I call myself a musician. For a long time, I would hesitate to call myself that. Sure, I played guitar. I knew the theory and I knew the patterns. But, was I a musician?
I couldn’t play much by ear. I couldn’t jump in on a jam session if I didn’t have the chords in front of me. It was hard finding the right groove when I tried to improvise. Simply put, I didn’t have any confidence in my “talents”.
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I fell in love with the guitar when I was in high school. I always loved music and dabbled in piano, clarinet, and even the oboe during my formative years. I finally settled on the violin during middle school and stuck with it for a few years. Then, I discovered this thing called rock music, and I suddenly had to have an electric guitar.
The first guitar I bought was a used knock-off of a Gibson Les Paul. No logo, no serial number, and extremely heavy. I paid $50 and my dad spotted me the other half. From then on, I pursued guitar for over ten years, playing with friends, playing in rock bands and church bands and taking jazz lessons. But, through all this time, I have to confess… I was never truly comfortable playing guitar.
Maybe it was the pressure of the role. The expectations to blow everyone away with epic guitar riffs and mind-bending solos. Maybe it was the years of in-school training on a melodic instrument as opposed to a chordal instrument. Maybe, it just wasn’t the right instrument for me.
About four or five years ago, I bought an electric bass. About $300–pretty cheap in the instrument world. It was different, and I only dabbled in it when I needed to. The thing was, whenever I played it, I felt good. It wasn’t a constant challenge like playing guitar was. It let me think linearly from one note to the next, instead of wading through the infinitely complex matrices of chords and all of their possible permutations. I could make clear and deliberate musical decisions, and focus on what was really important: the song.
A year or two later, I stopped calling myself a guitarist and officially labeled myself a bassist. The funny thing? I’ve never taken one lesson or class involving the bass guitar.
Looking back, I think that what called out to me is the role of the bass player. It fit my personality. That quietly supportive element of the band; seemingly unimportant, but if approached correctly, surprisingly impactful. While a guitarist may revel in shredding a face-melting solo in the hot, bright spotlight, I stood perfectly content in the background, devising subtle ways to complement the melodies and the song. After all of these meandering years of insecurity, I had finally found my instrument.
You see, for half of my life, I had been trying to be someone I was not–trying to force my soul into a different mould. When I discovered who I was, and who I am not, my path became a lot clearer. I am a better bassist than a guitarist, and I enjoy it so much more because it lets me bring something tangible to the table. I discovered other things about myself, too: I am a better writer than an orator; a better sound engineer than a composer; a better director than a solo artist. I now see myself more as a craftsman and less as an artist. Once I realized these things about myself, I stopped being upset or depressed about my shortcomings, or even envious of others and their successes. I could finally be content with who I am.
At this point, I have to ask one question: Why had no one opened my eyes to these things earlier?
We learn so many facts and technical skills as we prepare for independent life, yet these important lessons are neglected. It is a shame–because many of us still do not know where our passions and talents align; because so much of what we try to become as we grow into adulthood may be misdirected.
We are all different. Yes, we should know that.
Yet, we still try to make ourselves that which we are not.
I am still growing as a person, for sure. There are still things that are unclear about my future regarding my passions and my career. One thing has changed for certain: I am now much more confident in my uniqueness–as a person, and as a musician. My talents are different than your talents. Yours are different than mine–and I’m perfectly all right with that.