Here’s some of the best advice I’ve ever received:
“You don’t have to love all the music you play, but don’t embarrass yourself.”
Ideally we’ll always play the music we love for the people who love it. But that can actually be a rare occurrence, especially for people trying to make a living playing music.
A fundamentalist wouldn’t play a single note unless they were in the perfect conditions with the perfect audience. They would have principles but rarely play note.
A more casual musician plays all the time, but perhaps doesn’t love all the music being played.
There’s some middle ground here where one can play music, learn from unfamiliar styles and musicians, but not burn out on things that don’t serve their particular musical goal.
You don’t have to go to every jam, or take every gig, or learn every style. You’re better off doing some picking and choosing.
You don’t have to be particularly skilled or knowledgeable to teach.
You just have to be honest about what you know.
Teaching also has a magical ability to clarify your own understanding of a concept, so I would suggest teaching anyone that asks for your advice.
Consider this: When you were learning, how would you want someone to explain what you know now? How many different ways can you explain what you know?
There’s a reason why starting something new feels so exciting and fresh.
It’s because when we start from the beginning we absorb new information all the time.
“I”m new to this, I need all the help I can get”
But then later, “I should be better than this, I know all about how to do this”
I believe we lose our willingness to learn, listen to others, and enjoy the process of learning as we become more familiar with something.
But we don’t have to. Today could be the first day again, as long as we’re content with getting a little bit done every day.
No one is listening to the things you can’t do.
When you’re on stage, or in a jam session, no one is listening to all the things you wish you could do better.
We spend a lot of time in our own heads, and by now we’ve made a long list of all the things we’ve tried and failed.
But our music sounds like the things we can do.
Our burden is carrying around the knowledge that we could be better, but if that’s not what our music sounds like then maybe we don’t need to let it weigh us down anymore.
You can’t catch up.
Not because you’re too far behind, but because there’s no such thing as “catching up.”
That’s not the game we’re playing.
We’re not trying to be as good as anyone else, and we’re not trying to be as good as we could have been if we had only started earlier.
All we can do is show up and do the work. If you do that, you will get better.
Getting better is nice, but the satisfaction is in the work.
When you can do the work without feeling shame about other times when you didn’t do the work then we’ll be unstoppable.
Discomfort is an important part of the learning process. Feelings of frustration and confusion accompany any meaningful period of growth.
When you learn something new, are you trying to learn it through a lens you already understand? Or are you trying to see something in a new way?
We all want to know more, but we also avoid reminding ourselves that there are things we don’t know.
As it turns out the discomfort of not knowing can be a powerful trail-marker on the path to discovery and learning.
I recently was hired to join a band that is relatively successful within its genre. I know for a fact that I was hired because of these qualities:
-I learn all the music and am prepared to add new songs at the last minute
-I act professionally
-I dress professionally
-Friendly relationship with bandleader
-I’m a good musician
Being a good musician is necessary, but being a great musician is not. There are a lot of other people that are much, much better musicians that weren’t hired for this job. They either don’t do the work, aren’t fun to travel with, or haven’t developed a relationship with the people in the band.
You need to work on your musicianship. But it is so incredibly common that one will receive opportunities based on other factors, factors which you can control. The way you conduct yourself, the things your prioritize, the way you show how serious you are about something speaks volumes about your potential as a long term employee, especially in a creative field.
If you exercise because you’re “supposed to” then you’ll likely cut some corners here or there. You’ll run a little less, do fewer push-ups, maybe you’ll skip the last exercise or two. “That’s okay, at least I showed up at all,” you’ll say.
But if you actually like exercising, or if you want certain benefits that come with exercise, then you’ll go out of your way to do more of it. You’ll find new ways to challenge your body in order to see the results you want. You’ll read articles, watch Youtube videos, anything to improve your exercise habits.
Practicing is like that too.
And interestingly, faking it for a while can really work. Go watch some Youtube videos, or read an interview with your favorite musician. Try to emulate some of the things they do, or add a new exercise to your practice routine.
Do it before you really want to. Pretend that you’re insatiable and you absolutely must know more about music. You might find that the results of this kind of behavior set in motion a very real curiosity and hunger for learning and progress.
I’m aware that almost no one reads this blog, except for a few accounts trying to gain exposure by liking every post I make.
This blog is not for people to read, it’s for me to write.
By the time people are paying attention I’ll have done a lot of practicing, and I won’t have to start doing it for real. This is for real.
When you practice, as a musician, are you practicing the thing you’re going to do on stage? Are you playing entire songs without stopping? Are you playing into an imaginary microphone? Are you smiling at an imaginary crowd? You don’t have to do these things all the time, but when you do get on stage, you’re going to want to have had some practice.
In western music there are 12 notes. That means you have a one in twelve chance of picking any note you hear and correctly naming it. Those are pretty good odds.
But learning by ear is really hard. Why? Is it hard to find the notes? Not really, you could try one note at a time and you wouldn’t have to try more than 12 before you found the right note. If you do that for each note you’re guaranteed to learn anything, so long as you can hear what each note sounds like.
Learning by ear is hard for the same reason that anything is. It requires patience and attention, and when we don’t give those things then we get worn down. I don’t believe we get worn down when we really do anything. It’s the moments when we aren’t really giving something our full attention, or when we aren’t really listening, that we get worn down.
If you really listen, and you’re really patient, then learning something by ear will actually excite you. It will give you energy instead of wearing you down.