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Is One Discipline Enough in Today’s World?


Have you ever spoken to people outside of the world of classical guitar? or outside of the world of classical music? You might find it surprising to discover that other fields don’t always have a single-pointed concentration in one area of study. Martial artists, for example, experienced a revolution in their pedagogy when Bruce Lee and others like him encouraged multidisciplinary study in multiple different forms (of martial arts). When he found limitations in his own martial art of Wing Chun he decided to take inspiration from other styles, such as Western boxing, kickboxing karate, and many others. this made him a dynamic and innovative force with far-reaching impacts on martial arts to this day Some have even argued that he founded mixed martial arts when he wrote the Tao of Jeet Kune Do. On top of all this, he completed a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. Similarly, in the world of other competitive sports, It is not uncommon for someone to have won multiple medals in radically different disciplines Not to mention the fact that some sports, such as the biathlon and triathlon competitions, essentially combine several widely divergent sports into a single event. The biathlon consists of cross-country skiing, a full-fledged sport on its own, and rifle shooting, together into one sport; Whereas triathlons can include running, swimming, cycling, and many other different sports in a single event. Bringing things closer to home to the field of music, We know that metal musicians often play multiple instruments, Even though they have virtuosic requirements of them, in much the same way that we do. The first album by the mind-blowingly virtuosic metal band Animals As Leaders Features tosin Abasi playing almost all of the guitar and bass tracks on the recording single-handedly. My good friend and colleague Raphael Weinroth-Browne, who often tours with metal band leprous as a cellist, has played in bands as a Highly skilled drummer and plays flamenco guitar extremely well on top of his incredible skill as a cross-genre and classical cellist. Even Justin Bieber, who grew up at the same time as me in Stratford, Ontario, is actually pretty good at the drums, and plays acoustic guitar and sings at the same. As I’ve Illustrated, outside of the world of classical music, Many fields of study seem to be moving progressively toward a trend of interdisciplinary mastery. (Though I can’t say that Justin Bieber is a master at the guitar). Meanwhile, in classical music, Our teachers have almost always instructed us to develop an unwavering commitment to one hyper-specialized field, whether it be in theory, composition, music history, or instrumental performance on only ONE instrument. That means that most of the music theorists and musicologists I know no longer practice their instrument, and most of the classical instrumentalists I know have completely given up their non-primary instrument. Even though they’ve had years of training. When I started in university I found myself Giving up the piano the trumpet and the bass and electric guitar in order to pursue the classical guitar to the highest possible level. The argument for this perspective has never changed since the dawn of the conservatory, and I’m sadly even found myself Uttering it to students in the past: the old saying goes, “if you chase two rabbits you catch none.” They also say “a jack of all trades, master of none”. Which is interesting, because did you know that the original phrase was a jack of all trades master of none? Which is better than one? All of this information begs the question: what are some of the consequences of hyper-specialization? And what benefit does it serve us? When we turn to psychology, the argument for hyper-specialization seems to be particularly weak. Much of the literature and studies involving resilience, music psychology, and performance anxiety discusses the concept of one’s self concept, or one’s the self aspect, which can have high or low levels of complexity. This is basically how many versions of yourself you have. For example, a person with a highly complex self-concept will say that they are a partner, parent, sibling, friend, musician, composer, and employee, while a person with a lower level of self complexity will say things like this quote, which you may find relatable, which I have taken from Diana Kenny’s book, “The psychology of music performance anxiety”. Music is my life I don’t do anything else. It was a deliberate decision to become a professional musician I remember, I’m quite clear about this. When I was 14, I knew that that’s what I was going to do. I didn’t know in what shape or form but there was never any doubt. I never had to consider what my career options would be anymore. It was always going to be that way and I went along for the ride from there on. Does this sound like you? It certainly sounds like me for many years of my life. I also decided when I was 12 that I was going to be a classical guitarist When my dad expressed concerned and suggested a back-up plan, I quoted an Arabic proverb and said “he who goes into battle expecting to die will surely live, and he who goes into battle expecting to live will surely die.” I took that saying to heart, like a lot of nonsense I believed in my early life. And although these convictions allowed me to maintain a high level of dedication to my art for many years to this day They did no favors for my mental health, and I eventually had to make changes. The person in the earlier quotation was undergoing serious levels of music performance anxiety, and Probably dealt with a considerable amount of personal anguish as a result, which comes as no surprise from a musical perspective or a psychological perspective. Research suggests that having a higher level of self-complexity makes people: “less prone to depression, perceived stress, physical symptoms, and occurrence of the flu and other illnesses following high levels of stressful events. “It is also associated with reduced cognitive decline in older adulthood, brain processing speed, and executive function in midlife.” This might lead us to conclude that being single pointed in our musical life is probably not the best idea when our mental health is concerned, although the evidence is certainly not conclusive. However, we do know that people have been excelling at multiple fields at once for centuries now, including Bach, composer, pedagogue, multi-instrumentalist, performer, instrument builder, organ tuner, parent of 20 children- even a swordsman. DaVinci, a painter, doctor, medical researcher, inventor, mechanic. Hildegard von Bingen: composer, nun philosopher, founder of scientific Natural History in Germany. Although these are extreme cases of human achievement (like, they might actually be aliens) Allow me to theorize how they may have achieved such insane levels of productivity. I propose that the skills they developed in one of their major skill sets were actually transferable to other disciplines they studied, in the same way that lifting weights can help you with your slurs. Meaning that they would need to spend less time comparatively on each skill. Here is a long list of suggestions that I think are relevant to all you classical guitarists out there Maybe practicing the electric guitar can help you pay attention to your tone in your classical playing. Maybe improvising can help you with your fretboard knowledge; Maybe learning the bass can help you become a better ensemble player and reader, maybe playing all these instruments can help you become a better arranger; Maybe becoming a better arranger can make you a better composer; Maybe exercising or doing a sport will help strengthen your body to practice for longer periods of time with less pain; Maybe learning other languages helps you with advertising yourself, meeting new people, and thinking critically. Maybe becoming an average flamenco player is going to put you lightyears ahead of classical players, technically. Maybe jazz can help you with your improvisation and reading. Actually, maybe jazz will just make you a way better musician! Here’s one: maybe making teaching videos on YouTube makes you think about your playing more critically! The list is endless, but what I’m trying to illustrate here, is that thinking about your field as an isolated unit is probably not going to make you the best musician you want to become. within each skill, like learning the classical guitar, is a ton of smaller micro skills that each need to be mastered, and chances are some other field Focuses on those micro skills more intensely than yours does. Classical guitarists have a special advantage in their dedicated dedication to making a beautiful sonority, and their ability to memorize long solo and ensemble pieces But even within those areas, perhaps the violin and piano have much more to teach us. If all that I’ve been saying for this video is true, Why are we taught to focus on one aspect of our musical life in isolation? Moreover, won’t having a greater number of marketable skills help us financially in the wider musical market? Who do you know that makes their entire living off of classical guitar performance without at least teaching and/or arranging on the side? I literally don’t know anyone. So please let me know, I would love to meet them! Not to mention that maybe becoming a more well-rounded musician and person might make you less of a freaking nerd! But in all seriousness, you can do whatever you want to do in life, and no matter what we do, it is literally impossible To be the best in the world in pretty much any single subject. However, it is totally possible to become the only person that is exceptionally good at three different things. Probably, I don’t know… but the point is: why would you limit yourself like that? Anyway, rant over! I’m interested in your thoughts on this matter. Do you think people should try to do one thing at the highest possible level to the exclusion of all else? Or do you think it’s better to try to master multiple things in one’s lifetime? Leave any comments or questions you might have below, and if you have any suggestions for future videos, feel free to leave those as well. And don’t forget to Like and subscribe! Citations are in the description below, if you’re interested. Thank you to Naoko Tsujita for the help, and see you again in two weeks!

Reynold King

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