The Multipotentialite Musician (or Why Your Message is more Important than Your Skill Level)
Photo courtesy of striatic.

The Multipotentialite Musician (or Why Your Message is more Important than Your Skill Level)

Written by Emilie

Topics: Guest Posts, Music

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Josh Taylor.

A long time ago, before even I was born was the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The crowd awaited Bob Dylan’s usual appearance as the roadies started setting up equipment. But something was wrong…wait a minute…guitar amps? Drums?!!

Wasn’t this the darling of true folkies who followed the footsteps of Woody Guthrie? Dylan eventually appeared with a full-fledged rock band to amplify his message loud and clear. Some clapped and some booed, but it made music history.

Bob Dylan refused to be categorized or plastered to a mold. He had a message to bring to the world, and he would use whatever method, whatever style he had to play to bring it.

Message Counts More than Skill

Musician multipotentialites have a message to bring to the world. They will play whatever style or instrument, use whatever type of media, and learn whatever skills are needed to share that message.

While the specialists are spending all hours practicing and learning theory and either teach or do session work, the multipotentialites are networking, setting up a website or hiking trails for inspiration.

Don’t get me wrong, we NEED specialists. I’ve learned under several of them. But in traditional academic thinking what’s a multipotentialite to do? They want me to stay for four years? I can already play what I need to and unless Hans Zimmer calls me up for help in the near future, orchestra scoring is not really something I’d use in real life.

Having a Diverse Skill-Set Helps get Your Music Out There

According to an article from Berklee College of Music, 30% of graduates make a living entirely from music. With everything going on in the music industry these days, musicians are now free to “be their own man.” But that also means that we must learn technology, how to talk to people, and this whole marketing thing.

Whether or not you make your living solely from music isn’t the point. The point of lifestyle design is to do work you enjoy, free up time, and of course bring your message to the world.

After two years of music school, I eventually came out of the training woodshed and explored the world, traveled, got social, and learned all kinds of new, shiny skills. When I started hanging out with Emilie and the Puttytribe I learned about technology, marketing, and networking and am now going back to school for website design.

You mean it’s okay not to devote your life to one subject? You mean I don’t have to spend my life playing scales? Music is meant to be creative not drudgery.

As a creative, whether that be musician, artist, author, or entrepreneur, you are to innovate, blaze a trail, not copy an approved path which wasn’t meant for you, however uncomfortable that might be. There are reasons you are different and they are good ones!

Songwriting and the Multipotentialite

Did you know that some of the most well-known songwriters of all time, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton were ART students in college? While there are classes for what makes a hit song, there’s no “specialist formula.” Do you know three chords? Then start writing! As with playing, you get better the more you do it.

Songwriting involves the blending of several aspects and skills, including:

  • Basic instrument skills: while not always required, it definitely helps.
  • Lyrical skills: a completely different skill-set involving language, literature and poetry.
  • Technology skills: so you know how to make a decent demo recording.
  • An interesting life journey: everyone has this, but multipotentialites bring their own unique spin.
  • Most of all, a message to bring to the world.

Multipotentialites make Great Teachers

Donnie Schexnayder from says that contrary to popular thought, to succeed in teaching an instrument you must learn not one skill, but three different skill-sets:

  1. The craft of your instrument and music in general
  2. How to teach
  3. Marketing

Not all great players make great teachers and many lesser trained musicians make great teachers. If you know three chords on guitar, you can teach them, and once they get to your level, just refer them to me. ;)

Students will tell you that sometimes online teaching goes way too fast. They just want to play a song, but some of these instructors are swimming in intervals and augmented 9th chords. I realized this and so came up with a method for my site, Guitar Lessons Made Simple to illustrate ways to slowly present concepts that would be relevant. The idea is to keep it as simple as possible and get them playing their favorite songs right away.

The Multipotentialite Practice Method

As a multipotentialite, you will want to take a bit of a different approach to practicing. There are things to learn from specialists, and you should spend at least some time in focused training on your instrument, perhaps a year or two.

While you might not spend as many hours practicing as a specialist would, you should take that same work ethic and apply it to your other pursuits. Devote the same focus to whatever theme or message ties your interests together and develop those peripheral skills, be they programming, audio engineering, or writing.

Using Your Multipotentiality to Boost Creativity

Like other art forms, music lives and breathes with creativity, which comes even before academics or technique. How else could I enjoy Nirvana and Kinks as well as Rachmaninoff?

One way to expand your creativity is to study outside your area of expertise. Here are some ideas:

  • Study and listen to another instrument and imitate it.
  • Tap into other styles.
  • Listen to music from another country.
  • Study art.
  • Travel or explore nature.
  • Switch up your schedule, or just take a day to escape on a whim.

As a multipotentialite whether musician, writer, or designer (or all three!) you have a message to bring to the world. Don’t worry so much about becoming a virtuoso. Instead, study your instrument, while also focusing on enhancing your creativity and developing a well-rounded skill-set.

Your Turn

Has your multipotentiality come in handy throughout your musical pursuits?

joshJosh is a musician and blogger from Portland, Oregon. When not helping at his church, working, taking classes, or doing a ton of projects, he likes to bike, hike the Northwest trails, and practice his sidekicks. We also can’t leave out his annual pirate voyage (a few pirates always make a bio more interesting). For tips and articles on guitar, check out his new website, Guitar Lessons Made Simple.


  1. Andy says:

    Love this Josh, great post! Thanks. Really chime with these ideas. I’ve always put message ahead of getting really technical with instruments. Though I have learnt my instruments to a high level and value that, it’s always been more about WHAT lies beneath and what I am trying to say. I have struggled with others that I have played with who put all their efforts into crafting perfection and getting technical details nailed, which often in my opinion can detract from the passion and message itself. You’ve just placed my experience into a tangible thing.

    • Josh says:

      Right Andy. It’s the message itself that counts. That’s why the general populace listens to songs more than fancy instrumentals. The message comes out very clear.

      But remember that instrumentals have a message too, and the greats like Beethoven’s Symphony #5 have a message that rings out loud and clear though it’s more felt, than put into words. But the message needs to be more than, “Look how awesome I can play!”, although that’s fun too. :-)

      • Andy says:

        Oh yeah, sorry I didn’t make myself very clear! I wasn’t meaning message as in lyrical content per se. This is where I struggle to articulate what I mean – but the message is deeper than any words. It is felt rather than understood. I’m not one for obvious meaning and don’t actually really take notice of lyrics on their surface level if that makes sense? That’s what I am always striving for. Couldn’t put it better than a guy I interviewed last week who said he hears a song and then he sets out to write a new song that makes him feel the way he felt when he heard it. He doesn’t want to emulate the sound, but wants to find that subjective feeling (that I guess only HE can create!)

        It’s the same with performance as it is with composition. A beautiful composition can be performed in two contrasting ways (with or without life/meaning/passion). And as the audience you can often tell – music is a magical thing.

  2. Emilie says:

    Great post Josh! As a fellow musician many of the messages in this post resonated with me. I am trying to make it as a piano teacher, but I’ve realised that I need to do OTHER STUFF to make enough money as I did in my [INSERT FULL TIME CORPORATE JOB DESCRIPTION].

    I’ve decided I like the piecemeal approach and am combining teaching, writing, jewellery making and other skills to fill my days. It can sometimes be hard work but there is lots of variety and a lot of musicians benefit greatly from putting their instrument down for a bit before returning to it!

    • Josh says:

      Hi Emilie. I’m guessing you’re not Emilie W, correct?

      Good to see other music teachers too. And when you’re a multipotentialite the many small jobs approach works well. I’m teaching, working a part-time job, doing a few writing gigs, and investing. It seems to have worked for me so far.

      As for putting the instrument down, sometimes that can help, as long as we pick it back up again later. And I’ve noticed when we are truly following our passions, music won’t let us go!

  3. Ashley says:

    Thanks for writing this post Josh! I feel really empowered to go write a freakin’ song right now! Music is something I’ve been saying I want to get back into for a while now, but I always have some pretty good excuses about why the time isn’t right. The truth?

    I’ve just been afraid of totally sucking! I wasted a lot of time thinking thoughts like “I should have majored in vocal performance… My time has passed… If I’m going to pick it up again it needs to be all or nothing.”

    These thoughts totally blow. Not to mention they take all the fun out of making music and completely lose sight of the most important thing: The connection. The connection I feel when I’m singing – to God, to the Universe, to the people who are listening. I loved your emphasis on the instruments being a vessel for spreading the message.


    • Josh says:

      That’s so awesome, Ashley. Glad I could lend a hand. Just remember, singer-songwriting is about creativity not perfection. Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash or Kurt Cobain don’t have perfect voices, but people love them.

      When you write your song, feel free to share with the rest of us. :-)

  4. Cheryl says:

    Music has always been a big part of my life,and I believe there is a message in the words and the instruments. That message comes through the persons heart and spirit as they play or sing. What a blessings music is on both sides, the player and listener :)

    • Josh says:

      I see what you’re saying about the player and the listener. I remember going to an Eric Clapton concert once and wow, you can feel what he’s playing!

  5. Kendal says:

    Hey, nice post! :-D You gave me some ideas… I’m not a master guitar player but I do know enough to teach some things. I’ve been trying to think of various things I can do to be helpful and to drive some traffic to my YouTube channel. Perhaps I can teach some songs that I cover. Hmmm. I think this idea will lead to other ideas.

    • Josh says:

      That’s true Kendal. Some academics have a hard time expressing to the beginner, because they require a lot of patience. If you’re willing to embrace that, then you can teach. Good luck!

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