Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Can You Play?

During a break at one of our gigs, Ryan walks up to me and says, "Hey, I just got my drumming certification from UCLA."

"You just got what?", I say.

Ryan says, "My drumming certification."

"What does that mean?", I say.

"It means that I'm officially a drummer."

"It does?"

"Yeah, it does."

"Um...  Hmm... Can you play?"

"Sure I can. I got certified."

"OK. Um... Can you play well?"

"Define well."

"Let me do it by example. We just finished a set with Marc playing drums. In your estimation, do play better than Marc, as well as Marc or not as well as Marc?"

"Oh... well, I can play some of the stuff Marc played, err, at least a little of it."

"What percent of what Marc played can you play?"

"Hmm... like five percent?"

"And that five percent that you play, is it better, as good as or not as good as what Marc plays?"

"Well, depending on the day, it could be as good as Marc plays."

"What about right now?"

"Right now?"

"Yeah, right now. Like, if we were to get on stage and you were to substitute for Marc on the first tune."

"Hmm... probably not as good as Marc."

I explained to Ryan, "Look, it's great that you got your certification, but playing music is different than other professions. It's different from teaching music in school. After all is said and done, the only thing the people you work with care about is whether or not you can cut it; can you play or not?"

"Uh, huh."

"A certification might get you an audition, but it won't get you the gig."

"So you think getting a certification is a bad thing?"

"No, not in and of itself. However, it can be a misleading thing and it can be a distraction."


"Yeah, because it's easy to believe that having the certification will actually mean something to other musicians."

"How's it a distraction?"

"It's can be a distraction when you start pursuing exercises and techniques that you'll never use simply because their mastery will get you the certification."

"So what would you do?

"Play! Play as much as you can with as many great musicians as you can. Learn from them. Ask them about what they do and how they do it. Practice what you've learned and then get feedback on it from people who play really well."

"No certifications?"

"Not required."

"Then how will people know that you can play?"

"Trust me. If you learn to play exceptionally well, and you play frequently, they'll know."

One of the things I love about music, and for that matter, any performance oriented occupation, is that no one cares where you're from, who you've been or what you've done; they just care about who you are and what you can do. Can you play?

Of course, it's not really different from other professions. Whether you're seeking out a doctor or a lawyer or an architect or a landscaper, after all is said and done, you just want to know whether or not they're good at what they do. Musicians are just clearer about it.

Happy Tuesday,

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