When I was a kid I heard the phrases “Jack of all trades, master of none” and took it quite seriously. It was important to me to get good at music. I was impatient about that, and the phrase immediately made sense.
How good you were at an instrument of course depended on hours spent playing, and the more instruments you play, the less time you’ll be able to devote to each one. Therefore, to be a master of one art I decided it would be best to focus solely on that. I took a music degree and focused on the electric guitar. Playing other instruments, painting, drama and dance had also been big parts of my life before then, but I gave them all up in favour of the chance to become a real master at playing the guitar.
In many ways, my attempt to focus purely on the guitar was a failure, because it was so at odds with my personality. Turns out, I thrive on constant variety. The determination with which I practiced the electric guitar at University, drove me to play the acoustic guitar for fun, and that’s where my creatively found itself. I practiced singing so I could write songs with vocal parts, took up playing bass guitar in order to join a band I liked, and practiced hand percussion in the hope of one day playing drums. But in all this, I made sure I was consistent with my electric guitar practice and never missed a day even if I didn’t feel like it.
10 years later and I find myself giving up these ideas. I no longer have a strict practice schedule in which I practice guitar and vocals every day. Not only that, but I have also taken up playing the silver flute, irish flute, piano, ukulele and anything else I can get hold of, as well as doing creative writing and the occasional painting. I enjoy learning these new things constantly, but I am still haunted by that saying that I took so seriously when I was young; Jack of all trades, master of none. Part of me is frustrated with my inability to simply focus on one discipline, and fears that this will result in a lifetime of being-a-bit-rubbish-at-stuff. So I try and tell myself the following things.
1. There’s no need to be a “master” at any instrument. This is popular music, not classical music. You just need to sound genuine, not virtuosic.
2. You will get better at many things, it’ll just take longer slower.
3. You are focusing on one discipline: songwriting. You’ve always stuck at that. Playing lots of different instruments and trying other art forms feeds your creatively, and THAT’S what’s most important.
Aside from feeling like I don’t know what on earth I’m doing when experimenting with a new art form, I am at my best when I’m doing as many different creative things as possible. They should conflict with each other, but actually I feel as though they feed each other. I’m becoming much more settled in myself and enjoying music much more since I’ve branched out more, and yet I still can’t help but feel the weight of that phrase that I took so literally when I was younger “Jack of all trades, master of none”. Perhaps I can think more positively. Rather than calling myself a “jack of all trades”, I could just call myself a “well rounded musician”.