The Pareto Principle: it’s only 20% helpful

and it is the key to mastery

people will often talk about how you only need to master 20% of a thing and you can get 80% of the results.

they’ll use examples like, how you only need to know 3 chords to play most the songs out there.

and while this is technically true, it’s not exactly…honest.

yes, three chords are the backbone of most the songs out there.

but those chords are in different keys.

yes, you can learn them, but to master them will still require a ton of practice.

and then you start learning the scales. learn your blues scales.

practice your scales.

practice practice practice.

and then you’ll have to learn that when you’re in a particular key, the I, IV, V chords may be C, F, G or G, C, D. and you’ll have to understand that now that you’re in the key of g, you have an F# and you’ll play that when you play the D chord.

of course, you may have learned that the V chord just plays on the 5th note in the scale (D) and that the major chords (you didn’t learn the difference between major and minor? that’s in the other 80%) are easily played by remembering they’re just Do, Mi, Sol. and you know that Mi is two full-steps from Do and that Sol is one and a half-step from Mi.

easy, see. and that’s only 20% of all of music theory.

still, it can be helpful to identify the small things you do that make the big things happen, as well as not striving for perfection before you feel ready to ship.this reminds me of what Tim Ferris talks about when he says that being really good at something can be getting to 90%, when everybody else is at 80%, and that going from 95% up can take years and doesn’t give much gain.

so you get really good at something. you focus on the basics. you get really, really, really good at the basics that mean something. you learn the chords, you learn the theory, you learn these basics. you learn the tools. you reach for a good 90% understanding and efficacy of the 20% that’s going to make a difference.

you internalize it.

learn it by going deep and sticking with it, and making yourself uncomfortable and practicing more than any sane person should practice.

and by then you might have something. you’ll write a song and it might not be as good as you want it to be, but it’s something and it’s not going to get much better until you write about 20 more songs.

so you share it—even though it’s not ready. get it out there. make it an offering to the masses, or to your 4 fans.

and now you’re starting to get familiar with the technique; you’re getting familiar with the tools. you’re getting in the process of creating something and pushing through the discomfort of sharing it.

that cycle will continue for a while.

and at some magical musical moment, you’re able to hear a song and almost recreate it. at this point, the message can work through you. you understand your palette, you understand the basic theory, you’re starting to see the patterns, you’re starting to see the matrix. and now, you’re skills are such that your art can portray the message that wants to express itself through you.

ah, but this is also a lie.

art will work its way through you every step along the way. your inexperience with technique will shape the way your convey your message. you don’t have to be an expert or a professional to share. you don’t have to be an expert or professional to make art. you just have to make it and share it. and feel the vulnerability.

there is no effort without error and shortcoming.

what’s important is that you’re actually in the arena.

good luck.

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