Balancing Focus and Variety

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Leah Kruszewski
ModeratorInstructor
Balancing Focus and Variety

How many instruments do you play?  And how many styles of music can you play on those instruments?  Do you need to try new things (instruments, styles, etc.) to stay inspired?  Or are you happiest when you can delve deeply into a single project on your chosen instrument, and polish it until you’re playing your best?  

Lessonface Presents hosted a conversation with Yonit Spiegelman a couple months ago, and Yonit talked a bit about the demands and pulls of being a working musician with various skills and interests.  She mentions how it would be nice to have more time to devote to her bass playing and to continually developing her technique. But being a singer, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and teacher are also important to her, and there just aren’t enough hours of the day for everything.  

It’s important to recognize what makes you happiest in music, and to pursue that.  Nobody ‘has’ to be a virtuoso on an instrument, and the sort of focus that virtuosity demands is certainly not for everyone.  There are as many kinds of musician as there are kinds of people, and there are niches for all sorts of individual musicians can fill.  If you like playing in groups, versatility is a huge asset. You never know when your band will be looking for a new color or texture, and a love for experimenting will help you find the sound you’re looking for.    

Likewise, most music school curriculums require knowledge of keyboard skills and at least one other secondary instrument in addition to your primary instrument.  Piano/keyboard skills are a huge help to understanding music theory. And having to learn another instrument - especially of a contrasting instrument family - help you empathize with other musicians and understand how to communicate in a language that makes sense to all instruments.    

On the other hand, having too many interests can spread a student a bit thin.  Lessonface has an inquiry page where potential students can post about their interests, and teachers who would be a good fit can respond.  Some students have everything figured out and post an inquiry for a specific instrument and genre. As a teacher, it’s easy to know whether or not I could offer them valuable instruction.  Other potential students post inquiries in several different instruments (guitar, piano, voice, for example) spanning several styles (folk, classical, gospel). Even if flamenco or classical guitar, my two specialties, are among their interests, it’s hard to know how interested they really are if it’s one interest among twenty.  It’s also hard to imagine a beginning student really being able to pursue all those interests at once.

What balance of variety and focus do you work best with?  Have you ever had to branch out to fill the needs of an ensemble?  What was it like? Was it a fun challenge, or a difficult distraction from your primary interest?  Has branching out ever opened your mind to new ways of understanding music?  

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