Friday, September 30, 2011

Too humble musicians

Madison and Hamilton were able to spit out the Federalist papers (those long, extremely complicated pieces of work) one every few days or so, and I can’t even be bothered to write a simple blog once a month. I feel a bit pathetic.

So, it’s the last day of the month, and here I am with no topic to discuss (well, I wrote something up, but it needs lots of editing, and I don’t have the time for it now). Since I’m a slacker, I’m just gonna put up a blog post I had written a while ago, but didn’t post originally because I didn’t like it (ha. You’re getting my reject blog post. Bet that makes you feel special)

Here it is:

So last night on a forum [not actually last night, as I wrote this up a while ago], a guy posted a thread asking if any musicians were on the forum. If so, what instruments did they play, how long, what type of music, etc.

A few men replied saying they were musicians, and were like “I’ve been a beginner on the guitar since 1963, I'm still learning stuff and know there's so much more to learn. When I read response after response saying stuff like that I grew rather peeved. At first I wasn’t sure why. I thought maybe it was the (false?) humility they were displaying, but then I realized it bugged me because it made me feel insignificant, like they were belittling me. I realize that was not their intent, but that is how it felt.

I am an actual beginner on guitar. I’ve been playing less than 2 years, I’m self taught and not highly motivated, so my skills are rather amateurish. Hearing a bunch of men who are obviously skilled on their instrument-of-choice by now, after playing for numerous years, say they are just beginners was like they were discounting anyone who is an actual beginner. If those men are beginners, what does that make us actual beginners? Where does that leave us?

That would be like a Sensai saying she is a white-belt. No. She is not a white belt. She is a blackbelt. White belts are beginners in karate. Black belts are not. Yes, we can all call ourselves students, because we are all continuously learning, but the title of beginner only goes to people who just began, hence the word “beginner.” Likewise, an advanced musician could say “I’m a student of music, always learning something new.” But they should not say “I’m a beginner.”

It’s also annoying to me when musicians try to downplay their skills. There is a difference between being humble and sounding ridiculous.

It may sound like simple semantics, but that is not how it feels to me.

I can add, after reading Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, that the “(false?) humility” is something that bugs me. Smith points out that we are more prone to like a person that is slightly too vain over a person that is slightly too humble. This is because we can at least admire the slightly vain person for striving towards excellence. We cannot admire the too humble person for underestimating the praise actually due them. Sometimes we may even scorn them because it makes us angry that they underestimate their true worth.

A person who has been playing an instrument for 20+ years is prone to be very good at that instrument, and to call themselves a “beginner” is simply too humble. It underestimates the praise they are truly due. It isn’t to be admired. Humility at the correct level is worth admiring (like the distinction I made between saying “I am still a student/still learning” over saying “I am still a beginner”), but a humility too extreme is not worth admiring and is off-putting.

[To avoid being hypocritical in my own post, I'm not a beginner on the guitar. I'm not a skilled guitar player, to be sure, but I am decent.]

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