There comes a time in a developing musician's training, where they begin to be quite adept at their instrument or their writing. While the beginnings of training and experimentation are focused on merely getting a handle on the basics, as time goes on, the artist moves towards the extremes of coordination. And ornamentation. And improvisation. And dissonance. And complex rhythms. And feedback and distortion. And pitch bending. And experimental forms. And lyrics that test the boundaries of audiences' willingness to go along for the ride. This wing-spreading is integral. It's part of how we begin to know ourselves as creatives. We gather skills that we decide are important to us.

But skills are not music. Skills provide you with the ability to create the music you always dreamed of. Skills are a rite of passage, a hazing into this exclusive club of nerdy, cool one-uppers with a pipe dream. Skills have the power to put you in touch with yourself as you are able to finally express the same feelings as your idol musicians. And sometimes, skills are an excuse to hide from the truly honest and terrifying process of actually making music.

Skills are about as useful as having a fridge full of ingredients when you have a dinner party starting at 7:00; you either know how to cook, or you don't. And trust me, no one wants all of your ingredients in every dish.

What really makes music music is the artist's ability to balance their skills as necessary for the song at hand: restraint. The art of deciding what's necessary for this song, right now, for this crowd. Where is the space in the music? Where is lighter head voice instead of the belt? What good is that riff right there, or is it only for showing off? Where is the feel of this song, why, and which skills carry that across the fourth wall of the stage or through the recording? And this skill requires more listening than doing.

To be added to this viewpoint is the knowledge that every single one of us has limits to our skill set. But restraint can be practiced at any time. If you're not quite sure what I mean by restraint, you may still be in the expansion phase. In that case, keep pushing. But if this does ring a little bell of conviction for you, as it does for me even as I write it, next time you create, ask yourself: "What is the message of this song? How can I communicate that most effectively with the skills I have at this time?" Let it be as simple or complex as the message and the moment demands. The balance is definitely a personal one. I just encourage you to look for it. 



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