A coming-of-age milestone growing up in ‘90s Britain was joining a band with your friends. It mattered little how much talent you had (or whether you could even play an instrument correctly); it was all about the vibe and tribalism of youth — or something like that. The dream of countless teenagers is to be a rock star, and a recent online discussion highlights the differences between recording artists and garage band upstarts. How many amateur musicians could make it as a pro?
The Gulf Between Class Levels
The original poster shares their interpretation of talent by using an NBA analogy, saying how the gulf between the top college level and professional level is vast. Surely, the same must be said of musicians? From a non-musician perspective, the comparison isn’t easy, so what did accomplished musos have to say?
Keeping Things Tight
A local music club staff member says every type of act graced their stage, from Berklee Kids to high school metal bands. In their opinion, professional musicians are performance-tight in a way other musicians are not. The thousands of hours required to reach the top give the pros the edge over newcomers.
The Elite Ranking System
Musical ability is a hierarchy, though some may bristle at the existence of a “who’s the best” hypothetical. We classify guitarists as simple beginner, intermediate, or advanced status, but this changes once you hit the big time. Many observers argue that session musicians deserve a category above the advanced level: professional, master, or virtuoso.
They Hear Everything
A self-trained musician reveals how he joined a band full of professional session musicians, and even his years of writing, touring, and recording pales compared to their natural ability. They can pick up things on the fly, recite parts for the first time without practice, and hear “everything” you do wrong.
The Importance of Self-Care
Real musicians (vocalists included) take great care of their instruments. For example, a top drummer will re-skin their drums regularly, tune them to perfection, and calibrate each part to its best working condition. Likewise, professional vocalists don’t merely show up and start singing lest they damage their voice. They take a long time warming up each vocal chord, and if they detect a hint of strain, they may even call the performance off.
Great in Theory
Professional musicians complete over ten thousand hours of discipline to become the best, and this usually covers much theory-based learning. Those unaware of musical theory can be overwhelmed when pros discuss their terminology without a second thought.
All in the Release
We all know how tight professional musicians are onstage, and sometimes, it can feel like listening to a recording. However, small nuances play a part in musical performance, especially when recording. The release of a note is almost as crucial as the note itself; even the way you hit a drum alters its sound.
Running Circles Around the Rest
Another anecdote involves an amateur musicians’ group that joins twice a week to jam in their local music hall. Each week, a retired professional session musician joins them, picking up any instrument lying around, and he still schools everyone. One could argue that musicianship is one of the few arts in which age is no detriment to progress.
Play It by Ear
A great video on YouTube reveals Megadeth drummer Dirk Verbeuren listening to a drumless version of The Killers’ “Mr Brightside” once before writing his version. The level of natural and learned skill is alarming, with Verbeuren’s version arguably superior to Mark Stoermer’s original drum track.
The Food Analogy
A great analogy for music (one I have always enjoyed) is musicians being like cookery. Can you compare a short-order cook to a Michelin-star chef? A pro chef must turn out the same flawless, world-class dishes each day for hours, much like a session musician on tour. It doesn’t matter about ingredients so much, though we all know the best chefs choose the best ingredients, much like musicians buy the best instruments.
Not Just About Practice
Sadly, some lifelong musicians can practice to a professional level only for some upstart with no training to upstage them. For example, Buddy Rich is considered by many as the greatest drummer ever, and he was self-taught with nothing more than pure talent. While the gap is big on average, some musical outliers deserve freak-of-nature status.
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