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Specialist: You focus on playing the piano and specialise on one genre. You either play only by ear or exclusively use sheet music. If you use sheet music you have a small number of favourite composers. If you play by ear, you are possibly also able to improvise of compose music. You are probably very good at doing what you do, but are reluctant to trying something different.

Generalist: You may or may not play more than one instrument, but probably you are most skilled on one of them. Some generalists are capable both to sight read sheet music and play by ear. If you play by ear you like to try different genres and you probably listen to many different kinds of music to get inspiration. Sheet music players choose pieces written by many different composers from different eras. Some generalists compose own pieces in addition to playing music written by others.

There is no right or wrong alternative here. And certainly there are many musicians who do not fit exactly into these two categories.

I'm a generalist. In addition to playing the piano I also play the organ and I'm a tenor singer in a choir. When I started playing the piano I mostly played by ear and improvised a lot, but I took on playing classical music from scores after some time. Now I mainly play classical music, but I'm equally fond of baroque music and music written by Vienna classicists, romantic composers or 20th century music. I can play hymns, folk songs and some popular songs by ear, and to some extent I use improvisation on the organ during church services. Part of the time I have available for music I work together with a vocalists performing art songs. Unfortunately I hardly ever had the chance to play together with other instrumentalists, but if I get the chance I'll do so. The scores standing on my piano today are Bach sinfonias, a piece of Poulenc, a Mozart sonata, and a piece written by Cyril Scott. Tomorrow there may be other scores there. Earlier I tried to compose some music, but I find it increasingly difficult and time consuming, so I hardly do that any more.

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You're definition of a generalist was a description of me.

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I'm a "dilettantest". I started playing as a kid when I heard the Moonlight sonata. My father was a musician so helped me read the score. It was a ragtag heavily drawn on piece of scrap when I finished the first movement. I tried lessons but quit after two. Then someone at school played a blues riff and showed me how and I spent the next few years writing songs and hammering away in C, A and E. At some point a friend played bass and showed me blues riffs. So off I went playing bass as well. Again, no lessons and never really progressed pass a few keys. I could never really play for people and just played for myself for years. Then I got married and in my 40's decided, after hearing a Liszt piece that blew me away, to take lessons. Again, with encouragement from my Father, I picked up some fairly difficult pieces and learned them more or less. I could memorize so never really learned to read very well. My instructor said that was a real problem and tried to keep me from memorizing but, as a stubborn dilittantest, I ignored her advice and to this day do not read all that well. Today, after years of Chopin, Bach, Schumann and a little Liszt I'm more inclined to play new age inspired works and love Philip Glass. My compositions at least progressed past mediocre blues. I still tend to memorize but not as easily which is probably a good thing as it is forcing me to take more time at reading. Because I memorized most everything I learned I have literally forgotten hundreds of pieces I worked really hard to learn.

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"Jack of all trades, master of none" - that's me. I try to do some of everything (except I just can't get into Einaudi and his imitators!).
I play from all periods, including modern classical. And I accompany my wife on Clarinet. I even dabble a little with harpsichord.

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I'm working towards your specialist description. I am only interested in composing and as such, my practice is all technique to improve my improvisational abilities. I have played electric guitar for over 30 years (mainly neoclassical) and I am enjoying the challenge of progressing towards a comparable level of ability on the piano. I might not make it, but I still have two guitars which are currently gathering dust to go back to if I want.
Regarding genre, I find that I drift around amongst many. I would hate to have to produce only one style of music. When I start on a piece, I have no idea what the finished product will sound like.

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Variety's the very spice of life - William (circa 1785)

Just not the variety that bores you stiff - me


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
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Definitely generalist. Mainly an upright bassist (jazz) and used to play electric bass in bands when I was younger. Played saxophone for years, but not in a long time. Noodled on guitar here and there, terrible at it. Piano is my "mid-life crisis" hobby, and I'll likely never be any good, but I enjoy the heck out of it. I'm interested in classical, blues, jazz, and rock/pop piano, so definitely generalist genre-wise as well.


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I think the two categories as defined don't describe 90% of pianists because each category has a large number of descriptions. Most people would only qualify for a few of them.

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What kind of musician am I?

Not particularly talented, but persistent.


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I do not think I am a musician at all by any commonly understood definition, neither am I much of a pianist. Eighteen years on forums have taught me that. Crudely speaking I just fiddle about trying new sounds and if I like them I play them again; not quite primitive but naive by choice.


"We shall always love the music of the masters, but they are all dead and now it's our turn." - Llewelyn Jones, my piano teacher
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Originally Posted by Ted
I do not think I am a musician at all by any commonly understood definition, neither am I much of a pianist. Eighteen years on forums have taught me that. Crudely speaking I just fiddle about trying new sounds and if I like them I play them again; not quite primitive but naive by choice.


By your choice? Absolutely. Primitive or naive? absolutely not. Give yourself the credit you deserve for innovation and skill. IMHO a true musician

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Originally Posted by dogperson
Originally Posted by Ted
I do not think I am a musician at all by any commonly understood definition, neither am I much of a pianist. Eighteen years on forums have taught me that. Crudely speaking I just fiddle about trying new sounds and if I like them I play them again; not quite primitive but naive by choice.


By your choice? Absolutely. Primitive or naive? absolutely not. Give yourself the credit you deserve for innovation and skill. IMHO a true musician


Thank you, dogperson, you've made my day, even if I find you too kind. Poe's poem comes to mind, ".......I could not bring my passions from a common spring..." Perhaps that is nearer the mark.


"We shall always love the music of the masters, but they are all dead and now it's our turn." - Llewelyn Jones, my piano teacher
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My category is pure amateur. Mostly playing for myself, playing for the love of it, and play whatever and wherever love takes me.

I liked the persistence comment!

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A number of years ago I joined a music group. A lady in the group belong to a choir that sings all sort of Baroque & Renaissance pieces. A few of us got together at home and played Baroque pieces as an ensemble (violin, viola & cello). Naturally, I tend to lean toward Baroque pieces including Bach, Handel, Telemann & Vivaldi. When I started piano, I started with the Baroque and avoided getting into Romantic era pieces by Schubert, Schumann, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, etc.

I'm taking group piano classes at a conservatory. The teacher got the class into buying all sorts of books to give us a bigger range of repertoire. Recently we got into playing Jazz pieces with a swing beat (not the steady clockwork counting of Bach).

There are several Bach pieces I'd be practicing from time to time. Getting into Jazz takes me out of the more serious side of playing music into repertoire that is fun and allow for improvisations.

The word "persistence" comes out a lot. In my younger days, my parents have to push to get me into practicing music. I'd rather watch Shroeder playing piano when a Charlie Brown cartoon comes on. Today I'm enjoying music more than ever and some days I'd be on the keyboard for over an hour. I don't even feel I need to push myself to get somewhere. The satisfaction of figuring out how pieces are supposed to sound (problem solving) is enough to keep me going for over an hour a day, 7 days a week.

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I'm definitely a specialist. I only play the piano (and it's a lot already!) and I only use sheet music. I play classical music 95% of the time, although I dabble in easy jazz/blues/rag from time to time, and I may even try a pop song every once in a while.

I try to play music from all periods, but in the end I focus on few composers, whom I like best or I think can provide most of the technical/musical skills I need - basically Bach, Mozart, Schumann, Chopin. These are the ones I've managed to "understand" so far. I'd love to play more Beethoven but it's definitely beyond me. I play a lot of Brahms with my duet buddy, and Amy Beach. I had to learn quite a lot of contemporary pieces in the RCM Etudes books, they're fun for a while but I'm not too keen. Kapustin is a contemporary composer I love, but he's way too difficult.


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my name and ''musician'' don't merit being used in the same sentence, but if I must choose it would be in a sub-section of Generalist ''generally noisy''


Surprisingly easy, barely an inconvenience.

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generalist. I play the uke, clarinet, electric bass and toy piano. my next purchase is to get a midi interface for controlling soft-synths and hardware ones. Am currently wanting the arturia essential 88. I also play country, punk, rock, and pop covers with the occasional cover. So far with piano it has been classical stuff.


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I may fit the generalist description.

I put myself thru college playing drums on the weekends, then professionally for several years before getting a real job. Still played on weekends until about 10 years ago. Also learned mandolin and played in bluegrass and acoustic bands, still do.

Focused on guitar, initially flat picking then fingerstyle for several years until I ran out of things I wanted to learn.

Now, piano all the time. Haven't performed outside of home, yet.

A musician all my life, its what I do, its what I am. ( But, make a living other ways)

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I was a specialist for decades, classical piano with a little choral singing thrown in, and I always thought I’d never want to dilute the piano learning. But in the last two years I’ve taken up classical guitar and viola da gamba. Now, I figured I don’t have the co-ordination to ever play virtuosic pieces on any instrument so why not spread out a little?

The funny thing is that I think the instruments are all helping each other. The musical skills and improved listening transfer to all three. With the guitar, in particular, there’s lots of applied harmony and theory. With the viol learning to play with others is new as well as rhythm and expression with bowing. I’ve had to learn to be efficient in practice but that’s a good thing too. Can’t believe it, but I’m a generalist and it’s great (grateful to my wonderful piano teacher for being so supportive).


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specialist. I decided to learn piano, and piano is what I'm learning. smile


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