As a music teacher, I have noticed differences in students and how they view themselves and their musical ambitions. I have also noticed how students view other musicians and compare them to themselves and to others. Many players look up to someone they consider as a hero, a superstar player, an untouchable. “If only I could be like that person!”
Don’t get me wrong, I think that having those you look up to, to aspire to play like, is a positive and even a necessary thing. But, too often we place those people on a pedestal and they become superhuman in our eyes, someone who has achieved things we will never be able to achieve. “They are talented, I’m not,” would be the way we view them. Or, “They have a gift, I do not.”
I want to address these notions of being talented, being gifted and being a genius. I don’t know if everyone will agree with me on these points, but this is how I’ve come to view these terms based on my experience. I hope they will encourage you.
Talent is often thought of as an elusive object that you either have or don’t have. I disagree on this notion. If this were true, then I would be born with a talent to play the banjo. I can guarantee that is not the case. When I first started playing as a young boy, I was not making pretty music. I was not born a talented banjo player.
The first pancake I cooked for breakfast, many years ago now, was not an award winner either. But, I do say, that if you now come over to my place for Saturday morning breakfast, you would be quite pleased with the state of my pancaking abilities. I was not born a pancake gourmet but over time, through many mistakes and some victories, I have achieved an acceptable level of pancaking talent.
You are not born with talent, you achieve it and develop it. A talented banjo player is one who’s achieved a level of proficiency at the instrument through many hours of practice, trial and error, and through a discipline of small sustainable achievements.
Can anyone become a talented player? I would say yes, but I qualify that with an ‘if’. If you are willing to put in the effort and time required you can become a talented player.
Then, what is a gifted player. A gifted player has achieved the prerequisite of being a talented player. Gifting is more of a natural attribute, though I wouldn’t go as far as to say that one needs to be born with it. Gifting is the ability to take talent to another level. To understand the talent, to be able to fine tune the talent, to be able to develop the talent to new personally unprecedented levels; that is the ability of a gifted musician.
A gifted banjo player is one who’s learned how to practice. He or she will, almost without thought, know where their weakness are and be able to create exercises to grow beyond these hurdles. The gifted player seems to have a sixth sense in these matters. The gifted musician, has a love for the instrument that eventually enables them to do more than just play the instrument but to also express themselves through their instrument; to communicate through their instrument.
Can everyone be a gifted banjo player? I said that anyone could be a talented player ‘if’. That ‘if’ results in a world population where not everyone is a banjo player but a world where many have taken up the challenge to become talented players. From that talented player population, I would say that a smaller percentage are gifted players. Why, only a smaller percentage? That is not so easy to understand but let me say a few things on this subject.
Gifting, as I’ve described it above requires that the musician gets the music firstly out of the head and into the fingers. That is talent. Then, he or she must get the music out of the fingers and into the heart. That is gifting. This requires that one loves the music so much that the instrument begins to be an extension of themselves, another means of communication like speech. Not everyone has that deep of a love for the music. That isn’t to say they can not achieve great things on the banjo and it also does not mean that they do not like the music. It simply means that some have this passion to a greater degree. I believe that passion for the music will lead us on to its greater depths. It’s what eventually turns a talented musician into a gifted musician.
What about genius? OK, first let’s get a perspective of the banjo playing population. Many banjo players are talented players. If you work at it, I believe you will; if not yet, be a talented player. You’ll have lot’s of fun, play at jams, maybe play in a band. People will enjoy your music. Doesn’t sound bad to me. Well worth the effort you put in. A smaller part of this talented group will become gifted. If you have the passion and the lifestyle that will allow your passion to take you on it’s journey, you will likely become a gifted musician. Not everyone can sacrifice what it takes to get to this level and not every one has the desire to be this kind of player. Then there is the genius. I personally don’t believe that many will ever achieve this. Genius is not so much the ability but it is the historical record of creating what no one else has ever created. Only a few have ever achieved it.
Genius is not required to be a good player. I don’t think that genius is a pursuit either. It is an outcome, and achievement. The majority of banjo players, whom I consider to be great players, do not have genius; but they have taken their talents to the level of giftedness.
I don’t feel this is an exhaustive treatise on the subject but I do hope it will give you a more realistic perspective on your place as a student, player, musician, banjo picker!