Listening to masterful musicians stirs me to delve into their songs and tempts me to replicate their sound. Since middle school, I jammed to Led Zeppelin, Billy Joel, The Who, and The Beatles (and occasionally Howard Stern). I never sickened of the big-break billboard hits because the music was powerful and intricate. The interplay between harmony and melody and instrumentation and vocals mesmerized me. Rhythm rocked my soul.
After spending the last few years digging into these classic rock songs, I decided I needed to play like these guitarists I was obsessing over. I started playing guitar almost two years ago, and I continue to learn, grow, and develop my craft each day. However, as I enter the intermediate stage of guitar playing, I quickly encounter problems with my progress. My skill level is not growing as rapidly as it used to, and everything is becoming more of a headache to learn as I take on more challenging songs.
Guitar is my favorite craft to practice, but craft can be anything challenging that takes time and effort to learn: like stand-up comedy, painting, paving streets, teaching college students, or meditation. Mastering a craft means being able to produce a result that shows exceptional understanding and practice of the particular skill.
I’ve been digging around to figure out what works for other masters of their craft to help me on my goal of mastery. In my search, I found something inspiring but familiar in Taylor Swift, Jerry Garcia, and Jerry Seinfeld. Each is inarguably a master of their craft, but they carry three critical attributes that helped them achieve enduring success: they all have consumed prolonged hours of their lives developing their skills, dedicated their lives to their craft, and conveyed confident humility about their abilities.
Practice for 10,000 hours:
In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, he states, “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.” The iconic 10,000-hour rule has evolved into a timeless staple of achieving mastery. The practice of laboring away on your instrument is how most successful performers develop their craft. Jerry Garcia was known to spend around 7-8 hours each day practicing guitar, and Taylor Swift spent close to 4-6 hours each day working on guitar, piano, and songwriting.
Jerry Seinfeld first started doing comedy in 1976, and got his first big break in 1981, when he got national exposure on The Tonight Show, with Jimmy Carson. He dedicated twelve years of his life to developing his skill until he scored his first season of Seinfeld in 1988. To this day, Jerry Seinfeld ran one of the greatest running shows of all time. Jerry Seinfeld, Jerry Garcia, and Taylor Swift each refined their craft by studying, relearning, and failing for years until they produced outstanding end products.
Dedicate your life:
Practicing consistently is entirely dependent on your obsession with the craft. Jerry Seinfeld defines craft obsession by constantly coming up with comedy bits. He explained his creative mindset in an interview with Howard Stern, stating, “It’s like going into the gym every day. You walk in and you go, ‘Oh jeez, I gotta do this again?’ Your blessing in life is when you find the torture you're comfortable with… and you will do well.” Seinfeld explains that he dedicates his life by using every experience, thought, and idea as a possible bit. Although it can be a bit annoying for him to be thinking about comedy constantly, he finds that the end product is worth the aggravation.
Taylor Swift’s writing process proves she is obsessed with her craft. She generates songs with her life experiences, at any time or place. Taylor Swift said, “Writing just kind of happens to me. No matter where I am, at four in the morning or in the middle of a conversation, I will get an idea. I will have to record it on my cell phone so I do not forget.” Her mindset of writing down ideas helps her come up with songs that are authentic, original, and successful. This strategy has helped her produce sixteen albums, become the highest-earning musician of this decade, and the only artist in history to claim all top ten entries on the Billboard Hot 100 in a single week.
Jerry Garcia is one of the greatest guitarists because he was obsessed with studying other guitarists in his free time. He stated, “Well part of the thing about music is the thing of staying interested, and you have to motivate yourself.” To keep his creative juices flowing, he studied a variety of artists and used their techniques to develop his playing style. Garcia elevated his performance by building a pallet of tones.
If we all dedicate ourselves to our craft, we will have more time to develop our craft, more creative energy to expand our understanding of the craft, and better explore new pathways to performing the craft.
Adam Grant came up with the concept of confident humility. Confident humility means being knowledgeable about limitations in your expertise but also having assurance in your ability to conquer your weaknesses through studying and practicing. When we use confident humility, we are open to learning, growing, gratitude, love, and opening up the soul.
Jerry Garcia led the Grateful Dead as head guitarist and vocalist, while also being known as one of the greatest guitarists in history for his unique tone, knowledge of the guitar, ability to improvise, and pioneering in the wave of custom gear. While he seems to be well-established in the music world, he showed signs of confident humility. He believed that each performer’s own skillset and tone represent their limitations.
Garcia understood that his music knowledge was limited to what he knew but also expanded his understanding of guitar by reading books on music theory and studying other performers. In listening to Jerry Garcia: The Complete 1985 "Frets" Interview, when the interviewer asks if Garcia is satisfied with his accomplishments in his carrier, he says, “No, not at all. I still think of myself as someone trying to learn how to play the guitar. If I learn how to play I'll be really happy.” Garcia, who at that point was more than a decade past his peak in 1972, sees himself as a student of the guitar, still learning and exploring. He does not allow his achievements to blind his goal of studying guitar.
Jerry Seinfeld starred in one of the greatest television shows in history for nine whole seasons and what made the show special was that each cast member got amazing lines. Seinfeld was completely against keeping all the best lines for himself even though he was the star, the writer, and the executive producer. Seinfeld establishes his confident humility because he was confident in his writing and directing but allowed others to share the glory of the successful show.
Taylor Swift has confident humility because she treats herself as a regular person and relates well with her fans. Her ability to address herself in a humbling manner while using her freedom of speech to push good causes has helped her have a real impact and maintain the most loyal fanbase on the planet. Her ability to stay strong and humble has boosted her writing, performing, and promoting.
To achieve mastery, you need to put in the hours, dedicate yourself and change your mindset. When applying these skills, you will spend lots of time facing new challenges. Learn from previous successes through reading—like Steven Spielberg, Kevin Hart, Harry Styles, and Kirt Kulbain—and you will find that all of these people faced many challenges and rejections but pushed themselves to continue learning and growing. To be a step closer to your goals, or even reach mastery in your own field, pursue these skills and think of yourself as a student, always learning new skills and developing better habits. By reading this article, you are on the right track to achieving your goals of mastery.