Competitive Nature

Q: I am a very young bassist who plays in a band with some other young musicians. I’m having an issue with respect and competitiveness. Most of my bandmates say I’m the best musician among them. Our guitarist assumes he’s the best musician in the band, though his knowledge of theory isn’t there. How do I get him to listen more, without making our practice sessions uncomfortable?

A: I’ve come across questions like this, generally from younger players, asking how to deal with attitudes with regard to ability, perceived rank, inflated egos, and so forth.

There are many things which come to mind when I think about this question. Most importantly are these two thoughts:

1. Music is NOT a competition!

2. You cannot fight ego with ego.

The first thing I’d suggest is to make everyone aware (say, during a rehearsal conflict) that each member has their strengths and a weaknesses and, in this case (whatever that case is) you strongly believe that your suggestion may be more on the mark. Offer to try it both ways and then agree on a whole which idea works better musically.

It doesn’t matter who knows more and who knows less. We all know something that someone doesn’t and vice-versa. We are all better than someone at our instrument and there will always be someone who is better than us. Once you get to the upper levels of ability and learn how to speak with your own voice, then it’s all a matter of style and taste anyway. There is no “better”.

Being aware of this fact can free you up to a more generous attitude and, in turn, lead by example. Don’t feel challenged by someone who needs to boast or brag about what they know, who they know or what they’ve done. Feel free to make any mental notes about the person you want… just keep ’em to yourself. Trust me, it’s easier that way.

Simply be kind and generous of spirit.

If your guitarist is challenging you during rehearsals about theory, try not to argue with him. Simply let the music decide what works best (or Google the question and settle it in a concrete way). Whatever you do, don’t waste energy arguing about who’s better or who knows more. Music has nothing to do with that stuff and you’ll both be missing the point.

If the issue is with your guitarist thinking that he’s a stellar player when he’s just not, you will never convince him that he’s not very good. He needs to discover that on his own. Record a rehearsal and send it to everyone to listen to. Suggest that everyone make notes on what they think can use improvement or what isn’t working.

Maybe if the guitarist hears himself objectively, he’ll hear what you’re hearing in his playing. If he’s still convinced that he’s rocking and you’re crazy for thinking otherwise? Either you’re being too critical, he’s delusional, he’s as unable to hear music as he is to play it or he’s just very insecure (more likely) and has a hard time admitting any kind of deficit. There’s not much you can do in any of those cases but try and foster his development (unless you’re just being to critical, in which case I’d say that you need to get your ego intact and relax. Don’t bag on others for not being at your level).

No matter what level someone is at, any of the greats has been there at one time or another. It’s all a path with no end, so all we can really do is try and foster our talents and help those around us to foster there talents. We all win that way and the musical community becomes stronger for it.

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Share your thoughts

  1. Pat

    If you want to prove your theory knowledge then you could take the route I did and get a circle of fifths tattoo!

  2. Voytek

    Brilliant article. I guess when I play the bass with a band I do it kinda for myself and then the audience, which includes the band members who listen to it as I listen to them. I try to make the most of it and enjoy it. I believe theory knowledge is only knowledge unless put to use. Play some fancy solo, and they will ask you – wow! what have you just done? then you have a chance to explain the theory bit. This is an acceptable challenge in the band. But if the guitarist or whoever else in the band, doesn’t listen to what the other guys are doing – it is a serious problem. I guess listening is the most neglected factor in bands especially young ones.

  3. Kevin

    Good advice and it extends far beyond music.