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.
Today might be “the big day” for you. If it is, have you prepared? As it turns out you’re as prepared as you’re going to be, so we can move on.
What’s left to do today, to prepare for “the big day?” Do you know what you’re going to wear, or eat today? Are you going to exercise? Maybe pay some bills or do some laundry? Maybe “the big event” on “the big day” is actually just one part of today. That’s not so scary, is it?
If today isn’t “the big day” for you, what can you do to start preparing now?
Every time you start over from the beginning, every time you play it a little slower, every time you play it just a few more times, you are in the company of the most successful musicians in history.
They aren’t all prodigies. They didn’t sell their soul. They’re the lucky few that were somehow convinced that it’s worth the extra trouble, it’s worth the extra attention, it’s worth the time, to get where they want to go.
What can you do to convince yourself of that? Is it worth a try, just in case?
If each day is representative of our ability and worth as a musician, then we’re probably not very good musicians. We’re going to have a lot of bad days. Days when we don’t practice, don’t practice well, have a bad gig, or just struggle with our musicianship.
Instead, let’s judge our willingness to show up every day, or almost every day. If we do that then we have an opportunity to feel great about what we’re doing, no matter how difficult or slow moving it is. In addition to that, it’s actually a much better measure of what it is we’re trying to be. Musicians are people who play music, so if you play music you’re as much a musician as you’ll ever be, or ever could be.
Once you’re a musician, you get to decide what kind of musician you want to be.
Your job as a musician is not to decide whether or not you are a good musician. Your job is to play music.
To play music today, tomorrow, and for a long time, you have to find a way to enjoy the process of making music.
You’re not going to ignore your mistakes. But they don’t go in the “bad musician” pile, they go in the “things to practice” pile.
So how do you improve as a musician without thinking about whether or not you are “good?” By taking music seriously and not personally.
One reason to consistently do the work is that when opportunity knocks, you will be ready.
I wouldn’t be concerned with the idea that you might not be ready when opportunities come. I would instead consider that opportunity is scarce for those who aren’t doing the work.