Harder Than You Thought/Easier Than You Think

Aug 09, 2022
Christopher Maloney, music educator and founder of Practice Warriors expressing frustration for learning music and playing an instrument.

Let’s start this conversation out in a rather unique way: I hate the title of this blog!  Well, my parents taught me that I should never “hate” anything.  I could “strongly dislike” something, but you never want to get in the habit of hating.  We’ve all seen the terrible things hate does to people.  

Okay, okay.  So let’s start this out by saying that I strongly dislike the title of this blog!  This might seem strange, in that I’m the one who actually wrote the title.  So do I strongly dislike myself?  Am I becoming a hater?  A self-hater?  Paging Dr. Freud…clean up on Aisle 4, please!

Any reader of my work knows that I rarely use the words “hard” and “easy”.  In my mind, these words should be erased from all known languages that are silly enough to use them in the first place.  In case you didn’t know, the word “hard” should always be replaced with “unfamiliar”, and the word “easy” should be replaced with the word “familiar”.  Nothing is easy and nothing is hard.  Things are only familiar and unfamiliar.  Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.  Apparently, writing this blog is cheaper than therapy.  

So why give this blog the title that I have bestowed upon it?  Well, the first part of the title is what I’ve heard from students and budding musicians for decades.  These good folks start taking lessons because they’ve been inspired by other, more experienced musicians.  They watch people play musical instruments or sing with such (apparent) effortlessness, that it looks (ugh)…easy!  

But when they decide to play an instrument and start taking lessons, they discover that it isn’t the simple skill they initially thought.  This is especially humbling for adult male students.  I’ve seen many a male body builder or personal trainer be brought to tears by un-calloused fingers pushing on guitar strings.  I would laugh at these macho fellas and say “C’mon man, I’ve got 7-year old girls killing this!”  To this day, I haven’t gotten slapped for that comment…yet!

I’ve seen nibbled-fingered healthcare workers pushed to the edge of mental anguish by a simple saxophone fingering.  People who thought they were Karaoke Kings embarrassed about sounding like a rooster on steroids after one vocal exercise.  Heck, I taught piano to one of the greatest women tennis players of all time (back when she was number one in the world, I bet she could’ve beaten any man as well!).  But when I had this world champion and Olympic gold medalist play a simple 5-note scale on the piano with both hands, a low-pitched groan escaped her lips while she exhaled the words “Man, this is like practicing my grips!”.  I smirked back at her and asked “So you struggled with grips, huh?  How’s your tennis playing now?”.  I got a classic side-eye, as both of us knew a few secrets about what it takes to obtain life-long physical skills. She stopped complaining and kept on playing. I didn’t get slapped for that comment either.

One of the first things you realize in your journey is that learning music is…wait for it…harder than you thought! 

I don’t think this is a bad thing, though.  If everyone who wanted to play music realized how challenging it actually was, they wouldn’t have the courage (or the stupidity!) to begin learning in the first place.  Ignorance is truly bliss, my friend.  Many people think it’ll only take them a few lessons to be able to play efficiently.  They are initially devastated when they start understanding that, even though they may crush it in other parts of their lives, learning music has its own timeline.  And you ain’t gonna master ANYTHING after just a few lessons.  You need to be committed.  You need to be patient.  You need to be in it for the long haul.  This is the price of admission.  

It’s in this moment of anguish and despair, when the music student (of any age) is contemplating breaking their instrument into a million pieces, I drop this pearl of wisdom:

“I know it’s harder than you thought, but it’s actually easier than you think!”

Talk about burying the lead!

The student will look up at me and say “What do you mean easy?  You just said that this is going to take a lot longer than I thought.  Months…maybe years!!  You said this was all harder than I thought it was going to be, and I agree with you now.  But now you say this is easy?  This makes me feel stupid, like I’m struggling with something that should be easy!”

I then explain to the student that what they are doing is not easy; just easier than they think in the moment.  I’ll then play them the example they are struggling with, and I’ll get an overly-exaggerated eye roll and a toss of the arms.  “Oh, it’s easy for YOU!”.  

“And how am I different from you?” I’ll ask.  “I have ten fingers just like you.  I have the same brain tissue as you.  I have no natural inclination with playing music.  None of this ‘talent’ nonsense.  So how am I different from you?”

It’s this simple line of questioning that transforms the new musician.  They realize in that instant that there actually is nothing truly special about me, either physically or mentally.  I’m no different from them.  Well, except for one thing…

“So how am I different from you?  How can I make this sound good and you can’t?” I ask again. 

“Well, I guess you’ve just done it more times than I have.”


When watching a musician with a lot of experience under his/her belt, it’s natural to think that playing music is ‘easy’.  So when someone starts learning music, and they hit that brick wall of reality that music is harder than they thought, they think something is wrong with them.  

Only when they are shown that they simply need to do something over and over on a consistent basis (otherwise known as that cryptic and ancient word: Practice!), they will understand that playing is actually easier than they think.  They get over the mental hurdle of the overwhelming nature of the learning process, and they obtain something truly powerful: faith.  They get faith in the process.  They get faith in the knowledge that their efforts will be rewarded with the skills they desire.  They also obtain another powerful skill: Patience. They mature in the knowing that it’ll take quite a bit longer than they initially thought, but this gives them a more realistic and inspiring picture of their musical development.  They start to see that the things they thought of as “hard” are truly just “unfamiliar” (you knew I’d come back to that, right?).  

A world of musical possibilities opens up to them.  They know that they and their favorite musicians are more similar than they thought.  They know that their favorite musicians were once exactly where they are now.  This revelation alone could give the budding musician the drive he/she needs to relax into the learning process, stay consistent with practicing and eventually (in good time) become the musicians they’ve only dreamed they could be.  And so could you, dear reader.  Remember, even though playing music may be harder than you thought, it’s actually easier than you think!

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