Q: In your opinion, what is it that separates the “greats” from the rest of us mortals?
A: In short, thousands of hours spent working hard at their craft. Great work really is 99% perspiration, and 1% inspiration.
I see this constantly in my students and my peers. The one thing that every great musician I know or have read about has in common is passion. They are passionate about what they do and passionate about doing it to the best of their abilities. They’re never satisfied with where they are now. And as a result? They practice and work very hard to better themselves. The others just simply never get there.
Talent is really just a poetic word for work ethic. Even the greats we’ve read about that could do their thing by age 6 or by age 10. Usually, when you read on (or get the real story) they had that ability not because they could immediately do something that was difficult for the rest of us. It’s because they started even earlier than that and were made to work very hard.
Sure, if you start at 2, you’ll be way ahead of the other 6 year olds. Some guys start late, but develop quickly. They’ve also usually practiced endless hours and it is only a result of that hard work that they developed so quickly.
In my humble opinion, the only thing separating your musical hero from the guy hacking through tunes onstage at any given bar in any given town is the amount of hard work put in and dedication to their craft.
I’m talking real practice here… time spent working on things that they can not yet do and working through problems, not just feeling satisfied because they spent 30 minutes doing something that they could already do last week. It’s the people who see something that they can not yet do and, instead of avoiding it or putting it off, attack it with a ferocity because they just can wait to “get it”.
Love, passion, musical obsession… they all lead to loving what you do and, as a result, one has the ability to work endlessly at it. Those are the people that go on to become the “greats”. Ten hours spent trying to forge new ground and test your limits is worth a thousand hours of noodling and never really pushing your abilities.
There are no short-cuts. If we really want it, we need to work hard for it and overcome any number of obstacles (physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological…you name it) to obtain what we so desperately want. The ability to make magic happen on stage and express oneself clearly and with intention.
I’ve told some students about the 10,000 hour rule that says that, in order to master anything, one needs to spend at least 10,000 hours working hard at it. Some of the students said, “Oh man! that’s impossible… That’s a LOT of practicing!”.
Some of the others said that they felt like, “I’ve only practiced for an hour so far today, I need to get home and get working, then!”
That’s the difference.