October 6th, 2014

Why You Should be the Worst Player in the Room

By Eric

If you’re reading this I’m guessing that you want to be the best.

You want to walk into a room with your instrument and completely smash the competition. To tackle every chord progression, every tune, and every challenging technical passage with effortless mastery. To have every other player’s jaw drop as they look on in utter awe.

…unfortunately this isn’t always the case.

You see, the reality is that sometimes you’ll try your best and end up in the middle of the pack and at other times, you’ll end up in that dreaded spot at the bottom – you’re the worst player in the room.

It happens.

When you find yourself in these situations it can suddenly feel like music isn’t fun anymore. You get discouraged, you might even want to quit, and you can’t wait to run back to the safety of your comfort zone.

But wait a second! Being the worst player in a group of musicians isn’t necessarily a bad thing…it’s actually a good thing.

You might not realize it now, but you’re in the perfect place to improve.

Ugh, I’m the worst…

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You’ve walked into a jam session and don’t know any of the tunes. You’re in a lesson with a great teacher and suddenly become aware of your musical weak spots. Or maybe you’ve signed up for a new class or took a chance and auditioned for a new group.

If it does, then I’m betting you know what it feels like to be the worst.

You’ve been in situations where it feels like everyone knows what they’re doing except you. You’ve stumbled into a place where you’re the new comer. You’re in the presence of great players and suddenly feel very small, a confused beginner all over again.

As musicians we encounter a number of these situations in our efforts to improve. It’s the same for the best players out there as it is for complete beginners.

 

When Bird would play a melody, I’d just play just under him and let him lead the note…I used to quit every night when I was playing with that guy. I’d say, “What do you need me for?”~Miles Davis

 

In my own musical journey I’ve sat in with professional bands as a student and could barely keep up. I’ve walked into jam sessions where I wished I had left my instrument at home. I’ve taken auditions and completely bombed. I’ve taken lessons from some of my musical heroes and I’ve left concerts thinking “Wow, I really don’t know anything!”

These situations were inspiring and challenging, and sometimes they were stressful and painful, but they were all crucial to my improvement as a player. To move forward I had to put myself into a situation where I was struggling to keep up.

And this is one of the main factors that is stopping many people from becoming better musicians – they are simply afraid to be the worst player in the room.

3 Reasons you need to be the worst

Being the worst player in any musical situation isn’t fun, however it’s a necessary rite of passage if you want to start achieving your musical goals.

Improvement means getting out of your comfort zone and putting your skills to the test. It means finding musicians that are better than you and facing your musical weak spots.

It means being a complete beginner and giving it your best shot.

If you truly want to become a better musician, at some point or another you’ve got to be the worst player in the room.

Here are 3 reasons you should be the worst player in the room.

#1) Raise the musical bar

Right now, what does “good” improvising mean to you?

C’mon think hard about it…

This is a tricky question to ponder because the answer is relative. It’s relative to what you’ve listened to and experienced, and this is always changing.

Is good improvising the same for you as it is for the players that you look up to? Probably not.

The first tangible benefit that you get when you enter a musical situation that’s over your head is that your perspective is immediately altered. What was acceptable or even good before is no longer going to cut it.

The bar has been raised and there is a new set of expectations that you must live up to. It could be the technical expectations on your instrument, the level of improvisation, or the musical repertoire that you’re expected to know.

A new standard has been established and you might not be able to keep up.

Remember, this is a positive thing – it means you’re moving forward. Your eyes and ears have been opened up to new musical possibilities.

When this happens you might notice a strange feeling. You’ve returned to that mindset of discovery, excitement, possibility, growth, and uncertainty. You’ve become a beginner again.

 

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”~Shunryu Suzuki

 

One of the magical aspects of music is that there is always room for discovery and possibility. Each time you raise the bar you encounter a whole new world of possibility.

#2) Surround yourself with better musicians

You have a consistent practice schedule, you’re listening all the time and you have a some gigs. But who do you compare yourself to as a musician?

Your friends? The other musicians in your band? The musicians at your school?

What about the musicians at your local jam session? The best players in New York? Or how about the masters that you hear on your record collection?

The truth is that there are always players out there that are better than you – always.

At each level there are different expectations and different definitions of “good” playing. There is a musical expectation amongst your peers, one with your teachers, and another with the players that you hear at concerts and on recordings.

Your job is to keep propelling yourself to the next level.

How do you do this? You need to seek out the best players around and the musical situations that challenge you:

  • Go to jam sessions
  • Take a lesson from a great player
  • See the best live music and world-class performers in your area
  • Perform as much as you can
  • And surround yourself with musicians that are serious about the music

In these situation you might be a beginner, you might be challenged and struggling, and you might be the worst player in the room. But one thing you can be sure of is that you are surrounded by the musicians that know the answers you’re looking for.

#3) You’re lazy!

I’m lazy. We’re all lazy…

It’s human nature. We want to stay in our comfort zone where we can be self assured and confident at all times. The only problem is that this comfort zone is a trap.

Think about it. Without some sort of push, you’re going to be the same player that you are today, weeks, months or even years from now.

The good news is that there’s nothing more uncomfortable than being the worst player in the room.

In these challenging situations you gain benefits like a new musical perspective and the company of high caliber musicians, but you also gain one more important benefit – motivation.

“You should never be comfortable, man. Being comfortable fouled up a lot of musicians.”~Miles Davis

When you’re the worst player in the room you have a decision to make: you can either quit or push yourself relentlessly to improve.

Those situations in which you fail or struggle to keep up are the ones which will motivate you the most. Nothing will move you to reach your potential as a musician than being the worst player in the room.

Now it’s up to you

Think about it this way.

You aren’t aiming to be terrible, rather you’re simply putting yourself in a musical situations where every player is better than you. You’re in the company of people that have reached the next musical level, musicians that know the answers you’re seeking.

Right now you might avoid jam sessions because you don’t know many tunes. You might hold off on asking a great player for a lesson because you think you’re not good enough yet and you may avoid new musical situations because you are afraid of failing.

But it’s precisely for these reasons that you need to get out there and give it a shot. It’s OK to be the worst.

You’re making some very important musical steps forward: You’re raising the bar of your musical expectations, surrounding yourself with great musicians, and creating a lasting source of motivation.

Musical benefits that you won’t get if you play it safe and hide in your comfort zone.

When you’re the worst player in the room you’re starting the next stage of your musical development. Embrace the opportunity to challenge yourself and be the worst. Truthfully, I’d be more worried if you’re the best player in the room.

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