violinFor the past three and a half years, I’ve been (very slowly) learning how to play violin. This morning, I started thinking about how music-making is like journalism.

For one thing, we are all born with an innate music-making ability, but not everyone puts in the effort needed to become a musician. We’re all born (or at least socialized) with story-telling abilities, but not everyone becomes a journalist, either.

Some other similarities:

• It’s much more fun when it’s done with others. Playing with others draws out your best and exposes you to new ideas. So do good newsrooms, even those with only a couple of people in them. Experimenting with support always feels freeing.

• It is (relatively) easy to become borderline competent on the violin; getting beyond that takes hard, repeated work. It’s the same with journalism.

• Understanding and being able to truly play music requires a grasp of underlying principles: scales, musical structure, timing, rhythm and so on. Journalism has it’s underlying principles, too, such as solid grasp of writing effective sentences and understanding of structure.

• Playing the violin relies on “proper” technique, but if you watch enough of them, you’ll soon see that the idea of “proper” technique is different in every player. There are differences in the way bows are held, in arm positions, in the way the strings are attacked. Journalists, too, bring to bear their different strengths and ideals in applying the techniques of the trade.

• There are exceptional violinists whom I adore and try to learn from. Most journalists I know feel the same about exceptional journalists.

• The only way to get better is to practise. How do you get to the NYT newsroom? Practise.

• Every piece is a practice piece, even if it’s in performance. As a music-maker, you are always learning. Everything you learn, whether it’s alone in the practice room or on stage with others, goes into the memory bank. Same with journalism: it’s lifelong learning through repeated practice, whether it’s the interview, the draft, the published piece.

• Finally, there’s always some purist who will watch you play and tell you you’re doing it all wrong. Same with journalism, although in most cases it’s not a purist, it’s a reader.

How about it journalist-musicians? Anything to add?

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