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The Jazz Approach to Mastery
When Less of the Same is More, Range Chapter 3
Jack Cecchini is one of the rare musicians who mastered jazz and classical music, according to David Epstein (p. 68). But his ability to become world-class wasn’t because he spent all his life learning both disciplines, from childhood to adulthood. Conversely, Cecchini had a late and haphazard start.
Cecchini says he’s about 98% self-taught. Early in his learning process, he switched between instruments often. Cecchini found his way through trial and error. Cecchini also notes that most of the legends he played with (Duke Ellington, Johnny Smith, Dave Brubeck, Django Reinhardt) were like him. They all started late and generalized their understanding of instruments rather than specializing (p. 68–72).
This generalized approach to understanding instruments and music makes it easier for these types of jazz players to learn to play classical literature than for classical musicians to learn how to play jazz, according to Cecchini (p. 75–76).
So, we should take the jazz, or generalized, approach to mastering our disciplines instead of the classical, or specialized, approach. Epstein writes, “The picture is in line with a classic research finding that is not specific to music: breadth of training predicts breadth of transfer.” Epstein continues: “That is, the more contexts in which something’s is learned, the more the learner creates abstract models, and the less they rely on any particular example. Learners become better at applying their knowledge to a situation they’ve never seen before, which is the essence of creativity” (p. 76–77).
So, what problem is bogging you down right now? What seemingly unsolvable problems are you struggling to understand? Your frustration might signal you need to walk away and learn some other discipline. For coaches and athletes, it could mean a break in your regular routine and learning something else to break the monotony.
When we repeatedly return to the same problem, we might find our solution by walking away from it and learning from another field. The more generalized we are in our understanding of the world and people, the more we set ourselves up for success in transferring knowledge across disciplines.
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