The “No True Scotsman” of Music

INTRODUCTION TO THE “NO TRUE SCOTSMAN FALLACY”
To understand my point, one must first understand what is known as The No True Scotsman Fallacy. An example of this “circular” type of argument from the link is below.

(1) Angus puts sugar on his porridge.
(2) No (true) Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
Therefore:
(3) Angus is not a (true) Scotsman.
Therefore:
(4) Angus is not a counter-example to the claim that no Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.

This fallacy can be employed and served as an attempt to refute someone’s point in an argument.

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH MUSIC?
I have met many, many musicians over the course of my lifetime. Some of them are good at what they do, and they have a good deal of confidence in what they do.

But then there are others who have been sold a bill of goods, typically by other people, regardless of whether or not they’re a musician. I consider it to be psychological abuse, because it can be paralyzing to a person who is maybe lacking in confidence.

In keeping with the format of the example above:

(1) Joe is a guitarist, but cannot sweep pick.
(2) No (true) guitarist is lacking in sweep pick abilities.
Therefore:
(3) Joe is not a (true) guitarist.
Therefore:
(4) Joe is not a counter-example to the claim that no guitarist is lacking in sweep pick abilities.

In other words: Steve Vai shreds on guitar, and you’re not a real guitarist until you can play like him.

This can be done with any instrument. Just take someone who is highly-talented, use them as the benchmark, and then proceed to insult and belittle.

If you’re feeling like your not a real musician, then please read on, because I do have some good news for you.

WHAT IS THE BENCHMARK?
Is Steve Vai the benchmark of guitar? What about Andres Segovia? Certainly, they are masters at what they do. But they are not the benchmark for what makes a musician, even though they are/were highly incredible players. Declaring them to be the benchmark is dishonest, discouraging, and ignorant.

It’s also not a healthy way to think about it.

What is fair to say about the likes of Vai or Segovia, is that they are inspirations. Also, they are aspirations. It is healthy and realistic to say that you’d like to play like them one day, or to be as good as them one day.

The fact that you might not yet be there does not mean that you are not a musician.

A POPULAR DRUMMER ARGUMENT
One I’ve encountered is that “Ringo is a horrible drummer, because of how simple he plays.” The idea here is that Ringo stinks as a drummer, or may not even be a “true drummer,” because he’s not shredding the kit like Buddy Rich.

The video is a clue into why this argument is fallacious.

Indeed, playing for the song and the genre is what makes Ringo a great musician. Now, if he wanted to play drums for a speed metal band, then he’d have a complete host of problems, as well as a ton of work ahead of him. He’d have to dedicate years, or maybe even a decade or more, to be able to do this.

Does Ringo suck because he cannot play speed metal? Of course not.

THAT’S NOT WHAT I PLAY
This is the best response to give to someone who has this type of criticism about your playing. It’s one thing for them to note that you need work on timing, or maybe you need to be more smooth. But it’s another to say that you “suck” or are not a “real musician” because you can’t do a certain trick on the instrument.

That’s not what I play.

WHO SAYS THESE THINGS
You can encounter them at a music store, or maybe at a club. It’s usually someone who cannot yet do the things they’re laying at your feet. In that case, they’re trying to compensate for their own bad feelings about themselves.

If they can play like that, and have this attitude, then they’re just being a jerk about it.

WHO DOES NOT SAY THESE THINGS
I used to go to this open jam, where you sign up on the list, and then get called up to play a few songs when it’s your turn. Sometimes I’d sign up for drums. On a few occasions, when lots of drummers showed up, I’d sign up to play fretless bass.

These people are world-class musicians who are confident in their abilities. Sometimes they make mistakes. But they are always having fun. That’s why they do it.

It’s a community activity, and not a competition. Nobody there ever talked about how they were better than this other guy. Ever.

WHEN DID I BECOME A MUSICIAN?
This is something that I’ve thought about while writing this. Did I become a musician when I moved to LA to play on historic stages in the mid-1980s? Did I become a musician when I recorded my first tracks in 1978? Did I become a musician when I joined the school band in 1971?

We can go deeper. Did I become a musician when I could sight-read? Did I become a musician when I was first introduced to Music Theory in 1983? Did I become a musician when I could finally play my first song?

Have I not yet become a real musician??

Dan Baby Drum Trash Can 2px - Spring 1966
Me, drumming on a trash can at 18 months old [Summer 1966]
One might suggest that I became a musician when I first showed interest in playing music.

 

THE ANSWER REVEALED
Since I first showed interest when I was 18 months old, I would say that at this stage I was emulating my uncle’s band drummer, while showing a high level of interest and aptitude.

I actually became a musician when I was four years old, because this was when I became a student.

My uncle, who played guitar in his band, sat me down and wrote out how to play an F Major scale on the guitar. He did this when the band was on break. After he wrote this, he left me with his guitar and the paper, while he went outside to hang with the band.

I looked at the paper, looked at the guitar, and started trying to play it. It was pain-stakingly horrible. My fingers were too little. I did not yet have technique of any kind.

However, I was trying, and I was learning. This is what music students do.

Once you are a student of music, you have become a musician.

WHO IS A STUDENT?
In the past, I’ve studied with many music teachers. Since that day with my uncle, and subsequent days with him, I studied with various grade school and high school band directors. I studied drums with John W. McMahan, author of “Readin’, Ritin’, and Rudiments: A Collection of Studies for the Beginning Snare Drummer.” I continued drum studies in junior high with Richard Paul, who would later be my professor at Ball State University.

Kindergarten Report Card 1.jpg
Kindergarten report card from 1970-71. The “S-” grade in Music was due to my difficult with the social aspects of music. Kindergarten was my introduction to doing things with other kids.

After that, I kept on taking lessons whenever I could. I took some private drum lessons with Chad Wackerman, and also paid attention and learned from every musician I have ever met.

Lately, I have been taking guitar lessons from a professional guitarist. While I keep his name private for security reasons, and out of respect for his privacy, he has made a name in the music industry, and has contributed to albums that will truly stand the test of time.

He has been playing guitar for over 50 years, and yet [according to him], he has not yet mastered the guitar. Adding to this, he says that he never will master the guitar, as there is not enough time in anyone’s life to actually do this. The guitar is an Infinite Instrument, because you have a complete small orchestra at your fingertips.

Imagine how things would be if he could not call himself a musician until he’s mastered his instrument. There would be no point to any of it.

He got good at his genre-of-focus [and others], at songwriting, and other abilities. Then, he started branching out to discover other aspects of guitar, such as classical playing. While there are still things that he does not know [because knowing it all would be impossible], or has not yet conquered, he is farther along than I can ever get, even if I practiced 5 hours per day every day for the rest of my life.

A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE
My perspective of his playing is that he’s a genius and a major talent. To himself, it’s a different story. He’s never happy with anything that he’s ever done. He writes something and records it. Then, by the time it is mixed, mastered, and released, he’s already moved on. He’s already moved forward. That song he recorded in the past is now “old hat,” and not representative of what he can do now.

Dan Lapel Talent Show late 80s
High school talent show, playing Ozzy’s new hit, “Goodbye To Romance” [late 1981]
Some of that could be real. Some of it could be psychological. I think that GREAT musicians are never satisfied with where they are. This is how they become great.

When I told the guys in my band that I was taking guitar lessons, they were curious. “Why are you taking lessons? You’re already a great guitarist.”

From my perspective, I am not, which is why I am taking lessons and learning. I will be learning until the day I die, or the day that I move on. I haven’t moved on from music in 53 years, so I have doubts that it will happen.

When I was young, I was in awe of punk rockers who painfully pushed out three chords on the guitar, with each chord the result of a down-stroke in 8th notes.

Players like that sold more guitars than shredders, because what they played was more accessible. But I digress. The point is, I’m not going to say that this is NOT music, because it’s too simple or easy, or any other reason. Even if I did not like it at all, saying it stinks does not mean that it’s not music, or that they are not musicians.

They’re a different type of musician.

GET ON A PATH
What you have to do is choose a path.

In my guitar lessons, I’ve been diving into music theory and various concepts that apply specifically to the guitar. I could easily get drowned in music theory. It did happen once, and I actually panicked.

Now that I have these concepts in my lap, I have to work on them every day for years to get to a point where I can effective utilize them in my playing and songwriting.

Now, I have to decide where I want to go with it. I’m thinking of tasty blues-style lead playing. This is a good example of where I’d like to go.

I’m choosing this style, not because it’s easy. In fact, it’s far from easy. However, it is spacious and open. I do not feel the need to fill every single beat of the music with as many notes as humanly possible.

My first goal is to get to a place where I can improvise something interesting and musical. Should I happen to build speed, which could happen since I work with a click track or backing tracks, then that will be a bonus.

The reason why I have to choose a path is simply because life is too short. If I try to learn as much as possible about guitar, and I don’t make music, then there might be little point to it all, beyond accomplishing things for my own growth.

Supposing that I go with the path of a tasty blues-style lead player, I can focus on the aspects of that particular style. I don’t have to sit and spend time on Classical playing, or metal shredding, and similar things. There are an infinite amount of paths to take.

That’s not to say that I could not later wish to focus on those and add aspects of it to my own path and style.

The point is to get good at what you want to play.

HOW TO BE A GOOD STUDENT
Communicate with your teacher/mentor about your goals and challenges. Do your homework. Practice every single day. 20 minutes per day, every day, is by far better than a few hours during the weekend. Building synaptic connections in your brain, and having those work in conjunction with your muscles, is the goal with daily practice.

Ask questions. Talk about what’s not yet working for you, and why. Be open to critiques about your playing, as well as your technique.

Being interested, curious, and willing to learn, are good attributes for any student.

1977 Bedroom
Making do with what I had [1977]
Remember to have fun and enjoy it.

For me, outside of a brief period in my relatively recent past, where I had some anxiety related to learning music theory, I’ve truly enjoyed every minute that I’ve ever spent with an instrument.

That difficulty I had there is not the first time that I’ve encountered difficulty. It’s also not the first time that I’ve had some anxiety. Sometimes it can happen.

When it does happen, it’s important to stop, breathe, and put it all into perspective.

You’re learning how to do something that will ultimately be fun. Try to relax, and enjoy the learning process, as well as the horrible sounds that you’ll make at first. There is work to be done, but the results are worth it all.

NOW ACCEPTING STUDENTS
I am in a place where I am accepting entry-level music students. If you are interested, then please consider visiting my website for more info, and then contacting me if you have any questions. You can also leave comment questions on this blog.

So whenever someone says that you’re “not a musician” because you can’t do something, remember that they might be a jerk, or they could be insecure. “You’re right. I cannot play that. Yet.”

For almost 50 years, I have enjoyed being a student of music. I am looking forward to the continuation of this journey. I’m excited to find out what will happen next.

NMBar

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