22 October 2018

Why Learning an Instrument Sucks

I played the alto saxophone almost everyday for eight years. I won awards in solo & ensemble performances and appeared in a high school band that won numerous accolades, but was I any good? Probably not. I've been trying to play guitar for almost 4 additional years and my playing more closely resembles an electrical attack from a super-villain than a pleasurable vibration. Relateable? Here's why learning an instrument sucks.

So you decided to pick up the guitar as a hobby or an aphrodisiac, and you learn the D, A, and  G chords. You can play simple songs and maybe sing-a-long. Feelin' good, right? This is where the learning curve becomes unrelentingly brutal, unless you practice every single day. This is where I am and many of you are. I like the idea of playing an instrument. It's satisfying to improve upon, relaxing (sometimes), and fun. Nothing quite feels like mastering a bit you struggled oh so long to comprehend. But its also highly frustrating, confusing, and toilsome. There is no concrete rewards for practicing outside of the direct results you yield and there is no immediate reinforcement for success. You set your own goals and are responsible for your own success. Assuming you have adult tasks you need to perform, it becomes so easy to glance at your instrument and say "maybe this weekend I'll be able to play." You may be right, or the truth may be that you are putting off practice because you have a fear that you are wasting your time. As it turns out, you just may be, but your level of commitment is entirely in your own hands; and that is completely okay. I'm not saying that everyone is capable of musical prowess, because that's simply not realistic. What I am saying is that dedicating a little more time each week to your craft will keep you from stalling your talent. One difference many may fail to make is you not only have to practice, but you must practice correctly and effectively. Use a metronome, standard posture, etc.

Another reason learning an instrument sucks, it is not kind to beginners. At all. Learning theory is often tedious or confusing to a point where giving up seems like the only option other than throwing your laptop. No matter the instrument, mastering an understanding not only of the instrument but of theory is essential to taking your musicianship to the next level. You may have to read or watch a series of YouTube videos hosted by an older British gentleman, but you'll than yourself later. See a tutor if at all possible. There are many costly online resources that will benefit you to see if one is not available, but undertaking the role of student is beyond compare. Once you have begun to use the clef in a way that no longer requires your complete attention, you may begin to learn structure and reading music. This is key, no pun intended. Another important word of caution: Be realistic. This is what I struggle without a doubt the most. You won't be playing Van Halen's Eruption in two months, or ever. Learn to play Hot Cross Buns first, and see where that takes you. I've spent too many nights watching YouTube videos of lessons on Metallica's Kirk Hammett to know you won't get there without trudging through the bore of improving your skills. Life Pro Tip: In musical regards or any other facet of reality, NEVER compare yourself to others. To quote the great musician Yoda, "Fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering." 
Don't waste your time affecting your self-worth or downplaying your progress.

All in all, this post is not to be taken as sage advice from an accomplished musician but rather as sympathy and reason to why you may feel futile in the realm of musicianship. I am not a professional, nor am I even the best musician in my household. Remember, if you stay focused with set goals, you may just trick yourself into success. Be slow and be consistent. Or you can wave your arms long enough and hope for the best. What instruments do you play? Tell me in the comment section. Don't be discouraged and good luck!

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