The Power of Persistence

There have been many times where some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as a player have come from non musical sources. That is, sometimes life in general is the greatest teacher of all. I did briefly discuss this topic of persistence in the improvisation section, but I really feel it necessary to explore it in greater detail because it is such an essential attribute to have to be a professional musician.

In today’s world, it is simply not enough to be talented to be successful. Talent without persistence will never get you anywhere. There are so many naturally talented people out there…especially in the music world of music. To be a truly great musician however, persistence and determination are absolutely essential. I can’t tell you how many stories of I’ve heard of really successful artists getting rejected by just about every major record label in the early days of their career before finally getting accepted. They kept at it and kept at it. What you need to remember is, there are a lot of talented people out there, but many of them do give up. The question you need to ask yourself is, what would it take to make you stop doing what you’re doing? Here are some characteristics of persistence.

  • Persistence says it’s ALWAYS too soon to quit
  • a big shot is really a little shot who just kept on shooting
  • persistence doesn’t need public approval
  • persistent people are not controlled by circumstances or other people
  • persistence is bold, fearless, daring….and doesn’t blame other people for lack of success

The bible says that he who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not worthy of the kingdom of God. Abraham Lincoln ran the presidential election over 10 times before finally becoming elected. He was one of the greatest presidents ever.

  • falling down doesn’t make you a failure, staying down does
  • you will never outgrow conflict…you simply must learn to fight
  • persistence produces success
  • persistence is proof of passion
  • struggle is proof you haven’t been conquered
  • persistence is a decision you make

There seems to be this misconception that getting signed to a record label, or becoming a big music star is simply being at the right place at the right time….or who you know. I should tell you that having studied the careers of many very high profile musicians in all genres, I can’t tell you how profoundly ignorant this line of thought is. It is no accident that people like Pat Metheny, Steve Vai, or John Coltrane are who they are (were). Their success certainly had nothing to do with being at the right place at the right time. These are people who practiced 10-15 hours a day for extended periods of time throughout their lifetime. There are stories of how John Coltrane would between sets on one of his gigs, go out to the back alley of the club and would start practicing until it was time to go on again. Sonny Rollins used to climb up into the rafters over the bridges of New York and practice long hours. These people fully committed their lives to becoming the best musicians they can be. They toured extensively, sometimes sleeping on floors and getting paid next to nothing in the early stages. The intensity and the determination people like these demonstrate is absolutely awesome.

For me, this is the model that I use. These are the musicians that I look up to, and when I see what it took for them to get to their ability level…it really makes me stop and think about how I choose to allocate my time.

This is such a no brainer concept, but maintaining a persistent attitude at all times in all situations is not always something that comes easy . Let me reiterate one statement though…persistence is proof of passion. If you’re truly committed to something, and truly passionate about it, giving up is never an option. This is true in any relationship one might have…be it the relationship they have with their career, or relationship with another person. When you’re truly passionate about something or someone, it’s amazing the sacrifices you are suddenly willing to make.

I hear a lot of people comment about how “talented” someone is musically. When you see someone up on stage performing, most people are unaware of the amount of time and sacrifice that person has invested into doing what they do. John Coltrane didn’t just wake up one day humming the solo to Giant steps. He had been shedding that stuff for over a year…and he was already one of the best saxophonists in the world at the time he started working on it. This certainly is the same in any profession…natural talent only takes you so far. How good you want to become is totally dependent on how hard you are willing to work for it. You get what you give.

I’ve written this essay to serve as a piece of encouragement to anyone who is struggling in their music career, or with their current abilities as a musician. Right now as I’m writing this, I am currently working on my own career and playing abilities. Some days I feel really discouraged from pursuing music any longer as a profession. I’ve often thought it would have been easier to become a lawyer or something and have a steady pay cheque…;). Ultimately every profession has it’s difficulties and challenges. When I think about what other musicians have gone through to get to where they are, and how long it took them to get there, that in itself is really encouraging to me because I know I’m not alone. Not only that, I just love music too much to suddenly walk away from it.

When I think about where I started as a guitarist and listening to early recordings of myself, I know how much I’ve learned and how much I have improved. This is the same with any individual player…and that’s a victory in itself that no one can ever take away from you.

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