Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy

What You Can Learn from the Joshua Bell Story


There’s an urban legend about a world class violinist named Joshua Bell who played his solo violin concert program of J.S. Bach on a 3.5 million dollar instrument  in the Washington Metro at rush hour.

Riders walked past, no one “listened”  except for snippets – and he earned about 32 bucks.

The writer’s slant on the story is this:

“If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?”

I disagree COMPLETELY with is idea.

Joshua Bell demonstrated an “unsuccessful gig”  in the midst of his “successful gigs”  and showed all musicians that presentation counts – since the music was a “constant” in the equation.  Do’h!!!

  • It’s NOT on the audience to learn how to be appreciative.
  • It’s UP to US musicians to learn how to present ourselves properly.  (Joshua of course knows how – and was doing an experiment.)

Holding the public accountable for “not noticing us” is a victim mentality, and is very disempowering for musicians.

Whether we see ourselves  as concert hall worthy, restaurant gig worthy or street worthy –   we will end up playing places that are in accordance with our beliefs.

We are 100% responsible for our vision of where we want to be  – even if it is not yet manifest.   That starts inside, not outside.

How can I say this utterly blunt stuff?

For years I saw myself as the restaurant guitar guy – which is fine, and not a criticism of anyone playing gigs like that.  My self image kept me there, but I realized I wanted more.

Only when I changed  the self image (not easy)  to being a concert and festival player….life changed around me – as if by magic.

If I did it, you can do it too.

Let me ask you….

  • Have you ever noticed GREAT musicians who seem to be unappreciated?
  • Have you ever seen “bla” musicians who have GREAT performance opportunities?

To the victim this seems really unfair, as if evil is winning over good.

To the empowered musician, it makes 100% perfect sense and  is totally fair.

It’s all obeying the Law of Attraction.

We all create our worlds in accordance with our beliefs.

The Empowered Take Away Idea:

Even if your music is absolutely world class…you now know, from the subway story, that the “public” needs more than your  music alone.

If you want to reach your audience, then this matters too:

  • How You Dress
  • How Your Materials Look
  • Your Punctuality
  • Where You Choose To Play
  • Under What Conditions You Choose To Play

I’m making a new moral of the story:

“If we do not have a moment to think about how we present ourselves and our best musical efforts, how many gig opportunities are we missing?”

I’m not posting this to add to the lump of online “how to get gigs”  articles.

I am posting this because the victim mentality is poisionous to musicians, and the “take 100% responsibility”  mentality is healthy, empowering and leads to greater  happiness.


Author: Adam Rafferty

Adam Rafferty. Fingerstyle Guitarist. Recording and Concert Artist. Meditator. Philosopher. Lover of Groove.

14 thoughts on “What You Can Learn from the Joshua Bell Story

  1. Yes Adam. A great perspective.

  2. Awsome as always Adam! When Adan talks I listen 🙂

  3. Thank you Adam for sharing these thoughts!! One of my favourite sentences on my desk: “Great things come to those who want!”

  4. Excellent! Breaking the mold as always AR 🙂

    If the shoe fits…..

  5. I have two interesting takes on this post; both which have to do with 2 of my recent playing experiences.

    I’ve been and sometimes still am a “restaurant musician”: background music where the volume is usually at the threshold of hearing while you are constantly battling with the annoying table right near you who are talking about something pointless. It sucks. However, you usually get paid and don’t have to play real late or early. Recently, I was doing a solo guitar brunch gig and was asked by the manager at my first break to play more “songs”. That was funny because I had just played a whole set of both standards and some pop tunes! Granted, my approach to solo guitar playing is more abstract: (think Bill Frisell or John Scofield instead of Joe Pass or Wes Montgomery) so, the melody – while it is there – might not be as explicitly stated as if I was playing it in a trio situation but, if you listen it will hopefully all make sense.
    The problem with being in a situation like this: a restaurant guitarist, is (that for the most part) no one is really listening. My attitude to this comment was “hey, this a $50 3 hour gig; if you want tell me what to play maybe you should pay me more!”. Having just read this post I am thinking that maybe that was the wrong attitude to have. Perhaps, by limiting myself to just being a restaurant musician that is the way it is: You are under some obligation to playing what people might find more “easily digestible” or “listener friendly” (this last term was from the manager).

    Now, on a whole other spectrum, last Monday night I played a short duo set with a friend of mine who is a bass player at this hole-in-the-wall hipster dive bar in town. A local sax player, who is quite active in the local free jazz scene (and has a great DIY attitude when it comes to making things happen for him: like this gig!) started this summer series on Monday nights featuring local musicians in the free jazz or free improv scene. 4 bands in a few hours. No pay but, you can play what you want and no one can tell you any different.
    My bass player friend and I decided to go on last. There was a good crowd there for a Monday when we first got there but, most of them were there to see the local indie rock band that played before us. The first two acts were the sax player with his regular drummer and then they were joined by a fantastic local bass player. So, by the time we hit there was maybe 10 people there. By the time we finished there was 7. What was great about this gig, despite the lack of pay and people, was that I could tell that the ones that were there were really listening to us. It’s a music club so, the only thing you can do there is drink and listen! While it was a free gig (which we knew going into it) it was still great to play to an attentive audience. As I have been playing semi pro a while (12 years) I am starting more and more to think about putting myself in situations where the focus is on the music and not the shitty, overpriced food the people you are playing for are eating.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Chris

      I have been where you are at. The solution for me was this:

      Overdeliver completely.

      In a restaurant where I played nebulous jazz for years, I finally got inspired and started getting serious about my solo arranging.

      By the end of my 10 yr stint there I found I was playing solo versions of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Jackson 5 tunes.

      Busboys, waitresses, managers, patrons started telling me I was their favorite guitarist. Everyone perked up suddenly and listened.

      Concerts came, festivals came and it crowded out the restaurant work.

      As my fave success coach Brian Tracy says – “to be successful, you have to pay the entire price up front, in advance!”

      So vision, faith and over delivering “activated” something naturally, some kind of natural abundance.

      I can safely say, in hindsight that this ENTIRE shift started with me changing…not the restaurant or customers!!!

      Rock on Brother! Try overdelivering…it works.

  6. Thanks adam for remind us how to be a professional musician( entertainer). I am so happy to be able to learn from you in so many areas. Can’t wait to get the vol 2. Best regards.

  7. Thanks so much for posting this. And this doesn’t only apply in the music field, it applies in many aspects of life. Its a different perspective of life, in a way. A philosophy.

  8. what amazing words, spot on! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  9. I don’t think you read the entire article in the Washington Post. If you did, you wouldn’t say what you have said.

  10. Pingback: Wie promotet der Musiker von heute seine Werke effektiv im WWW - Erfahrungen

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