Don’t I know this feeling

She enrolled at the University of Michigan to study music, majoring in the cello, yet once there discovered to her dismay that she was not as talented as she had believed. The thought of practising eight hours a day only to remain mediocre did not appeal.

I was a perfectly decent trumpeter. I was also a bad musician. Just didn’t – don’t – have that feel for it. Keys and rhythms and transposition and fifths and thirds and why you’d use one instead of the other. I got to the stage where I could play well. Well enough to get paid for it too. But that’s where it would stick – even if I practised so as to continue to expand range, better tone and so on, I’d never actually be a musician.

So, I stopped. True, I didn’t then go on to develop some other skill that compensated but still, hours a day (you can’t actually play the trumpet 8 hours a day but I would have needed to step up to 2 to 3 hours just to be a pub player, or perhaps third trumpet in some second rate orchestra) to be mediocre just didn’t appeal.

Ho hum, although there’s a value to learning such a lesson at 17 or 18…..

23 thoughts on “Don’t I know this feeling”

  1. Are you sure it wasn’t because all the girly interest goes to the trombone player.

    Apart from the fact that the US is another planet anyway (band battles at college sports games) – This trombone guy probably retired a few wanabbees- Bear with it- sound comes through.

  2. Gladwell’s 10,000 hours was always bulls**t. Having played in many bands from youth up to a few years ago, there are some people who’re just ‘better’. Call it talent, or inheritance, or whatever; it exists.

  3. Jonathan

    Gladwell’s 10,000 hours could be a necessary condition but it’s certainly not a sufficient one. Silk purses and sow’s ears…

  4. My favourite musician joke:
    ‘What’s the difference between a drummer and a drum machine?
    You only have to punch information into the drum machine once’.

  5. One of my faves:

    ‘ What do you do when the bass player locks his keys in the van?’

    ‘ Break the drivers window and let him out.’

  6. Drummer gets fed up with all the drummer jokes, and decides to take up another instrument. He goes to the local music shop and wanders around for hours, looking at all the instruments.
    At closing time, the owner goes up to him and says, “look, you’ve been here since we opened, do you want to buy anything?”
    In a panic, the drummer replies, “can I have that saxophone, and can I have that accordion?”
    The owner thinks for a moment, and says, “okay, you can have the fire extinguisher; but I’m afraid the radiator has to stay attached to the wall.”


    Q: How many drummers does it take to change a light bulb?
    A: One hundred. One to change the bulb, the other 99 to admire his technique.

  7. Bloke in North Dorset

    Gladwell’s 10,000 hours is usually misunderstood …..

    GLADWELL: Well, the point of Outliers is, I mean, there’s a number of points. But one is that I wanted people to move away from the notion of success as something individual. And I wanted to get people to understand that a lot of success has to do with chance, with the contribution of your culture, your generation, your family. There’s this kind of heroic notion of the lone genius — it’s very popular in the United States — and I wanted to say to people that notion has no — very little — basis in reality.

    GLADWELL: I agree that that would be in the average takeaway. However, no one is more surprised than me that that was the average takeaway. The 10,000-hour stuff that I put in Outliers was really only intended to perform a very specific narrative function — or, not narrative function, but kind of argumentative function — which was, to me the point of 10,000 hours is: if it takes that long to be good, you can’t do it by yourself. If you have to play chess for 10 years in order to be a great chess player, then that means that you can’t have a job, or maybe if you have a job it can’t be a job that takes up most of your time. It means you can’t come home, do the dishes, mow the lawn, take care of your kids. Someone has to do that stuff for you, right? That was my argument, that if there’s an incredibly prolonged period that is necessary for the incubation of genius, high-performance, elite status of one sort or another, then that means there always has to be a group of people behind the elite performer making that kind of practice possible. And that’s what I wanted to say. When you watch Jordan Spieth play golf, don’t just think about Jordan Spieth. Think about the fact that I am guessing his parents devoted a huge chunk of their adult lives to making it possible for him to be an elite golfer. And every time you watch someone on stage on Carnegie Hall playing the violin, understand how many other people sacrificed to make that — the beautiful music you’re hearing — possible. That was my point that I wanted to make about 10,000 hours.

  8. There is the oposite side to this – there are some really talented musicians who have no desire to play professionally.

    I’m an average to poor keyboard player who plays music as part of a church worship group. There are six of us in our current group. One of them is probably the most musically talented person I’ve ever met. She’s a good (but technically not exceptional) violinist, but she’s an unbelievablly good musician. I suspect she could have been a 1st violin in a top orchestra if she’d wanted to work at it. Instead she did something else entirely at uni, and has then has done something totally different with her life. It’s a funny old world isn’t it!

  9. I think that starting young might have something to do with how good a musician you later become. I took up the piano when I was in my forties. I battled away at it for about ten years and reached a basic level of competence before calling it a day. Now at sixty two and recently retired I’ve started practicing again. I don’t think that I will manage eight hours a day, maybe one or two. I don’t know if I will even get back to the level that I was at before but I’m having fun.

  10. Bloke in North Dorset


    A few years ago a golfing friend who’d started to play later in life, his 20s, asked his teaching pro what he needed to do to hit the ball further?

    First invent a time machine was the unhelpful, but accurate, answer.

  11. Gladwell’s argument that you can’t do loads of practice without external support isn’t completely true. I was lucky enough that I almost always got paid to do what I would have done for fun if I’d had enough money. I started off with a slight advantage over the average, but all my jobs required me to learn more and seriously push myself(*) which boosted my skills and made me even more employable(**).

    (*) Primarily by getting jobs by saying “I can do that” and then having to deliver.

    (**) Until I started my own company, at which point you’re pretty much unemployable by anyone but yourself, but don’t care.

  12. What was the last thing the drummer said before being kicked out of the band?

    ‘Hey guys, I’ve got a great idea for a song!’

  13. That’s similar to my argument with learning coding at university. If you’re starting at university, you’ve started at least six years too late.

  14. @BiND “A few years ago a golfing friend who’d started to play later in life, his 20s, asked his teaching pro what he needed to do to hit the ball further?”

    A golfing coach talking on TV mentioned a talented teenager who he was coaching who he found on the driving range thrashing wildly at the ball. When he asked her what she was doing she explained that she wanted to hit her 7 iron a bit further. His advice? “Why not just use a 6 iron?”

  15. Arthur Jensen once said his aspiration was to be an orchestra conductor but he realized he’d never be in the top rank, so he decided to do something else.

  16. “What was the last thing the drummer said before being kicked out of the band?

    ‘Hey guys, I’ve got a great idea for a song!’”

    Radio ga ga seems to have stood the test of time.

    Ian Anderson realised that he would never be a brilliant guitarist and traded his guitar for a flute.

  17. Yeah, yeah, how do you know the stage is level?
    ‘Cos the spit comes out of the drummer’s mouth on both sides.
    I started drumming in the ATC, when I was 11. Also the bugle, but that must remain sub judice.
    I then drummed in a school band called the Crusaders (!), and when I fell out with the lead over a girl (the Head Girl at the grammar) I left, never to play the drums again. The band then became the Ten Feet Five, which then became the Troggs.
    Ah well. I still hate Chris Britten.

  18. John Wilkinson – you can give up the pretence here because you’re amongst friends: you are Stix Hooper and you don’t come from Andover.

  19. I had a lesson from a golf pro once.

    “What do you like about golf?” he asked.
    “When you catch the ball just right and it soars off and then bounces on.”

    “What don’t you like about golf?”
    “The endless fannying about to get the ball into the hole.”

    He made me play a few shots. “You are very strong” said he “but you don’t really have any other merits.”

    I decided croquet suited me better.

  20. TMB,
    It was certainly Andover, but Andover, Hants, not the other one, and we were the Crusaders, but regretfully, not those Crusaders!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *