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Am I a good musician? From the most humble and sincere to the most pompous and egotistical of us, we all asked this dreaded question at some point in our lives.

Even when we had a horribly snobby expression next to our fellow musicians or laughed ironically about an inferior performer to us, deep inside us we all had the doubt that we might not have been good enough. In-between sarcastic remarks about “bad” teachers and caustic comments behind the backs of our, otherwise, great friends, we all felt that maybe we could have been better equipped as artists. Does this remind you of something?

So, do you expect from me to state whether you are a good musician or not? Well, yes, you are a good musician. You are not not only a good musician, but you are an excellent musician. You are a phenomenal musician.

Do you think I am being sarcastic? No, I’m not in the least sarcastic. I’m writing the truth. And here’s how I know the truth.

First, it’s imperative to understand that there is no such thing as a “bad” musician. Good or bad in music doesn’t exist. In music there is only currently-acceptable and currently-unacceptable. And I’m not talking about wrong notes, memory lapses, inadequate technique and the rest of musical things the inexperienced musician anticipates and longs for. In order to declare that someone is playing or singing acceptably, you must compare them with someone or something that you think is acceptable. But how do you know the other person is acceptable? What gives you this conviction. How do you know how baroque music should sound, for instance? You know that the other person is better by comparing them with the musical zeitgeist*.

The musical zeitgeist dictates what is right or wrong at any given time. But the thing is that this musical zeitgeist is constantly changing. So whatever you pompously advocate is “right” now, it will keep changing slowly to the point of even becoming “wrong” in the future. For example, your playing the first study by chopin like a frantic train might not be “right” in a few decades. Or, your absolute certainty that this passage should be played in a particular way will undoubtably change in the grand scheme of things.  However, as a rule, the musical zeitgeist changes music performance to the better.

All musicians are good (Sorry to all the self-important “virtuosos”). We must try to understand this. All musicians have something beautiful to say because they all have something different to say. That’s the beauty of music. What might sound wrong to an “expert”, might sound interesting to a “semi-expert” and even nice to a “non-expert”.

If all musicians followed a specific interpretational path then music would have been boring. If all played or sung or composed in a similar way then there wouldn’t be anyone to express their musical judgement either. That also means that the critics wouldn’t have a job. You need to understand that all types of “critics”, from the established ones to the everyday listeners, thrive inside the very system of non musical equality.

So, am I saying that there are not better and worse pianists? Am I saying that you are not better than your friend who is also a pianist in the conservatoire? Am I saying that your performance on Youtube is not better that someone else’s or your final recital wasn’t better than your pianist-nemesis? No, no at all. I’m only trying to express that even the musician who you think needs improvement has something nice to show as well. I’m also trying to advocate that even a teacher needs to know that their student may not have the desired technical artistry just yet, but what they can play right now has its merits too; because, as I said before, the consensus of what is right or wrong keeps changing.

In a way, “bad musicians” are too the predecessors of the future musical zeitgeist.

A good teacher would know that there is no bad musician and that there is no bad student. Yes, a student might not listen to the teacher and might do his own thing which might be wrong. But, a student will become the future teacher and musician too, and through his own past mistakes and personal eccentricities will too sculpt the musical zeitgeist.

So, do believe it; You are a good musician.

*Zeitgeist: Definition from Google here.

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(c) Nikos Kokkinis, 24/11/2012.

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