July 15, 2022

Generalists vs Specialists: Music Edition

You might be tempted to think that an orchestra conductor is a generalist and a lead violinist is a specialist.

After all, a conductor knows a little bit about a lot of instruments and a violinist knows a lot about a single instrument.

But this would be a category error.

A conductor is operating at a different altitude than a violinist.

A conductor surely benefits from knowing a little bit about a lot of instruments, but he or she isn’t trying to make a living playing any of them.

A conductor plays the orchestra as a whole.

In a sense, the orchestra is the conductor’s instrument.

And if you don’t think getting 80+ people working in perfect harmony is a specialized skill, give it a try some time ;-)

Okay, so... what would be an example of a generalist musician?

A generalist musician would be someone who thinks it’d increase their odds of getting into an orchestra by auditioning for violin AND oboe AND french horn AND timpani.

That’s probably not a winning strategy.