Who's the Best?

When I was a Boy Scout years ago, we used to sing marching songs while out hiking. That was a lot of fun. One particular thing we did was this shout: the Scoutmaster would shout “Who’s the Best!?” And we would all respond enthusiastically “We’re the Best, 355!” (We were Troup 355).

But who’s the best musician? I usually don’t think in terms of ‘bestness’. To me, it’s more about having fun, setting and achieving goals, and satisfying that artist urge in each of us that makes music a good endeavor.

But we also have this urge to compete, all of us, to some extent. That’s one reason there is the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention in Athens, AL each Fall. To see who’s the best Fiddler, Banjo picker, Harmonica blower, etc.

But you’ll notice there is no quantitative method to determine who’s the best. It’s up to a subjective panel of judges. You can have the best technical performance, but if you choose the wrong style or wrong song for those judges, then you’ll not rank as highly.

But that’s the best we can do in such matters.

For beginning musicians, it’s not so hard to determine how good you are. It’s pretty obvious how you are progressing. But as we improve, it’s like we come closer and closer to achieving that absolute state of perfection (not that we ever get there, mind you). And so measuring our progress becomes more complex.

We could measure it by how many songs we know, but that also breaks down when we realize that some many parts of songs are easily interchangeable.

How about measuring it by how many licks you know? That’s a bit more to the point, but doing so would only increase the complexity of measurement. Besides, it’s also how cleanly you play those licks.

Measuring speed? That’s certainly quantifiable, but it leaves us with a hollow victory, as we easily recognize so many other attributes are needed for ‘bestness’.

You see, this is not like sports, where you can reasonably quantify the best. Music is an art, and as such, it is simply the opposite of any measurement of quantity – it is, by its very essence a quality, not a quantity. That’s what makes it what it is.

Ultimately I think, no, I feel, it is more likely “who’s been best at being in the right place at the right time and been bold enough to seize the opportunity, assuming due diligence in needed practice”. What a mouthful. This also may make them more inspired (I know it does for me); a very visible attribute. And that is about as close as we can get to measuring “bestness”.

So we grab it and run.

Bottom line: just keep practicing, and enjoy it – you never know where your music will lead you.

About Pgibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Software Engineer and part-time banjo instructor. My wife Miiko and I worship at Rivertree Downtown. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin and dulcimer at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play and teach Scruggs, melodic, clawhammer, and 2-finger styles. I'm also very keen on theology, being a Trail Care Partner with the Land Trust of North Alabama, photography, urban planning, architecture, astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, martial arts, and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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