Author: Schallehn, Bernie
Date published: September 1, 2012
I'm Self-Taught and They're Schooled
I auditioned for and landed a gig with a new band. We've played several shows, and they've gone really well. But after I got to know my bandmates better, I found out that they all have degrees in music. I'm totally self-taught and have never even had one private lesson with an instructor. I'm starting to feel inadequate, like I'm not good enough to play with them. What can I do? HJB
You got the gig. It was your behavior that mattered, which in this case was your drumming. But your current feelings of inadequacy could eventually affect your playing negatively. It might show up first as high anxiety in the rehearsal room or on stage. This anxiety could sabotage your drumming. You might begin to make mistakes, and eventually the band might ask you to leave. Then - in an odd way - you'd feel vindicated. A little voice in your head would affirm, "See! I knew I was never good enough for them."
Thoughts give rise to feelings, and feelings influence behavior. Here's the formula we're going to use to fix your situation: A change in your thoughts will equal a change in your feelings. Once your feelings change, your drumming should stay right in the pocket.
The only difference between you and your bandmates is that you learned your instrument in a different way. Unless you're some sort of child prodigy who played like a pro the instant your parents put sticks in your hands, my guess is that you learned to drum by playing along to songs, watching instructional DVDs, and viewing videos on YouTube.
The term self-taught is really a misnomer. Your teachers were the CDs, DVDs, and downloads that you used to help you figure out how to play drums. You're not truly selftaught - that would connote that you had all those drumming skills in you at the moment of birth and were never influenced by any other drummers. The truth is that you just learned in a different way. You exposed yourself to alternative learning resources, synthesized them, and eventually developed your own skills and style.
Now, does that little shift in thinking make you feel a bit more equal to your bandmates? If it doesn't, here's another way of looking at it.
In essence, the music-school graduates in your band could also consider themselves self-taught. A teacher can stand up in a conventional classroom and offer all sorts of info, but who's responsible for actually learning? The students! They have to absorb and make sense of the subject matter presented to them and then apply it to their own situations.
A few years ago I hiked up a mountain with a group of people. A couple hikers were outfitted with the finest gear money could buy - boots, backpacks, clothing, water bottles, the works. One or two others wore hiking boots and carried storebought hiking sticks. I simply wore work boots with an aggressive tread for traction. One guy showed up in sneakers, cutoff jeans, and a T-shirt, which gota big laugh out of all of us.
But guess how many of us made it to the summit? We all did. And the hikers who had the most elite equipment used only a few of the items they had carried with them.
Remember your days in high school and/or college. In your real life, do you really use all that information that was placed in front of you to absorb? As Paul Simon sings in his song "Kodachrome," "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all."
Did you ever entertain the thought that maybe your music-schooled bandmates are somewhat hindered by all the formal education they had? Could you entertain the possibility that it may be a disadvantage to have all that rigid formality and that it may put a crimp in their creativity just a tad? Just another thought for you to consider.
Last year I took a series of lessons from two excellent local drum instructors. One was wedded to a particular technique. To his way of thinking, it was the only way to hold a stick. The other instructor was very liberal in his approach. His grip was different each time I met with him. His philosophy was to do whatever you have to do to get the job done. So which instructor had the correct technique for holding a drumstick? Both of them!
Here are a couple of closing thoughts that could help you break free of the "I'm not good enough" mentality.
What really matters is that not only did you get the gig, but you've been field tested, and - by your own admission - the performances went really well. You need to keep focusing on this thought until you truly own it.
Lastly, many "name" drummers were self-taught. What matters - for any drummer - is that you consistently deliver the goods in a creative and joyful manner.
Bernie Schallehn has been a drummer and percussionist for over forty-five years. He holds a master's degree in counseling psychology and, while in private practice, held the credentials of a certified clinical mental health counselor and a certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor.