How often do you compare yourself to other musicians? The question surfaced today in separate conversations with two musicians. One musician is very experienced and the other is just starting out on her journey but the process of unhelpful comparison was causing problems for both. The established guitarist and singer recalled how she would always seek out musicians with whom she could compare herself. In my life, I had spent much time comparing myself to other musicians. The end result was always the same; I felt inferior and believed I was seriously inadequate as a musician and wasted valuable time I could have been practising. Comparing can become a habit and a very negative pattern. There was a time in my life when I would seek out as many opportunities to compare and judge myself harshly as possible. It was indeed a habit and one which spiralled into even poorer self-esteem and lower self-confidence. I shared my woeful tale with the singer and she nodded, smiled and understood. She had realised it was a bad habit when in her own negative comparing mind, a drunken, out of tune karaoke performer had out-performed her! Her partner reminded her this was ridiculous and the comparing had gotten out of hand! QUIT THE COMPARISONS! Does this sound like an effective strategy?
The other young musician I encountered today, compared herself to other songwriters on Youtube and told me at length how she was of an inferior standard. I found it fascinating how anyone could compare songwriting skills and reach the conclusion that they were “Not as good”. I reminded her that nobody could do what she does as a songwriter better than she. Her skills are unique and yes, she could get better and make improvements in her own skills but she must always keep writing and performing. We can all do this. I mentioned the idea that comparisons were like playing the children’s card game, Top Trumps. You pick one attribute and compare it to another musician’s attribute. If you lack confidence, you pick your worst attribute and compare it to a musician’s best attribute. For many years I fell into the bad habit of berating myself for being such a poor sight-reader. If I saw pianist who could play even the most difficult piece fluently from sight, I would use it as evidence that I was inadequate. I needed to look at what I did well and focus on what I wanted to achieve. Now I enjoy listening to the best Jazz pianists and the best singers and songwriters. I listen for enjoyment and know I can learn something from each of them. We are either getting better or we are getting worse and self-judgement is rarely a useful part of the process of getting better. We can only become a poor imitation if we try to copy and aspire to the goals of others. Aspire to be the best version of YOU, that you can be. Do things YOUR way but be open to ideas, learning from the people we admire. There is a real difference between comparison and admiration. Effective happy musicians learn from the people they admire. They are often like Magpies in that they borrow and steal ideas from others. So how do you get better?
The best way I have found to stop myself making comparisons is to ask, “What is unique about me as a musician or songwriter? What do I do particularly well?” Spend time thinking about the musical things you want to do and the message you want to get across. Make your music more about doing than thinking. Plan musical events or performances which will gradually change your mind set. Feeling jealous by somebody else’s abilities and skills can be replaced with, “What can I learn from this person?” Ask yourself what would you like to do musically and HOW do you want to go about making the music your own. So in short,
- Turn comparisons into admiration.
- Remind yourself about your own best musical characteristics.
- Ask yourself WHAT you want to get across when you sing or play a piece of music. Your message is unique.
- Make your musical focus more about DOING than thinking.
- If you catch yourself comparing your own skills with another musician, immediately say, “What can I learn from this musician in my own musical performance?”
- Be a musical magpie and borrow or steal ideas and make them your own.