreme for the moment, someone who ends up being a world class sumo wrestler could never have been a world class marathon runner - the two are mutually exclusive. It's possible to do both at some level, but not to become world class in both... the one you were genticall predisposed to you could excell in and the other you could never be more than an also-ran in no matter what your motivation or training regime. That's a really obvious example of where inherent genetic dispositions make you better or worse at some specific activity.

What I'm asking is, is that the same for being a truly world class musician? To take a musical extremet, is there any genetic part to what made Mozart an amazing composer at age 13 even though many other musicians had spent many, many hundreds of hours longer in their studying and perhaps became technically just as good (perhaps not, I do not know), but cetainly never wrote quite such inspiring work as Mozart did after just a much smaller number of years of studying in his childhood? I don't think we can say that anyone else who studies as intensively and as long as and with the same teachers/life experiences as Mozart would also be able to compose what he compose. Was Mozart just a product of his circumstances or was he born with something that (with all his focus and effort of course) took him further than others could have gone?

And if the theory holds for Mozart, then surely it holds for all, just to greater or lesser extents for each person.

My mind is open on the subject, the arguments so far haven't pursuaded me one way or the other as yet...
 

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For my personal aesthetic, there are three components. I could make a fancy name about them, but I just call them Head, Heart, and Hands.

Head is the intellectual ability to understand the art form, and to develop the conceive new music with that understanding.

Heart is the ability to convey emotions through an instrument.

Hands is the mechanical ability to use the two above to manipulate an object to get the new music/emotions into the physical world, so that it can be detected by others.

There is a fourth component that is difficult to talk about because it's difficult to define. One of my professors, a musician/teacher/music therapist/aesthetisist/and philosopher Dr. Arthur Harvey calls this the ineffable. Others call it spirit or soul.

A balance of the three Hs, and perhaps a dose of the ineffable is, to me, what makes a great artist.
 

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Rick: My argument would be that "prodigies" DO put the practise in. The amazing thing is that they CAN do so. So Mozart could work at music for hours a day from a young age but most children simply couldn't do that effectively.
 

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I'll try with my poor english to express my point of view ...
First of all, the title of this thread is about "becoming a GREAT musician".
What's a great musician? A great technician or a great artist or both. I guess both, because Rembrandt had to have a great technique to be that great painter. But the artistry dimension is to me the most important, the priority. There is on this world thousands of musiciens who are technically very impressive but as boring as a politician's speech. And there are great musicians who create a world with few notes.
Being a great musician is first of all a necessity, an obviousness that music is the way you want to tell things. The technic learning come after, to allow to tell a particular story, create a particular effect, which must have sense.
When you decide you want to express yourself with this media, you then have to shut off your ego and play with your heart.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
saxxsymbol said:
horse breeders pay a lot of money for stud services and they will tell you it is no guarantee that the son of a great horse will become one.there are plenty of greats in all things that came from humble backgrounds. passion is that missing 10%. some are born with it and some develop it later but IT IS the common denominator.
But if you forgive me for saying so my old friend, but I think your racehorse anaology proves the exact opposite. You are saying that actually any horse will do so long as it's not actually mentally or physically defective, you're just looking for the one who wants it the most and is prepared to put the most effort in, right? So how about a cart horse? Could that win the Derby? Of course not, and that's because to win at the highest level you need a horse with the right mental predisposition and the right inate physical abilities, right? And where are you most likely (though not guaranteed I agree) to find the right genese? In the offspring of two winning racehorses of course. That's why the stud is worth the cash, right?

Have I got that wrong?

SO... my question is, does this apply to musical ability, or is there no part of musical ability that actually relies upon inherent genetic ability (ie you weren't born with any greater chance of becoming a great musician than anyone else, we all start completely equal and the ones who put the most effort in and do the right things become the best musicians?

That doesn;t intuitively feel right to me, but I'm willing to be worng, though nothing that's been said pursuades me so.

RootyTooToot said:
Rick: My argument would be that "prodigies" DO put the practise in. The amazing thing is that they CAN do so. So Mozart could work at music for hours a day from a young age but most children simply couldn't do that effectively.
I think Rooty is right that there might well be a genetic predisposition to tanacity, focus and strong desire. Why not, they're only the product of chemicals and electrical signals? Is that the whole picture? It works as a theory for a child prodigy, what about the sumo wrestler? He has those inate skills and has risen to the top as world sumo champion so he definitely has all that. If he had chosen instead to devoting exactly that same amount of time and effort etc to marathon running would he have become a marathon champion? My guess is "no" and I wonder if there is a different combination of genetic predispositions that are required for any given activity... for example in music you need motor skills for speed and accuracy of playing, mathematical ability for music theory, a good memory, the skill for spotting the beautiful in the mundane and seeing musical pattern possibilities, the creativity and openness needed to take an idea and "play with it" musically to compose something new, etc, etc, etc.
 

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lets get mystical for a moment.some believe when we leave this earth that we can sometimes return for another life. some believe that sometimes we don't always forget what we learned previously and that is the reason you have child prodigies. some also believe that knowledge can be passed through the genes.so some might be able to learn quicker. but the common ingredient is passion. and maybe at a young age if that kid that grew up to be a sumo wrestler had decided to be a sprinter he would have trained differently and ate differently and maybe would be world class too. we don't know. we all are what we think we are and can be nothing else. we bounce things off of people and events to find ourselves but ultimately we are what we think we are and we can only become what we think we can. if you have the passion to be great at something and train properly you can.
the western way of thinking is only the best is any good. second place sucks and anything else, well, why did you even show up.the fact is the worst PGA golfer is truly a great player.the fact that tiger is so good does not mean the others suck. his scoring average is less than a stroke over his nearest competitor.if you go down the top 125 on the tour the difference from the best to the worst is less than two strokes differences. someone doesn't have to be the best to be great.
 

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what you must understand is to be a great musician, u must be BEYOND great as where bird bean and brecker
 

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Discussion Starter #15
silvin said:
I'll try with my poor english to express my point of view ...
First of all, the title of this thread is about "becoming a GREAT musician".
What's a great musician? A great technician or a great artist or both. I guess both, because Rembrandt had to have a great technique to be that great painter. But the artistry dimension is to me the most important, the priority. There is on this world thousands of musiciens who are technically very impressive but as boring as a politician's speech. And there are great musicians who create a world with few notes.
Being a great musician is first of all a necessity, an obviousness that music is the way you want to tell things. The technic learning come after, to allow to tell a particular story, create a particular effect, which must have sense.
When you decide you want to express yourself with this media, you then have to shut off your ego and play with your heart.
Silvin, I like what you'v wrote. It is precisely how I intuitively feel. I don't know if it's correct but it's certainly what "seems correct" to me. And what I meant by a "great musician" is one who rises above the ordinarily excellent, which to my mind would require both technical accomplishment annd musical creativity, with the technical accomplishment being nothing more than a means for turning the musical creativity into a tangible reality that others can then experience (ie by playing it with an instrument or writing it down for others to do so).

The more technically accomplished you are, the better (more accurately) you can express the creative idea inside, but if the creative idea isn't there in the first place then no amount of technical accomplishment will suffice.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Adderleysfasthands said:
what you must understand is to be a great musician, u must be BEYOND great as where bird bean and brecker
I take your point and I agree with it, but of course it's just semantics. I mean to be truly, truly great you'd have to go beyond going beyond, right? It all comes down to what you mean by "great" as Silvin said, and actually what I meant (but didn't really define very well) is exactly what I think you mean by "going beyond". I really do mean that pinnacle of excellence that is more than just "very good" :)
 

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Discussion Starter #17
saxxsymbol said:
lets get mystical for a moment.some believe when we leave this earth that we can sometimes return for another life. some believe that sometimes we don't always forget what we learned previously and that is the reason you have child prodigies. some also believe that knowledge can be passed through the genes.so some might be able to learn quicker. but the common ingredient is passion. and maybe at a young age if that kid that grew up to be a sumo wrestler had decided to be a sprinter he would have trained differently and ate differently and maybe would be world class too. we don't know. we all are what we think we are and can be nothing else. we bounce things off of people and events to find ourselves but ultimately we are what we think we are and we can only become what we think we can. if you have the passion to be great at something and train properly you can.
the western way of thinking is only the best is any good. second place sucks and anything else, well, why did you even show up.the fact is the worst PGA golfer is truly a great player.the fact that tiger is so good does not mean the others suck. his scoring average is less than a stroke over his nearest competitor.if you go down the top 125 on the tour the difference from the best to the worst is less than two strokes differences. someone doesn't have to be the best to be great.
I agree with a lot of what you say, especially about modern society's values and also about how a true "great" might be only a fraction better than his contemporaries and that this is not always appreciated, yet sometimes maybe it's that tiny fraction that turns let's say a pretty damned good symphony into a masterpiece? I don't know.

The one thing I still disgaree on is that I think we do know that someone predisposed genetically to allow them to be a world class sumo wrestler would never make it as world class marathon runner, no matter what diet, training or anything else. It's a question of body types. That's why fast bowlers (cricket here) have long arms - it's a question of leverage - and jockeys are tiny (it's a question of weight) and marathon runners are skinny and sumo wrestlers are huge, etc, etc.. Woody Allen would never have won Mr Universe against Arnold Shwazennegar for another extreme example :D I'm convinced on that point when it comes to sports, just wondering how much it transfers as an argument in music...
 

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I used to hear that some marvellous pianists did not have long fingers as we usually think they must have (Samson François for example had small hands)
In the artistry field, I think that the physical aspect is not concerned. It's all in the mind decontraction, passion and work.
 

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I'm glad this was moved to another thread. I've always wanted to debate this in an open forum.

I firmly believe that, assuming we are not severely physically or mentally handicapped, we all have the potential to excel as a musician. I believe that just like succeeding at any endeavour the main ingredient needed is desire, followed by hard work. Only then is talent of any use.

I used to teach my students that talent is like a buried treasure. We are the ground in which it is buried. We all have it in some measure. In some it is just below the surface, others have to dig deeper. How much digging do you want to do?
 

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Simply practising, no matter how long or often will never make you great.

To be really good and ultimately 'great' one needs to be obsessed with
the desire to achieve that result, and/or the natural ability to pull it
off.

We are not all created 'equal'.
 
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