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"I’ll never be a great banjo player"

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(@hyperborea)
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Joined: 17 years ago
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There was an interesting article in today's Globe and Mail (the sort of national newspaper in Canada) by Duncan Fremlin, banjo player of Whiskey Jack.
“You're too old to ever be any good but you should take lessons regardless.” This was said by a cello master in his 90s to a middle-aged cello student. I heard it on the radio recently and it's been haunting me ever since.

This, as it turns out, has been the story of my life as a banjo player. After plucking away for almost 35 years, I'm just now realizing that beginning to play an instrument at 25 is too late in life to be any good, ever.

<snip>

I was obsessed with the instrument and played as much as I could. The learning curve was quite steep at first but it sure levelled off quickly. As it turns out, and I certainly didn't know it at the time, no matter how much I played it was never going to be enough.

I had missed the formative years – locked in my room as a teenager with not a care in the world except playing the banjo. I had missed music school where they taught sharps, flats, major seventh chords and all that neat stuff. This is hard to accept now that I'm 60, and it's making me miserable.

Pop music is about stealing pocket money from children. - Ian Anderson


   
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(@anonymous)
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Joined: 17 years ago
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even if you do all that stuff, you still only get x number of years to do anything with it, and then you die, and those x number of years isn't enough to accomplish everything you want to. think about mozart, quite possibly the greatest composer ever, who died in the middle of writing the requiem mass.

i guarantee, though, that if this guy did nothing but play the banjo all day for a year, he'd be a hell of a banjo player at the end of that year.


   
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(@kent_eh)
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What is his goal in playing?

To be the best ever?
To be a concert master?
To be rich and famous?
To have fun and make music?

If it's the last one, then it's never too late to start.

I wrapped a newspaper ’round my head
So I looked like I was deep


   
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 Crow
(@crow)
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“You're too old to ever be any good but you should take lessons regardless.” This was said by a cello master in his 90s to a middle-aged cello student. I heard it on the radio recently and it's been haunting me ever since.

Some teachers are vicious swine. To tell any student of any age that he will never be any good... that teacher should lose his license to teach, even if he is a "cello master in his 90s." Unforgivable.

Remember the old joke: "Those who can't do, teach"? I suspect there are innumerable teachers out there who put students down because of their own problems with self-esteem.... "I could have been another Rostropovich (or "Pavarotti," or "Clapton"), but here I am stuck teaching these losers, so I'm d@mn well going to keep them in their places." Human nature, I suppose, but it's still pathetic.

The worst part is that this poor dumb banjo player took an anecdote off the radio and took it to heart. Now he's stuck with the idea that he will never be any good on the banjo -- a self-fulfilling prophecy. That's just sad.

"You can't write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say sometimes, so you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream." - Frank Zappa


   
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(@hobson)
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So, no point in trying if you can never be great and you can never be great if you start later in life? That's just wrong.

Of course, starting music as a kid is a great advantage. You learn music and languages much more easily at a young age. And there's a lot to be said for being locked in your room with your favorite instrument for hours on end - something you can't do once you have a job and a family and all kinds of other commitments. I started guitar at age 13 and really wish that I could have started playing some instrument sooner than that. But I also know lots of people who took piano lessons as kids and now don't play anything at all because they weren't motivated. It's great to at least have the exposure when you're young and decide where you want to go from there. If you weren't lucky enough to have that opportunity, make the best of it.

Incidentally, here's a website devoted to people who started music late in life:

http://www.musicafter50.com/

Renee


   
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(@scrybe)
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What happens if you start at 14, but you die in a car crash when you're 17? Not trying to be gory here, but I nearly did. My point, however, is that the banjo player's observations don't really hold eight when you consider the possibility that a great player may die young. Eric Roche is generally considered to have been a great acoustic guitarist, but he died of cancer by about 35. Michael Hedges died in his early 40s. Sorry, but the "I started too late" tale is one I just don't buy unless we're talking about very early ages (i.e. first 3-5 years of your life) and brain development during that time. Even then, I think the matter is ripe for some debate (e.g. being good at spotting when a chord has a b13 in it isn't the same thing as being innovative, it can help you be innovative, but it isn't innovative in and of itself, nor does it guarantee it).

The article smacks of faulty logic.

Ra Er Ga.

Ninjazz have SuperChops.

http://www.blipfoto.com/Scrybe


   
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(@scrybe)
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The general 'rule' is you need to put 10,000 hours into something to 'master' it. Obviously, those 10,000 hours had better be spent as efficiently as possible. 10,000 hours of playing the same 6 Oasis songs doesn't count. :roll:

Ra Er Ga.

Ninjazz have SuperChops.

http://www.blipfoto.com/Scrybe


   
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(@hyperborea)
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Topic starter  

The worst part is that this poor dumb banjo player took an anecdote off the radio and took it to heart. Now he's stuck with the idea that he will never be any good on the banjo -- a self-fulfilling prophecy. That's just sad.

Well, he heard it on the radio recently, he's now ~60 but he's been playing since he was 25 and doing so as a touring professional musician for at least some of that time. So, he's not writing as an old guy who's been discouraged but as an experienced musician looking back and evaluating what has been and what could have been.

I think that Duncan Fremlin may have a lot of what he says right. If you don't start young enough you may never really be fully fluent in a language and that includes the language of music. While we retain the ability to learn as we get older it does get more difficult and certain physical changes to both the body (e.g. finger stretch) and the brain (e.g. more neurons connected to the fingers) happen slower.

An item related to this that he brings up in the article is the loss of the time to explore and deeply practice that you also lose as you get older. It's inevitable for almost all of us but the offspring of the very wealthy that we will have to work and begin to have other responsibilities. It might be possible to continue some this into your 20's but for most of us this goes away.

Does that mean that you shouldn't practice? No, I don't think so and neither does he but he is lamenting the fact that he didn't get exposed to music and the banjo earlier.

Another thing that he brings up that ties back to an earlier discussion on this board is that he regrets not learning to read music and learning theory. He was a professional musician but he felt that he could have been better had he learned those.
I had missed the formative years – locked in my room as a teenager with not a care in the world except playing the banjo. I had missed music school where they taught sharps, flats, major seventh chords and all that neat stuff. This is hard to accept now that I'm 60, and it's making me miserable.

<snip>

I worked on my parts note by note, memorizing them but not understanding what they all meant. This is the life of a musician who only plays by ear. I was living a lie.

Pop music is about stealing pocket money from children. - Ian Anderson


   
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(@hyperborea)
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Topic starter  

The general 'rule' is you need to put 10,000 hours into something to 'master' it. Obviously, those 10,000 hours had better be spent as efficiently as possible. 10,000 hours of playing the same 6 Oasis songs doesn't count. :roll:

It's not just 10,000 hours but 10,000 hours of what is called "deliberate" practice. That is focused practice at just the right amount of difficulty - not so hard that you can't do it within a reasonable amount of time, not so easy that you can do it right away but in that zone between.

Look up the work of the researcher Anders Ericsson or some of the popular books on this like Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell or The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.

Pop music is about stealing pocket money from children. - Ian Anderson


   
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 Crow
(@crow)
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In an objective, detached sense -- yeah, he's right. Subjectively, as a player, and especially as an "old guy" trying to make progress on the instrument -- I'd say it's hateful.

During my time in music school, I ran into a lot of teachers who were absolutely eager to dissuade students from a career as a performer. One in particular stands out: a voice instructor (fully tenured professor), an ancient Teutonic woman, who routinely drove people out of the music-major track. And the best guitar player I ever worked with was tormented by a grade-school violin instructor (symphony-level player) who told him he had no musical talent. (He got revenge, eventually, but I can't recount the details, because the statute of limitations in that particular state hasn't run its course....)

This is one of the main reasons I have avoided lessons on the guitar.

"You can't write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say sometimes, so you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream." - Frank Zappa


   
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 cnev
(@cnev)
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I guess I'm missing the point here. The comment from the cello teacher to a middle aged player is somewhat callous but not that far off if you think in terms of percentages. How many players are going to excel once they'ver reached middle age? If they were going to really excel it probably would have happened long ago. In some ways I think the cello master was just stating the facts and I think statistics would show that he's probably correct for 99% of the people, sure there is always a freak of nature that might break the odds but they are rare.

My own personal opinion is that you are prewired to some level of skill and telling people you can be or do anything you aspire to is a half truth, life doesn't work like that. You might try for years and still fail and the arguments that, if I played that much or if I spent x hours I'd be a virtuoso are fallacy those people could try twice as long and still never make it.

But everything is realative when the teacher meant good it probably was top of the genre good not just good enough to strum a few chords around the campfire. if your definition of good is doing the later than yea alot of people can be good, but I wouldn't consider that much.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


   
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(@kent_eh)
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But everything is realative when the teacher meant good it probably was top of the genre good not just good enough to strum a few chords around the campfire. if you definition of good is doing the later than yea alot of people can be good, but I wouldn't consider that much.
That's probably part of it.
But in that case, the student would interpret "good" as being something quite different than what the master intended, and would probably be horribly discouraged.

I wrapped a newspaper ’round my head
So I looked like I was deep


   
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 cnev
(@cnev)
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Maybe but this world of political correctness has gone a bit to far...kent I don't disagree that the person might be discouraged but that's life get used to it there are going to be ups and downs, people are going to tell you you suck even if you don't.

Part of being able to reach a level of proficiency is the unwavering drive to ge there regardless of what people say so if someone is turned off by someone's comment alone they were never gonna make it in the first place and it'll just be another person to blame for their own failings.

Everything fits into a pretty much a bell shaped curve distribution with the majority in the middle (average) and that's the reality, only a very small percentage of people are going to make it to the top no matter which way you cut it. The argument that somehow all the people that fall in the middle can get to the top by doing x or spending x hours ain't gonna happen.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


   
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(@liontable)
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Joined: 14 years ago
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I think statistically you're screwed either way, whenever you start. No one can safely jump in, it's a risk you take, one which disappoints many many people, but there's no telling for who it might be true. Telling someone he won't make it is pretty much destroying his (small as it may be) chance, because not giving it his all will do more damage than any lack of talent.

Herman Li started out at age 16, he was even quite bad at guitar when he had the classes for it in school. Some might consider that too old. Seeing as how he's 33 (?) now, that leaves quite a bit of space to start even if you're 40. Learning's easier when you are younger: is actually a myth, in a certain way. Children do have times when they are more exceptionally receptive for information, the thing is, however, that this time is a lot shorter than expected. Children let go easier, they tend to relax more and throw themselves into it. Many adults feel tense because of work or other issues, they don't want to embarass themselves (by being bad guitar players in front of a teacher for example) or just make mistakes in general, a taboo in our society so it seems.

You can't predict anything is the point I'm trying to make, so it's better to let someone fail as long as it doesn't have too dramatic consequences. I currently don't see myself becoming a rockstar. The thing is that it might just happen. I might write a song that becomes a hit, I might run into the right people to market me, they might like my face on a billboard, I might be brilliant when I've been playing for more than a year. Odds are small, but I'm not relying on it. A dream's only a dream and not a plan because the odds are against you, no?


   
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 cnev
(@cnev)
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Lion, again I agree but ny only point is if this person is that thin skinned that one comment is going to keep them from even trying then they weren't meant to be there in the first place.

Making it to the top of anything takes alot of drive, desire and the ability to keep on keeping on when everyone else tells you differently.

But I've seen many posts in here and other places where people say if only I had done this or if I spent 18 hrs a day practicing liek Steve Vai I could play like him to...Guess what " No you wouldn't" You'd reach whatever level of ability you were predestined to reach (prob somewhere in the middle of the bell curve) and that's as far as you will get.

Not everyone can be the best, but again alot of it is relative. Like I said before if all you want to do is strum an acoustic guitar around the campfire then sure I'd say the majority of people could handle that if you talk about being a top performer int hat genre then no not everyone can/will make regardless of what they do.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


   
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