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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

How to Become an Expert

Andrew Hitz

"You can't win unless you learn how to lose."

—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hall of Fame Basketball Player
"An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field."

—Niels Bohr, Atomic Physicist and Nobel Prize Winner

In the music world (especially the classical corner of that world) we are taught to never, ever make mistakes:

  • Always look at the key signature and never play any wrong notes, even when sight-reading!
  • Don't ever play any wrong rhythms.
  • Always play in tune, or rather, never play out of tune.

There are hundreds of these rules.  

The problem is this mindset completely fails us when trying to either acquire new skills or to get our current skills to the next level.

Until you have stood on a stage facing a bunch of elementary school kids and tried something that didn't really keep their attention very well, you are not an expert at addressing a room full of 7-year-olds.

Until you have played a Dixieland gig with no music and played the changes as they seemed to fly by, you are not expert at Dixieland music.

(Side note: Tom Holtz mentioned in a master class recently that every single person sucks on their first Dixie gig.  Every one.  The experts who are playing along with the new guy or gal expect them to not be very good, just as they weren't on their first gig!)

Until you launch a podcast network and record an interview that it turns out is basically unlistenable due to technical problems and you have to fall on your sword and ask them to do the interview all over again, you are not an expert at podcasting. (Thank you Rex Richardson!)

Think of someone who you consider an expert at something.  I guarantee you they have sought out situations in life where they "lose", make mistakes, and fail at a number of things, every single day.

That is how they became experts in the first place.

So go fail!