Have you always wanted to feel the throes of passion in your fingertips, but were always afraid to pursue music because you lack "talent?" Are you afraid that you'll never break the glass ceiling? Or will you keep practicing, because you know you'll get better?
The idea that musicians are born possessed with musical ability has been seeded in our culture for centuries. It's an idea that is found in all playing styles, from blues and rock, all the way back to the beginnings of music, when it was a common belief that music was bestowed upon humans by god. These days, this notion has become so common, that musicians promote this kind of notion to build their rapport to their audience. It has become part of a musicians identity.
But that's the thing, it's just a mask over the real deal, something that hides the truth; it's a lie that is actually harmful to potential musicians. Some people don't know that they can learn to become a musician, so they don't even pick up an instrument. In fact, this notion almost stopped me from making music into a career. Once I did start, I never thought I'd be able to break the glass ceiling because I wasn't a natural. If this sounds at all familiar, then keep reading on.
This is "the wizards only theory of talent," because it assumes that only people with supernatural abilities (like Harry Potter) can make it as a musician.
That very notion is ridiculous (as I'm sure you agree), and I hope that this article will prove that it is possible for "muggles," (or non-wizards) to learn to write and play music as well as the pros.
Do the thoughts "I'm just not creative," or "[insert musical wizard here] was never this bad" pop into your head when you try to find the right key on the piano? Do you think there are only two different types of people: the "wizards" that can shred, and the "muggles" who never will?
The reality is that creativity and expression are learned skills. These come with practice, and are often taught by the best teachers. Just like any other skill, there's no magic to it, it just takes practice.
How will you figure out that you're one of the rare musical wizards? Pick up the nearest instrument and compose a song. If your fingers just form the right notes and sound something like a new Mozart, than congratulations, you just made the cut. If that's not the case, then I suppose you'll have to settle for being a muggle. Obviously, because the naturals just have it bred into them.
The truth is that writing takes practice, nobody is good right out of the box. It's just like what Adventure Time's Jake the Dog says, "Sucking at something is the first step to being sort of good at something."
Muggles aren't completely useless, I mean, wizards do need sidekicks. Sure, they'll never be able to make a car soar through the air, but at least they can, with years of practice and mechanical mastery, fly a plane through the skies. So of course they can play music, it just takes a while. They'll never have what it takes to write an original score, though.
The reason for this misconception comes from the fact that being able to play at least the basics is required to make a composition. That said, musicians compose at their own level, and usually the more proficient they are with the instrument, the more complex their writing becomes. Not every performer composes either, and that isn't because they're fundamentally not able to, sometimes it's just because they aren't interested.
This one goes the other direction. Wizards are innately good at playing and composing music, but muggles are just as good wizards at listening and critiquing music.
This one, unfortunately, isn't any more true than the others. Trained musicians can hear more in music than most listeners, being able to pick apart different techniques and styles. People who practice and work with music and scales are better at knowing where a song goes wrong, and know how the musician could have fixed it.
That doesn't mean people can't have opinions about what they like and what they don't like, certainly everyone has a different preference. Trained musicians have just a better knowledge of what is happening in the song, and can appreciate form in a different way. Take from that what you will.
Many of the greatest composers became that way because they found the right teacher; when you do find one, be sure to ask what they think of about innate musical ability. If they sound like they're rehashing the "wizards only" theory, be sure to grab your broom and fly the other direction.
NOTE: I was inspired to write this article by a comment made from a user named "Komponisto". Although I was not able to contact him to express this personally, if he reads this, then he has my thanks.
Tommaso Zillio is a professional prog rock/metal guitarist and composer based in Edmonton, AB, Canada.
Tommaso is currently working on an instrumental CD, and an instructional series on fretboard visualization and exotic scales. He is your go-to guy for any and all music theory-related questions.
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