What does it mean to be dedicated? It’s one thing athletes and musicians have in common. You can’t get better at a sport or an instrument without dedication. Neither a team nor a band will reach its potential unless everyone is dedicated. As a leader of a band myself, I can easily conclude who is and isn’t dedicated, and it has little to do with talent.

My jazz band director in college amazed me. After running through something like “Straight No Chaser” or “Skunk Funk,” he’d point out where the third trombone played an ‘E’ instead of an ‘E-flat’ in bar 78. And this was jazz, where nothing every really sounds right. I’m nothing close to him, but I can pick out mistakes and can tell if my musicians haven’t practiced.

I used to think I could fool my piano teacher into believing I’d practiced, but now I know better. It’s interesting: I’ve found that the musicians who practice the most are usually the ones who wouldn’t seem to need the practice. But the better you get at an instrument—or a sport, or whatever it is—the more you realize you have much to learn. Beginning musicians are just so excited they can play something and seldom perceive the chasm between their playing and what they hear on the CD. But an experienced musician knows the difference and works to reduce the gap.

Over the years I’ve led musicians with varying skill levels and varying levels of commitment. I’ve always appreciated those who are confident enough to play in front of people but humble enough to make sure they’re prepared. And this starts with me.

Now I don’t have a piano teacher that I think I’m fooling, but I put in the time to practice, though it’s often tedious and I don’t always feel like it and it’s seemingly unrewarding. I’m dedicated to becoming as comfortable on guitar as I am on piano. It might take awhile to catch up—I’ve been playing keys for 25 years and guitar only 3½—but I’ll get there.

How about you? What are you dedicated to? Music, art, a sport?

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