The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Which is more difficult: Being a great musician or being a great woodworker?

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Because I spent many years studying, practicing, and playing music I’ve always compared it to other hobbies and professions on a scale of difficulty. Now that I am a hobby woodworker, I naturally compare woodworking to music. I spent many years playing in working bands, I took many lessons, and many college courses and even with all of my knowledge and experience I know that had I continued on with music I would still have a life time of learning and practicing to go before I could call myself a “master”. I don’t know how good I was honestly. I was good enough to play in bands, to record, and to play at most of the bars and clubs in the Philadelphia area. I was good enough to get paid for what I did, and I was good enough to teach it. Yet, I also know that there were countless thousands who were/are better than I ever was or would be. That fact never bothered me much, as I can say the same about woodworkers.

As far as the poll is concerned, I’m not looking for any one particular answer because I don’t have one myself. I honestly don’t know if music is more difficult than woodworking. This I can say, at my musical height, I practiced nearly every day at least a few hours, I took two lessons per week, and I generally practiced with one band or another two or three times a week. If I woodworked now as much as I practiced and played music then I would be a far, far better woodworker than I ever was a musician. Yet there may be woodworkers out there who are fantastic without having to work at it just like there are some musicians who are so naturally gifted that it comes easily to them without much work. I don’t believe it-music and woodworking both require muscle memory, which is something that requires practice no matter what your natural talents- but it could be true.

So if I had to choose I would say that being a great musician is more difficult than being a great woodworker. The reason I say that is because I know there are thousands of “weekend warrior” woodworkers who make world-class, professional level furniture. I don’t believe there are thousands of hobby musicians who are making world class music in their basements on the weekends. I’m sure there are exceptions to that, but I personally believe the ratio by-far favors hobby woodworkers. Still, that’s just the opinion of one person, and if anybody out there has any feedback I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

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10 Comments

  1. Christopher Bowen says:

    I think a woodworker has a lot more ways (tools) to get to the end result than a musician has at their disposal.

  2. Jonas Jensen says:

    I didn’t vote, since I honestly don’t know. But I have some thoughts on the subject.
    Woodworking might be easier to master, since if you do it at a hobby level, you can take longer time for each piece. so that might be the reason why hobbyists are able to turn out really great looking pieces.
    If you are going to play a piece of music, then it has to be played within the specified time, otherwise it will not sound right,
    E.g. “Goodbye yellow brick road” by sir Elton John wouldn’t sound just right if it was played one note a day over a period of 2 or 3 years. But a federal desk could look perfect even if you only had worked 15 minutes on the table every day for 10 years.

    There was once a letter from the editor in Popular Woodworking some 5 years ago where they argued that all it took was 10.000 hours to be master of a trade, it could be joinery or brain surgery or music. I think in a way it is correct, but still something like music have to be done within a very narrow time frame which ad an extra dimension of difficulty to it.
    Brgds
    Jonas

    • billlattpa says:

      I know that great musicians generally practice 8-10 hours per day not including performances. Not to mention the study involved. And like you said, there are many factors-a piece needs to be played in a certain time frame, you have to read cues from other musicians, you cannot “fix” mistakes.
      Of course, that isn’t to say that being a great woodworker is easy, but I like to think that most people with a little mechanical inclination could become very good or even great woodworkers with the right amount of time put into it. With music, there are times that no amount of practice will advance you on a certain piece. As you were saying, you can work on a piece of furniture for just a few minutes each day and sooner or later you will complete it, but in music you can practice a piece for the same amount of time each day and never improve upon it.
      I guess that it’s not an easy comparison, but because music and woodworking are both hobbies that I enjoyed I thought that I would compare the two. Thanks.
      Bill

  3. dzj9 says:

    Yeah, if you play a piece in Largo instead of Presto, it’s not really the same thing. Even if you get all the notes right.

    As to your poll, I think that excellence in any field is equally demanding.
    It can’t be taught and it’s very rare.

    • billlattpa says:

      At the very top level, there is very little difference in any field I think, and it becomes an art rather than a science. But in general, I think your top level musicians probably have to work harder than your top level woodworkers-not in the physical sense-but to maintain their abilities with practice and study.
      Thanks.
      Bill

  4. Andrew says:

    I pick being a woodworker because I gave up on being a musician years ago. Not rational but it’s what I did.

    • billlattpa says:

      I have a theory that if you took a person without any previous music instruction or woodworking instruction and gave them 30 days worth of each, at the end of the month most people would be far better woodworkers than they would be musicians. For that reason I think that being a great musician is more difficult than being a great woodworker. Thanks.
      Bill

  5. Jeff Branch says:

    I have two brothers who play guitar, one played professionally for many years. I often have thought about taking up guitar, but I just don’t think I am co-ordinated enough to play well even semi-easily. So, I think woodworking is easier.

    But, when it comes to designing furniture and being able to visualize how joinery should work, there is a talent there that some have and others don’t.

    • billlattpa says:

      I would say the same thing about composing music. There are some musicians that are great instrumentalists but not necessarily great composers. I for one was much better at playing other people’s stuff than writing my own. Of course in school we would write compositions and some were even pretty good. But the masters transcend everybody else in any art I think. Thanks
      Bill

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