Pretty Good

I have never understood why some people are content to be “pretty good”, even at something they profess to be very serious about.

I know people who are doing professional musical things who will readily admit that they aren’t particularly good but who do nothing to improve their skills or abilities. They spend their free time traveling for fun, writing on topics unrelated to their work or participating in groups that ask for some kind of commitment in terms of time and energy that are also unrelated. I know people who claim to be “professional singers” who haven’t had a paying job in decades. I know people who are willing to stand up in front of an audience and sing regardless of whether or not they sound good. Maybe the fun of singing in front of others trumps common sense? Maybe they think they sound just fine? Maybe they think it doesn’t matter as long as they know the words and the music?

Even very musical people who should have the ears to hear sometimes don’t. People who have enormous amounts of musical expertise may be intellectually superior but that doesn’t make them terrific artists. I have met quite a few people over the decades who fell into a musical job because they had some training but sadly they did not also have the level of skills that should also have gone with it. Skill building in such a circumstance would not be a nicety, it would be a requirement. Of course, that means the person would have to have the desire and the sensibility to improve.

Why is it that some individuals think they are better than they are and some think they are not very good when in fact they are excellent? As a teacher I have encountered both kinds of singers and it’s quite difficult to get them to re-evaluate their opinions and they can’t work to change things until they do. Kind of a Catch-22.

Don’t go through life being “pretty good” at anything. Have the guts to really commit, learn to be absolutely excellent without qualification and don’t give up until you get there. You are worth what it takes to become a master. If you don’t know whether or not your skill set measures up to industry standards, find three working professionals, do your thing, and ask them for an honest evaluation. Pretty good is pretty useless.

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4 thoughts on “Pretty Good”

  1. “Why is it that some individuals think they are better than they are and some think they are not very good when in fact they are excellent?”

    I’m not a professional singer, but I am an academic, so I give you my take on it from that perspective: Singing, like making an argument, always requires being open to the fact that you are wrong. You must be constantly asking yourself: does the argument make sense? What if I’m wrong about this? Could someone read this and ask….? Poor academics think they are great, because they do not ask themselves those questions. They think that they are always right, and their work suffers because they never even consider the alternative.

    Good academics ask themselves those questions all the time, and have the integrity to face the answers and revise. But that doesn’t lend itself to a lot of self-confidence.

  2. Hi Jeanie, thanks for this, I shared your article with a friend who is a highly skilled blues singer who was wondering why her equally -skilled lead guitar player has a band of his own where he sings poorly and chooses to perform in public that way.

    Here is a quote, on the subject form an article about a bel canto master, Trivulsi that you might find interesting.

    “amateurs rarely sing very well. They pay not attention to detail; their voices are so uncultured; that they often fail in expressing what they wish, owing to their throats being unable to respond to the calls that are made upon them. They have little idea of time, and no knowledge of phrasing. They say, ‘Oh, I only sing for pleasure;’ and they forget that one either sings well or badly. Nothing is so annoying as a mediocrity; and I sometimes think that is the real definition of the word dilettanti. In the first place, the reason is that they cannot, or will not, devote enough time to necessary study; a little hard work goes a great way, but it must be serious”
    The whole quote in context can be read at:
    http://www.voice-talk.net/2014/06/trivulsi-interesting-facts-about-great.html

    I especially like the quote, “one either sings well or badly “. It fits right in with a quote from a great maestro with standards who said at a rehearsal once “If it ain’t great it’s sh*t”.

    I believe that as well as “the word dilettanti. In the first place, the reason is that they cannot, or will not, devote enough time to necessary study; a little hard work goes a great way, but it must be serious”.

    Often I attend events/productions where my own students are singing well and their colleagues are singing poorly. It is frustrating for me as a voice teacher because I know exactly how to make each one sound good.

    Why would someone struggle for years singing poorly, when effective singing instruction would help? I think it is not always the lack of desire to be a god singer, I think it is also that the vast majority of teacher of singing are NOT effective, so the general public does not know how much good instruction could help them.

  3. It reminds me of the Yeats quote (from The Second Coming):
    “The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.”

    I see that a lot, in every walk of life, in politics, in the arts. Luckily, Jeanie, you do NOT lack all conviction!!
    -Michelle Rosen

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