Why You Will Never Be Better Than John Williams

I hate to break it to you, but you will never be better than John Williams. (Either of them). You will never be better than Andrés Segovia. Or Julian Bream. Or ________ (fill in the blank).

I know that you want to emulate these guys. But you can’t measure up. You cannot be as good at being John Williams as he is. On the other hand, you have the potential to make a unique contribution that John Williams could never make. But you won’t make it if you are focused on being a cheap imitation of someone else.

Here are 7 ways to make your best musical contribution:

  1. Develop Your Vision – Think big. Dream about what you would like to accomplish if there were no limits. Think about where you want to be ten years from now. Twenty years from now.
  2. Set a Goal – Set a goal for the next three months. What do you need to do in the short-term to move toward the vision that you want to achieve in the long-term?
  3. Go After It With All Your Heart – Don’t go after your goal with all of Andrés Segovia’s heart. You don’t have his heart. You have yours. And that’s okay.
  4. Focus on the Next Step – Although it’s good to regularly reconnect with your vision, the daily focus should be on the next step you need to take. You may want to perform an all-Rodrigo concert at Carnegie Hall, but perhaps the next step is to increase your scale speed by four beats per minute.
  5. Avoid Slavish Imitation – Copying a great artist can be a terrific way to learn. It can inspire you to see a broader range of possibilities. But don’t just copy the greats. Use their foundation and build on it.
  6. Avoid Anxiety of Influence – Don’t always do the opposite of the greats. You can become so worried about the possibility of being influenced that you avoid being like them in any way. Some guitarists have gone to this extreme in reacting to Andrés Segovia. They became frustrated with his dogmatic approach to teaching and the way many of his students imitated him exactly. Therefore, they have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. They cannot see value in anything Segovia did because they do not want him to influence them in any way.
  7. Don’t Let It Go to Your Head – As you take the above steps consistently, you may find others imitating you. Your students. Admirers in your audience. If this happens, great. But don’t let it puff you up. Instead, encourage those who admire you to learn what they can from your example. Then help them find their own voice, and set them free to be different from you. (For the record, John Williams has done exactly this in interviews, encouraging other musicians to sound different from him.)

In the musical world, it is easy to feel that you must live up to the example of the greats. Ignoring the inspiration they provide would be unwise. Just don’t let their shadow loom too large in your mind. Go out and make music.

Question: How do you interact with the influence of great musicians? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • bruciekins

    Back in the seventies, whilst living in Cape Town South Africa, I had a visit from a young Texan guitarist. He only played solos from the masters of the time (Beck, Hendrix, Page, Clapton, Blackmore etc. I was quite embarrassed that this youngster knew so many more than me, but consoled myself that at least he wasn’t original. Only years later did I find out who he was- Eric Johnson. He’d built up a huge repertoire of licks and techniques, and become one of the most innovative guitarists around. Yes I know it’s not C.G., but music is music.

    • Learning from others can be a great stepping stone to originality. Thanks for pointing out that Eric Johnson took what he learned from others and then found his unique voice.

  • You certainly raise good points. My concern is that our musical instincts and knowledge grow by reading good books and listening to great performers on all instruments. I often encourage my advanced students (MM,DMA) to play along with great records. What you learn form this experience is how these artists use space and clarity in crafting their interpretations. I don’t know of a great player on any instrument who does not have these two concepts mastered. Playing along with these artists clearly points out to students the importance of space and clarity in their interpretations.

  • Cranky Crab

    Bream was horrible live when I saw him.

    • I saw him live in his later years, and he did not play very well. Nonetheless, his recordings leave a legacy worth studying.

    • Michael Noyb

      Out of the Classical guitarists that dominated the years just after WW-II through the 1970’s, Julian Bream stands out as a master of tone, phrasing, musicality, and originality of approach.
      It’s true that as he got older he lost some of his ‘snap’, but if all anyone is concerned about is technical acumen or raw virtuosity, then just listen to some of the up-and-coming ‘artists’ coming out of Asia; or listen to a robot.