Give Yourself Permission To Suck!

Jul 25, 2023

At the time of publishing this article, I’ll have been playing music in one form or another for over 40 years. Most of those years, I have been performing music in a high-level, professional capacity. Over nearly 30 of those years, I have spent a lot of time teaching other musicians of all ages and skill levels. It stands to reason, then, that there are a few things you could rightfully assume about me:

I love music.
I love playing, recording, writing and performing music.
I love teaching, to anyone with the desire to learn, music.
I am getting old!

So, it is with this wealth of knowledge and experience that I can give one massive piece of advice to anyone who wants to play music: Give yourself permission to suck!!

Here’s the thing; most people either underestimate how long it’ll take to be proficient at something new, or they overestimate their ability to learn something new. Either way, these are both surefire ways to become frustrated with the learning process. They are surefire ways to get people to quit. 

Oh, I’ve heard the complaints!

“Why is this taking so long?!?”
“I thought this would be easier!”
“You must be so tired of working with me on this.”
“I just don’t have the talent to do this.”
“This is too hard!”
“I’ll never get this!!”

…and so it goes, and so it goes…I could write dozens more quotes, but I think you get the picture, dear reader.

The common thread with all the complaints I’ve heard over the years is that people seem to think they can just magically be good at something without the requisite work. They see other people play music and make it look so easy. They wonder why it isn’t actually easy. I’ve had to remind them time and time again something they don’t know about these musicians. 

They used to suck too!!

Jimi Hendrix struggled with barre chords too.
Elton John struggled with thumb turns too.
Miles Davis struggled with embouchure too.
David Sanborn struggled with fingerings too.
These folks ALL sucked…just like YOU! 

It’s really easy to see a fully-formed musician and think that they are different or more gifted than you (of course, any high-level musician knows there’s no such thing as a “fully-formed musician”; they are always evolving!). However, truly knowing that EVERYONE has struggled with learning and playing music is enough knowledge and inspiration for one to continue the challenging process of practicing. 

Giving yourself permission to suck allows you to relax into the learning process. It allows you to forgive yourself for having the audacity to be human and make mistakes. It allows you to be fearless in trying new things. It allows you to have a more fulfilling life.

No one likes to look foolish. No one likes to suck. But it’s only by allowing yourself to be humble and curious that you’ll be able to push beyond your comfort zones and continue learning new things. Learning new things leads to new challenges, but it also leads to new adventures, new friends, new excitement and new experiences. 

Adventure. Friends. Excitement. Experiences. Wow…that all sounds pretty good to me. How about you?

So, pick up that instrument. Make it sound like a suicidal duck or a farting elephant. Have your thumbs fail you and your fingers abandon you. Look stupid. Sound terrible. Play awfully. Suck in a way that people will write about you for centuries. Then do it again, and again, and again. While most people will quit, you’ll be getting better. Then, at some point, you’ll be the one they admire. 

Just like Jimi and Elton and Miles and David and all the others who gave themselves permission to suck. This is the journey of the awesome musician. This is the way of the Practice Warrior!

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