January 14, 2014 11:51 PM

Let's Face The Cold Hard Truth About Talent

I started taking electric bass lessons.

I used to play electric bass quite a bit (even studied it in a post-secondary environment). I worked very hard at it. I had private lessons, would attend jam sessions, played in a couple of bands and a whole lot more. At around the same time, I became much more interested in writing and managed to finagle a career as a freelance music journalist. I spent a whole lot of time interviewing lots of rock stars (hundreds... maybe even thousands... over the years). No joke. In 1989, my first assignment was interviewing Tommy Lee from Motley Crue (I jokingly tell people that my entire career has been downhill from there). Was I any good at playing the electric bass? I was. Was going to be the next Jaco Pastorius or Stanley Clarke? Maybe if I just practiced harder?

It's a tough talk to have.

I haven't played the bass in over twenty years. I'm beyond rusty. It's frustrating. On top of that, I've spent a lot of time watching what contemporary bassists are doing, and I am amazed at just how much progress has been made with the instrument. Have you ever heard of Michael Manring? Watch what he can do with the electric bass...

It's beautiful, isn't it?

I've been watching a lot of videos like this over the past few months, as my interest in the electric bass continues to grow. Personally, I find that it is opening up many different creative roads for me, and just thinking about the language of music has been inspiring (not a bad thing). I was thinking back to the time when I decided that I didn't want to pursue a career as a professional musician because the calling of a life in media was far more interesting. The truth is that I also wasn't that talented with the electric bass. I was good. I could play. But, I clearly didn't have the "secret sauce." It also became apparent to me recently (after watching several interviews with these stellar musicians) that they, themselves, were unable to communicate where their talent comes from. They all seem to chalk it up to practice and hard work. I don't believe them.

Malcolm Gladwell is wrong.

In his bestselling business book, Outliers, Gladwell points to the now-famous notion that anybody whose work/art that we appreciate in the world has put in the hard work to master it. The 10,000 hour rule (as it has become known). I'm not so sure. Here's my take-away: if you practice the electric bass really hard (let's call is 10,000 hours), my guess is that the vast majority of people will know how to play the electric bass very well, but very few of them will be true bass players. You can practice writing for 10,000 hours, and my guess is that the vast majority of people will be better at writing, but very few of them will be true writers. The same goes for painting, photography... and maybe even the work that you do?

There are those who can play the bass and then there are bass players. Those that have a gift for it.

It's a tough concept to wrap one's head around, but it's true. The real experts seem to be the ones who put in their 10,000 hours BUT they also have some semblance of a gift/knack/aptitude for it. Of course, there are varying levels of skills and people's opinions as to who is great at something is relative. That's fine. This isn't a negative concept, either. I'd hate for anybody to think that this blog post is intended to deflate your tires or make anyone feel like they're not great at the work that they're doing. Talent is not always something that can be developed with a simple application of a little elbow grease. Talent is usually something that shines when one individual taps into something that they actually have an aptitude for and can then nurture it to their advantage.

What do you think? Can everyone be a bass player or will most people simply know how to play bass?