“Your Cheating Heart…”

OK. You’re likely wondering:

  • Why that title?
  • Is this a tribute post to Hank, Sr?
  • Is kengon crazy? (yes, but not in a clinical sense)

After sitting for a while with my post on “Operating Principles for Guitarists”, I started thinking about what I’d left off. Well, turns out I thought of something. Gee, a real shocker, eh? :-)

Here is the next entry for your consideration:

You cannot cheat your way to greatness.

Ouch!! Did I say that out loud? Yup. I did. Why?

We’ve all heard of the musical prodigy who was born with an instrument in their hands and was writing full orchestral scores by the time they were two. OK, so I (kind of) exaggerated there, but it’s not off by a whole lot. The fact remains that certain people are born with a set of gifts for music. I am not one of them and it’s likely you’re not either. It’s not that we’re bad people, it’s just that this kind of gift is not that common. As a result, speaking for myself anyway, I’ve had to work hard for everything I’ve got. I’ve earned it.

I remember when I was in school at GIT, I recall saying to myself — “I can’t remember all this!”

You know:

  • I was right. I had to cover too many subjects, with too much data to effectively remember. Memorization doesn’t occur in an instant. At the time, I really did think that it was all about how much I knew… especially because I didn’t think I knew that much!
  • I was also wrong. I also used that as a justification for for not doing what it took to get to the next place in my playing. I was so focused on learning and finding a way to get great quick (call it what it is, eh?), that I think I missed a number of important opportunities and lessons that were right there for me.

In short, I was trying to cheat my way to greatness. I only had so much time left and I needed to really get to where I wanted to be. I knew that if I just learned enough theory, I’d be able to pick up The Real Book, select any tune and shred over it. Gee. Was I ever wrong. That attitude didn’t make any allowances for what it takes to integrate the knowledge and experience one gains from such an intense experience and have that show up in your playing. Needless to say, it takes time, persistence and patience. None of which I had in abundance.

In my developmental discipline, we talk about cheating as trying to get an outcome without doing what it takes to really earn it. As I continue to develop myself, both as a person and as a musician, I’ve begun to realize that in order for me to really progress, I need to sign on for doing what it takes to get to where I want to be. There are certain (predictable) spaces a musician (especially a guitarist) must go through, certain things that must be practiced and memorized until they’re automatic and a certain level of knowledge to really progress.

Trying to avoid them, figure out shortcuts/workarounds or listing the reasons (justifying) why they don’t apply to you doesn’t work. Trying to become a great player without doing what it takes is cheating. The sooner we identify it for what it is, the quicker we can get to work on what it really takes to get to where we want to be.

Then again, maybe cheating will work this time. After all, it has worked before. That’s why it’s so alluring. Maybe (just this one time) I can have my pudding without eating my meat (apologies to Pink Floyd). Hmmmm…

So, where do you stand? What do you think?

August 14, 2009 · kengon · 4 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: Development, Music

4 Responses

  1. byrdlandplayer - August 14, 2009


    Great subject that I have discussed in connection to the word, Talent which I struggle with. Too often people say “Oh that’s easy for you your Talented”. The truth is I have had to work hard and practice endless hours to play as good as I do. I’m no master but I can get around pretty well and to have it all scooped under the rug by saying I’m talented has always been an issue with me. Believe me I don’t loose any sleep over this just thought I mention it. What do you think?


  2. kengon - August 14, 2009


    I think your comment is on the money. Thanks for jumping in!

    Just like I said in my post, most of us are not born with some pre-disposition to being a musical prodigy — it’s something that we intentionally develop over time.

    A few points worth noting:
    1. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of places to go to start to understand how to intentionally develop (either as a musician or as a person) over time. At least for music, formal schooling is generally about as good as it gets, but it’s no guarantee, as the focus is on teaching/learning, not development.
    2. Talent is a very loaded word. Your example of how “talent” was used is a prime example of why I dislike it. Most of the time, it’s used as a cheap assessment that gets used to either beat someone (ourselves?) up or get off the hook for doing what it really takes to get good (just like you have). I’d prefer to think of it as aptitude, it seems to me to be a bit less loaded.
    3. I think there’s a very fine line between appreciating the gifts that one has been given (some expressed in aptitude) and getting wrapped up in how “talented” we are or aren’t. The more we focus on the former, the less we have to pay attention to the latter.


  3. FooteMAN - August 19, 2009

    Bingo, isnt there a saying that goes something like hard work and tenacity generates luck. One could replace the word luck with talent.


  4. kengon - August 19, 2009


    Duly noted and another great comment. As a matter of fact, as I was re-reading it the other night, I had the exact same though. There are likely a number of words we could substitute for talent that are equally compromised. Even ability can be co-opted without much effort.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.