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Editor's Notes

Strengths vs. Weaknesses

jake kotAs of late, I’ve been working on a new project called Applied Imagination. I’m giving two hour seminars on the topic of Creativity. My need to bring this up is not centered on boasting about my latest endeavor, it’s about sharing a quote that I discovered while putting my program together that I feel is relevant to any artist on the path to discovering how to get to that infamous “next level”. It is written by the author Howard Gardner, out of his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences…as follows:

“The people we most admire are smart in certain ways. The question is not ‘How smart are you? It’s How are you smart”?

Let me paraphrase that to make a point from a musical perspective I feel worth sharing. In the all consuming question, what should the focus of my studies be centered on, consider this: Instead of purely focusing your attention on your weaknesses, and how to take care of them, why not consider focusing on what your good at, and getting better at it.

Due to our long set (and outdated in my opinion) educational process, we’re more or less trained and persuaded to put the center of attention on our weaknesses—the bad grades per se. I’m not necessarily condemning that approach as much as I’m concerned with that becoming where the majority of one’s time is spent on their studies. There “has” to be a balance. Not spending equal time developing your strengths is in my best judgment counter-productive.

This is most assuredly tricky territory. Part of any instructor’s obligation to their students is to continually present those weaknesses in our makeup, but without there being at the very least equal time delegated to enhancing our personal, and I do want to emphasize personal strengths, I don’t feel any of us would be actually seeing the true progress that we are capable of, which brings me to agreement with Mr. Gardner’s quote.

Have a different opinion? Please write back. Discourse is truly at the heart of any learning process, and I welcome it. I hope at best, I at least got you “thinking”…then I’ve done my job.


Jake Kot



  1. Joe

    May 6, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    I like to try to think of music as a language, and I personally think that the best way to learn it is the same way you learn a language as a child.

    I find that if you immerse yourself in music, and you interact constantly with other musicians, your playing naturally improves in almost all areas, without spending time working on individual strengths or weaknesses.

    When you were a kid did you ever stop and think “man, I really need to work on my adverbs” and then spend hours on end sat alone repeating fragments of sentences to yourself? I’d like to hope not.

    Sure sometimes you need to look a word up to see what it means or how it is pronounced or in which context you should use it, and I think the same is true of music; sometimes you need to sit out and figure out what notes someone played over what kind of chord to get a specific sound, and in doing so you increase your “musical vocabulary”, but I personally think it’s better to then find a way to fit it into a group setting than to sit alone and shed licks over some Aebersold play alongs until you feel fully comfortable with the ideas.

    This is only my personal view, and I completely appreciate that personal practice works very well for many musicians, a large proportion of which are probably far better than I will ever be, but I would love to hear your view on this.


  2. Jake Kot

    Jake Kot

    May 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts. First off, you’re in very good company as far as seeing music as a language is concerned. Both Victor Wooten and Alain Caron have shared these same thoughts in the interviews I’ve done with them.

    I believe our development through understanding music as a language is a natural process that hapeens for all of us on some level, whether or not we put a focus on it. We are in essence always “speaking” through our instrument, and for some, heightening that awareness might be advantageous. I kind of share Alain’s view on this. Music “is” a language, and it’s in one’s best interest to understand that dynamic. But he balances that premise with a thorough look into the theoritical side of playing to have a better “understanding” of that language. With the studying I’ve been immeresed in as of late, the development of one’s creative potential, I’ve found an ongoing theme if you will after reading the thoughts of many of the masters in this area, musical and beyond, and that repeated theme is “know the domain”.

    As with anything else, it’s a diversification of knowledge that seems to be the most rewarding. And I’ll follow that with a quote I”ve stated many times, especially to my students; There is no one particular path that works for eveyone. Discover who you are, learn how you work, trust your instincts, and commit to your passion. Thanks again for your insights.


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