Mozart was a musical genius right? Most of us know this to be true. He started composing symphonies at the age of 5. Take a second and think about that. Not simple melodies with accompaniment. But full blown orchestral symphonies.
And bassist Victor Wooten is a similar story. His eldest brother started teaching him the bass when he was 3 so that he could hold down that role in the family band. By the time he was 5 he was playing professionally in nightclubs with the family band..
The common feeling is that these guys were blessed with talent when they were born. And it was sure to come out.
Most people like to believe in the ‘born talented’ concept because it gives them an excuse to fail
You can hear an echo of this feeling when bass players talk about other bass players: Wow, that Victor Wooten is so talented. I wish I was as talented as him. Or: I love Geddy Lee’s playing, that guy rocks. I wish I could play like him.
And what they leave unsaid is this unspoken belief: I’m not as good as him because he was lucky and was just born talented. And if someone truly believes that about themselves they WILL fail.
But there’s some important facts these guys are not aware of, or not thinking about, or vaguely know about but have let slide into their subsconscious.
If you ask piano (and classical music) students which are Mozart’s best (and most played) works you’ll find amongst the answers The Piano Concerto No 9.
This was probably the first work that Mozart did that’s still regarded as a Masterpiece – which was composed when Mozart was 21.
And what’s not generally known or talked about in the ‘Mozart’ story is the role of Mozart’s father Leonard – who was a famous performer and composer in his own right. Leonard Mozart initiated the younger Mozart into an intensive program of performing and composing.
So by the time he composed the Piano Concerto Number 9 the younger Mozart had been training for 18 years.
And it’s a similar story with Victor Wooten
Whilst he was playing professionally from age 8, he didn’t start garnering critical accolades until the late 80s – when he was 25. By which time he’d been practicing and learning for 20 years.
And he didn’t really explode onto the collective consciousness of bass players until 1993 (when he was 29) – which gave him another 4 years of practice and learning.
So what’s the significance of all this?
The significance is in the thousands of hours training that Mozart and Victor Wooten put in to get where they got to be (and are still going in VW’s case).
There’s a common meme making the rounds at the moment that 10,000 of work is approximately what it takes to be great. If you break that down that works out at 3 hours a day, every day, for 10 years.
So by the time Mozart composed the Piano Concerto Number 9 he’d had 18 years of hard work. By the time Victor Wooten became an ‘overnight sensation’ he’d been training for 24 years.
So if you do the maths on practicing even two hours a day you shouldn’t be surprised that Victor Wooten is as good as he is. Or that Mozart – whose Father was a notorious taskmaster – became great.
And this why when people say something like: I could never get as good as THAT guy, he’s got more talent than me, they’re peddling false wisdom and selling themselves short.
Because the truth is that in every field of endeavour the people who succeed – who are then perceived as being talented – share one common trait.
Talent equals hard work over time
But it’s not just hard work over time. Because there are millions upon millions of people on this planet who go about a daily activity (it’s called a job), and do it year on year and just don’t get any better at what they’re doing.
But if you factor in change to this daily activity you can boost results. Studies with typists whose speed has been consistent for years have shown that fresh training and incentivising what they are doing leads to sudden improvements in performance (measured in terms of accuracy and speed).
So it’s not just hard work over time. It’s making sure that the hard work being done is consistently challenging and consistently designed to improve.
And this leads us to why you can’t be Mozart. Or Victor Wooten
It’s not that they were born with a unique talent that you just don’t have.
It’s because they were born in a unique environment. And that unique environment gave them a unique training method that took them from being beginners to being World Class.
Mozart’s training came from his father. And Victor’s came from his brothers, and then from his own practicing and learning. (This is a guy who transcribed EVERY track on the Stanley Clarke ‘School Days’ album when he was 12 or 13. And from vinyl. Go and download any track at random from ‘School Days’ on iTunes and you’ll begin to appreciate WHY Victor Wooten is such a bass master.)
And though we can’t be Mozart or Victor we can be ourselves. And the system that Mozart and Victor used to get to the level of proficiency that they achieved has been uncovered. And spelt out. And you can use that system to ensure that your own practice is used effectively to make you better.
The man who uncovered this system of improvement was Dr Anders Ericsson. He called this system Deliberate Practice. If you want to get better at the bass guitar the sooner you apply this system to your practicing, the quicker you’ll start seeing constant and continuous progress on a consistent basis.