Genius is a verb, too (and how SPAH creates genius)

Do you want to be a genius harmonica player? You’re in luck… read on:

A while ago, there was a lively debate on Harp L about who were the real geniuses. The general direction that this thread was going in was that some people were geniuses, and others were not, and that this would be a good thing to argue about.

I insist that we all are geniuses, once we dig deep enough. If you dig what I am saying, then you may enjoy the reply that I decided to post as part of the genius thread:

Genius is a verb, too….

The thread about genius has finally made me want to throw in my two cents, as I believe that there are some good questions to ask about the debate. One is What is the point of this discussion? Another is “What are the assumptions we are making here?”

People who do research on accelerated learning and human potential (Donna Cercone, Brian Tracy, Dennis Waitley Win Wenger among others) claim that genius is a way that we use our minds and can be learned.

When we do this “who is a genius” game, It puts us in the position of being passive judges of something that we don’t have and others do. The idea  that we cannot access genius is poisonous and just plain wrong. It is an example of “learned helplessness” – I’m not a genius so why bother trying to be one?

A baby elephant tries over and over to break free of the rope that has it tethered. It gives up eventually after hundreds of futile attempts. The same elephant grows up with enough strength to easily break free of the rope, but never tries because it “knows” that it can’t do it.

We tend to do the same thing with our own potential as musicians (and in many other areas where we are “stuck”). We learn early on that we are not “geniuses” and we accept “reality” instead of relentlessly working at creating genius as our reality.

Instead of debating who is a genius, wouldn’t it be more fun to check out people who spend a lot of  time in the genius mode and ask “what are they doing?” “How can I do that?”

This is what I see going on over and over again at SPAH and other events like it. People come here and start relaxing and unwinding and after a certain amount of sleep deprivation and hanging out with inspiration, start having flashes of their own true genius. Something in the air makes them forget their usual self imposed limitations and they cut loose and play brilliant, alive music. With some it comes in flashes and then they get self conscious and it goes away. With others they get on the good foot and stay there for a while….. Some folks live there most of the time, and they get the label “Genius”. Sometimes.

That is one of the reasons that I love SPAH. I love being around people who are experiencing genius. Especially their own, even if they don’t choose to call it that.

Thats my story, and I’m sticking to it!

Harpe Diem!


  1. Randy Redington

    April 7, 2014 - 12:54 pm

    Hi Richard, I appreceate your comments about this genius thing. I sometime play harmonica at my church, and people like to come up to me afterwards and make comments to me about Buddy Green. I guess because he is the only person who’s name they know who plays the harp. Now I like Buddy, I think he’s a really proficent harmonica player, but so are you and many others who I have come to know recently. I tell these people, “please don’t compaire me to —- ”
    I quit trying to play a sax in highschool because my teacher told me that I could never learn to play. One thing I appreceate about John Gindick and his camp, is that He is so encouraging and infuses in you a “Can Do” additude. And I love these articals that you email and publish on your site. They are also an encouragment to me to keep “learning and playing” Oh, btw – I recently got on the HarpL email list.
    wow – what a wealth of information and ideas.

  2. Buzzy Green

    May 22, 2014 - 3:12 am

    Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, repeatedly refers to the 10,000 hour rule. That rule states that 10,000 hours of practice is required to become successful in any field. Having taught and heard musicians for forty years, I find that to be wholly believable within my experience. How much time is that? It is four hours of practice each day for almost seven years – no days off.

    I think we would all agree that such a commitment would result in massive change to one’s playing. In fact, it seems that such a level of commitment is in some ways more extraordinary than the title of genius. It is probably the specifics of the calculation that brings it to an understandable perspective while the term “genius” remains an undefined generality.

    Using that notion in support of Richard’s contention that genius lies in all of us – or certainly in more of us than we think – I would like to re-frame the discussion as follows. Genius may lie in a person’s loving an activity enough to spend 10,000 hours practicing it. We might also refer to genius as being an extraordinary ability toward self-discipline.

    In watching musicians over the years, I have seen many highly intelligent competent musicians never rise beyond that level. I have also seen less intelligent poor musicians rise to high levels of virtuosity – genius. I am convinced that the difference lies in the ability or willingness to spend extraordinary hours with the instrument. And in some ways, intelligence is a hindrance. Some of us can play note-by-note at fairly fast tempi. Because of this agility of the brain, we become satisfied with a moderate level of facility and are unlikely to drill enough to install the activity into the autonomic (involuntary) category of actions. Less brain power often means that the musician has to practice fairly simple material enough for it to become automatic in order to just be respectable. That advantage of learning to use and depend on the autonomic powers of the body is often overlooked, but I now believe that it so critical to musical facility that it cannot be over-rated.

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