The Joys of Talentlessness

I suck at making music. No, really. I do. But the thing is, I really enjoy making musical sounds. I’ve had the same acoustic guitar for over 30 years, and I can’t play a single tune on it. Yet not a week has gone by in those years that I haven’t picked up the guitar, strummed some random chords, finger-picked an idle melody, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. There is no progress as such. I’m not getting better at it. The fun quotient, however, has remained constant.

Many discussions on this site involve people looking to improve their musicianship, overcome a technical hurdle of some kind, or share a piece of music that they’ve made. The levels of commitment and drive (and talent) on display are amazing to me. It’s literally awesome. But I wanted take a minute to celebrate the opposite end of that spectrum: the people who are not talented, not driven, not striving, not improving, not recording, not sharing, but who are enriched by the sound-making process nonetheless.

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This leads into a space of contemplating purpose, always valuable to return to repeatedly… Thanks!

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Your post made me happy. That is all. Thank you!

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Your description of your guitar practice really resonated with me. I began with guitar when I was 13, and 21 years later I still play. I do not have the skills associated with a 20+ year guitar player :sweat_smile:. I’ve always been happy just playing some chords and singing a simple melody.

This is in strong contrast to my synth practice, in which I enjoy spending lots of time lost in the minutia.

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Thanks for sharing this!

There is value in not being good at something but still wanting to do it and not needing to share it.

It made me think about the nature of creation and the various spectrums. Some lead to harmony like yours and some lead to conflict.

Some spectrums include:
<-- unskilled ----- skilled -->
<-- uncritical ----- critical -->
<-- internalized ----- externalized -->

I’m still working it out how I see them interacting, but it’s an interesting thought experiment at the least.

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I heartens me to see someone is enjoying this living nightmare.

Thank you.

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I don’t know much about zen practices, but this particular koan I’ve encountered multiple times in recent years is worth sharing in this thread:

“Not knowing is most intimate.”

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Feeling this very much.

Some 30, maybe 35 years ago, it’s fair to say I was absolutely driven when it came to making music - I’d play (mostly) guitar but with the coming of relatively affordable digital technology that expanded to include synths, drum machines, samplers, the whole kit & caboodle - two to three hours a day during the working week and almost non-stop over the weekends. Found a singer/lyricist with whom I worked well, we made a bunch of demo tapes, even got close to a record deal at one point. And I loved it all!

Then one day, I picked up the guitar and… nothing. No inspiration, no particular wish to play. I kept all the instruments around for a while, thinking it’s just a creative block or burnout of some kind, it’ll come back - but it didn’t. Time passed, I relocated for work, sold pretty much everything and that was about it.

A year or two ago, I started thinking that maybe it was time to start making music again, although the guitar still wasn’t inspiring me. Fell down the synth rabbit-hole and here we are. I’m the proud owner of probably more synths than is good for me, but where once I’d spend hours - days - figuring stuff out, now I just can’t find that degree of focus. The result is that pretty much every time I do plug everything in (living in a tiny flat means I can’t leave everything sitting around, ready to go) I’m just randomly poking and prodding at things to no great effect. Well, maybe that’s a bit harsh - if you want the sound af a swarm of angry robot space bees having a massive punchup in a hardware store, then I’m your woman!

Yet, as frustrating as it sometimes is - I see so many videos of people with the same instruments, finding such beautifully sweet spots and gorgeous sounds - it somehow doesn’t really matter as much as it once would.

It’s okay to poke and prod and rile up the space bees and have not a single thing recorded after nearly two years. I’ve given myself permission to be a complete amateur, an ignorant hobbyist - and I’m just fine with that.

So, thanks to @antiphon for standing up and saying it, kudos to you and all the rest of us who are quite happy with our noodling - and thanks, too, to the lines community for letting us find a small space where we can talk about stuff like this without feeling like complete muppets!

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As I observed elsewhere here:

And it still remains true today. When people ask me if I’m a musician, I usually reply no, not really, I make sounds on electronic instruments.

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“Talent” is an illusion. It’s a made up idea that unfortunately makes a lot of people frustrated about their inner “pull” to be creative, constructive, thoughtful, playful, imaginative…
Orozco said that to make art is to produce “signs of intimacy with the world”. I like that way of thinking. “Talent” is a nonsensical notion within that definition/description of what artists do. We just need to nourish ways to be thoughtful, intentional, and engage deeply with others, yourself and the world. That’s all. :heart:

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This is an interesting topic indeed. For me the corner stone of it lives around aspiration, motivation, justification and honesty.

  • Aspiration - Who, what or where do we wish we could be?
  • Motivation - Why do we want to move in that direction (this is a feeling)?
  • Justification - How do we explain the aspiration to ourselves and others (this is an intellectual aspect)?
  • Honesty - Are the above true?

A disconnect in these related elements makes us unhappy. We doubt ourselves and question why we aren’t better than we are. As soon as we become honest with ourselves we can just enjoy.

Throughout this community I see a lot of people with growth mind sets; people who want to be more today than they were yesterday. Such people can find the above especially difficult. We justify our time and purchases with stories of aspirations or comparisons with others; we pressure ourselves to grow, or at least beat ourselves up about not growing as we feel we should. The day we say: my aspiration is that making sounds be an idle and happy pursuit, is the day we can free ourselves. Instead of saying “I invested in X to add Y which my setup was lacking for Z”, we can say “I bought X because it looked fun”.

Looping back to the Zen comment; as a long time martial artist I can say what freed me from hyper focus on progress was a realisation. I do it because I enjoy the process, not to reach a goal. I don’t aspire to be the best or to reach some far off goal, I aspire to enjoy the process. I try and employ this approach to everything I do.

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I am keeping this forever, it is excellent

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The fulcrum for me is curiosity, rather than talent. My aim is to find–and occasionally record–sounds and patterns that make me go “oooh”. This, in turn, has vastly enlivened how I relate to all the music by working/publishing musicians and sound artists that I’ve been preoccupied with since, like, seventh grade. I feel really fortunate for this.

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I love this thread. I feel like I am always walking a line between deeper exploration and wanting to please listeners that I share with.

I’m going with this. It’s liberating.

Some of my most satisfying musical experiences have been filling tapes with electric slop. When I lose myself in the making of sounds and I’m just having fun.

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I think the problem for me is in the traditional instruments that are very boring…and with this youthful vision of being a good instrumentalist, some people want to master an instrument perfectly, to be idolized in such instruments, they fill their mouths with pride to say “I am a guitarist” - or whatever, I think it is a great nonsense…I prefer to play 20 different instruments badly than that mastering just one, for me has more to do with learning to play that instrument only as far as you need it in a given context of the composition…and anyway, almost every musician gets stuck in their mannerisms. When i started to make some instruments more suitable for my skills i think that this vision of talent lost its importance. playing an tradicional instrument professionally is a pain in the ass, people say they like it, but it’s a lie.

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Thank you… great post! I am one of the talentless artists and I love it.

Also, if I don’t reach my 2020 goal of ‘playing guitar in stead of having one’… no problem :+1:

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I agree that talent, in the sense of innate natural ability, is a somewhat mythical social construct. (Setting aside the Yo-Yo Mas, Marie Curies, and Usain Bolts of the world.) I use it as shorthand for “focused effort + time + magic sauce.” I consider myself musically untalented precisely because I have been completely unfocused in my musical explorations over time. Plus, no magic sauce!

The question, “Am I talented?” is kind of silly and only leads to heartache. The world will sort that out for you, if you care. The better questions have to do with fulfillment, contentment–and fun!–I would think.

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I have quite a few friends that live deeply reclusive, musical lives. Very infrequent sharing online, if ever. And yet hard drives and hard drives full of material

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I think that it’s quite a jump to go from celebrating talentlessness to saying that professional musicians who say that they enjoy their profession are liars! I am a professional musician and although at times it can be difficult, I very much enjoy myself! And I would say that most if not all of the other professionals that I work with also feel this way, and are also not liars.

I have a couple of thoughts about this idea.

Firstly, in my experience “mastering” one instrument (or at least goal directed learning of one instrument to some degree of competency) will make it very much easier for a person to pick up and learn any other instrument that they might wish to play and they will often do so with a sense of musicality that carries across from their primary instrument.

Secondly I’m very much against the idea that instruments are mere objects that make possible the realisation of our compositional will. More intimate knowledge of an instrument means that what could be a simple linear transmission of information from composer to instrument becomes a kind of feedback loop where the instrument not only receives and transmits musical information, but actually feeds new information back to the composer, allowing a richer process of creation. I’m fairly sure that anyone in any creative field could reflect on their process for a while agree that this is often the case when work is going well.

It could be true that an instrumentalist may be prone to mannerisms and repeating themselves but I am also certain that this is also true for people who compose without an instrumental aid. I see absolutely no reason why a composer who is an experienced instrumentalist would be more prone to this than a composer who is not. After all, a large part of learning any instrument well is developing tools that allow free expression despite the limitations and confines of that instrument. Even if a composer does not actually learn to play an instrument, the process of researching it, asking questions, getting deeper into the ins and outs of it, it’s strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies, all this will should really only fire the imagination and enhance the creative process, not shut it down.

All of this is of course dependant on what we actually mean by mastery, talentlessness, instrument, etc. I don’t believe for one second that anyone who has replied to this thread is in actual fact talentless. There are many more talents that make up musical skill than simply being good at guitar, or piano, or whatever.

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I could not agree more with you. While every person should be encouraged to play music or experiment with sounds and timbres for enjoyment or personal enrichment, and modular makes this so fun, there is a reason why the best piano players like to play Scriabin or Prokofiev, for example, pursuing a synergy of technique and expression.

Also a reason why composers will write music for specific performers, like Ligeti did for Gawriloff and Aimard.

As you alluded to, a drummer will not play bass guitar like a guitar player either. Usually they play it better.

Let’s not underrate talent either. That’s how you get “fugues” in electronic music that are not much like the real thing, not compositionally rule-based at all, and music lacking in musical development. Not to mention singers who can’t actually sing, and would have never ever gotten a record deal in the 60s without a successful performing career first. There is a lot artists today can learn from the past; that goes hand in hand with appreciating the sound worlds of the past, as everyone here does to an alarming degree!

The entire period performance movement shows how instrument construction affects playing, and started when Harnoncourt and Leonhardt, among others, bothered to try playing the old things and thought about rhetoric, “music as speech” in cantatas. Now there is a cottage industry of harpsichord replication and restoration of Ruckers, Vater, Hemsch, etc, Walter fortepianos, and fully recreated instruments like violoncello da spalla.

It’s not always dogmatic either, you have natural brass mixed with modern strings, even romantic pianists playing on Erards and Bechsteins again, but not on every piece, because the expression changes with the idiomatic playing of an older style instrument. And you have reactionary conductors who like their Bruckner without any diet regimen, and players like Víkingur Ólafsson who play Bach and romantic transcriptions of his organ works on a modern piano - that’s cool too.

In any case, the best modular performers really do tend to master their instruments, as antiphon pointed out.

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