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This may be primarily opinion based, but I believe there's good scope to get some valuable information if the question's worded well. please share comments if you think the wording could be improved :D

Background

I'm playing with friend right now who has a lot of enthusiasm, but isn't great. It takes a lot of effort to teach riffs, chords and melodies to. Being blunt it feels like the time would be better spent finding other musicians, or practicing on my own.

The upside is that it is great fun, and being able to teach someone what you know feels fantastic for strengthening knowledge. The guy's a good friend and is really keen on playing live gigs(though we've only played a few so far)

Part of it of course is what your goal is, and mine is to grow and learn as best I can as a musician (and it tops the fun I might have not learning).

A common belief I've had is that you should always hang around musicians that are better than you, or as good so that you can learn from each other and grow.

I do feel like a bad person for asking this question, but hopefully I'm not the only one who's been in such a situation.

Summary

Given these circumstances, Is it better to to learn with less developed musicians you have fun with, or to take the time to seek out greater challenges?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It works both ways. Don't forget that to your mate, you're the better player, mentor, teacher. Often, it can make you play in less complex ways, maybe to not intimidate `lesser players.And complex isn't often best. As Mr The Bard says, teaching something will always make sure you learn it better. To play with far better players can be scary, if you let it, but it keeps you on your toes: you probably don't listen to what's going on around as much, because you're concentrating on getting your part of the jigsaw right. So the earlier scenario is good from the respect that you can at least relax and enjoy your own playing. But, you're then nervous for your mate, so different pressures are brought out.

Try to play with superior players as much as possible - as much as they'll let you - this is a good way to get really good, trying to get up to their level. However, never forget that most players will have strengths and weaknesses, just like most things in life. I might play with a brilliant jazzer, who can solo over just about anything, but I know that if dots were put in front of him, he'd probably stop playing. And vice versa, play with someone who I could only wish to read as well as, but not expect great off-the-cuff solos from. Both great players, from different respects, and both putting me in different situations,trying to complement each.It's not a race or contest, but teamwork, and each situation makes you stronger with different challenges.

In the original situation, as long as you can support your mate, carry on, maybe bringing in others who can push or pull both of you. There are bound to be things he can do that move you up a rung, so there's mileage to be had from both situations.

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Tim brings up a great point about you being the musician who's "1 rung up" so to speak. Just because your friend might not be as advanced as you doesn't mean that your individual contribution can't surpass his. Do what you want; encourage him to do whatever he can (understanding that he might not be able to play everything you do, and he doesn't have to.) Over time, he will improve. I would much rather play with a great friend who's an okay musician than someone who's awesome and is a jerk (the latter has happened many a time...) –  jjmusicnotes Apr 14 at 22:49

You asked what we look for in musical collaborators.

Playing with musicians who have something to prove is a drag. But it's nice playing with really brilliant people because they don't have to go out of their way to show their brilliance - they just play.

Playing with people who aren't brittle is nice too - you can point out an error without them taking it personally. And also it's nice if you can be confident that when one of the others in your group points out an error in your playing they're not making some personal point, and that it's the music that's being improved. It's good to feel relaxed enough to admit you can't do something. Then the others give you the benefit of their experience.

I also like if someone can't do something and they go away and work on it, rather than just admitting defeat.

And finally I always try to remember what it's like not to be able to do something - as I'm more use to other people struggling with the same issue.

So most of the qualities I value in fellow musicians aren't musical qualities particularly - they're more qualities I'd like in any collaboration I do.

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I am inclined to agree with you that it is best to hang around with musicians that are of equal or greater skill than yourself, however there are benefits to be had from playing with lesser experienced musicians.

It is said, that the best way to learn is to teach. Teaching someone melodies and chords further reinforces your knowledge of them and works to cement them in your brain, so you're still practicing. Another great thing about practicing with lesser skilled musicians, is that you can learn from their playing style. This is especially good if your friend is not classically trained or self taught. Often times musicians with little or no formal education, form certain habits and techniques that are unique and pretty cool.

Ultimately the choice is up to you, whether or not you want to spend your time practicing elsewhere, but as long as you're playing your instrument, you're practicing, so practicing with a lesser skilled musician is still beneficial and will not be of detriment to you.

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Perhaps there's also a balance to it. If I decide to play with only pro jazz players, I'll likely find myself being booted out before I get a chance to learn anything! Robert Fripp's advice was to always play with players one rung above the ladder from you, because 2 and you're no use to them. –  Alexander Troup Apr 14 at 16:35

Get two pots boiling at the same time: continue to play with your friend; and seek out a new band with more accomplished musicians. There's nothing saying you can't be in two bands at once.

I personally feel it's not an "either-or" thing, because there's equal importance to getting along with your bandmates as there is to challenging yourself and growing as a musician. You could have a really good player in your midst, but if that person is difficult to work with you may find yourself learning less than you would otherwise.

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