Why The Hell Are You Doing This Anyway??

Jul 12, 2022
Christopher Maloney, music educator and founder of Practice Warriors questions why musicians start learning music and playing an instrument.

People get into playing music for all kinds of reasons.  What I find interesting is that most people have a few superficial, albeit reasonable, reasons for starting to learn music.  They think it would be fun.  They want to jam with friends.  They want to play their favorite songs.  They think it’ll be easy.

But then reality sets in.  They struggle to make any decent sound on their instrument.  Their fingers are being destroyed on the guitar.  Their lips are being shredded on the reed or brass instrument. They’re getting blisters on their fingers from the drumsticks.  Their singing voice actually sounds like a strangled chicken. This thing they thought would come easy and give them instant joy has turned into a very humbling experience!

Yes, so many people struggle when learning a musical instrument.  Many times, they struggle to simply get the drive to sit down and practice.  Has this happened to you?  C’mon, tell the truth.  If you’re made of carbon, breathe oxygen and play a musical instrument, then I know for a fact that you have struggled to practice.  Isn’t that funny?  We all know that we’ll get better the more we play, but sometimes that thought isn’t compelling enough (or it’s too abstract) to get us to practice.  So what do you say to someone who knows that they need to practice, that actually WANT to practice, but are still struggling to practice? 

You ask them this: Why the hell are you doing this anyway??  Why put yourself either through the pain of practicing or the pain of guilt for not practicing?  

I guess there may actually be a better question to ask, and it should be something you think about every time you sit down to practice:  Why is music is important to YOU?  

Seriously?  Why do you feel music is important to you?  To the world?   How does it improve your life?  Why does it make you happy?  What is it about music that you love?

Why the hell am I asking you this?  What does this have to do with rocking the guitar or shredding on the saxophone?  

Well, this gets to one of the question I asked earlier, and it’s something you truly need to ask yourself: Why am I doing this?  Why do I want to play music in the first place?  What does music itself mean to me?  Why is it important?  Asking yourself “why is music important to me” is really the most essential question you can ask at this moment.  

Think back on the earlier reasons I mentioned.  You think playing music will be fun.  Why?  Why will it be fun?  What are you picturing yourself doing that would be fun to you?  What kind of enjoyment will music bring to you?  How will that make you feel? 

You want to jam with friends.  Why?  Why do you want to share music with others?  What feelings will this give you?  What friends will you jam with? What will you sound like?  What songs will you play? Again, how will this make you feel?

You want to play your favorite song.  What songs?  Why do you like those songs?  How do these songs make you feel?  How will playing those songs make you feel?

Do you see the common denominator with my questions?  The common question is this: “How will this make you feel?”  It’s the feeling that you want to tap into, not the intellectual reasons why you are playing or learning music.  Yes, you know that practicing improves your playing.  Does THAT make you practice more?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  But tapping into the feelings of why you want to play music provides you with a deeper level of drive that will get you to practice when other people don’t.  It’ll keep you on target with any of your musical goals, regardless of how challenging they are. 

The funny thing is that most people don’t get to this basic, but important, level of thinking; this primal reason why they decided to take the leap to learn music.  Sure as I mentioned, we all have superficial reasons to learn music.  Our parents suggested it.  It was a class at school.  We wanted to impress the opposite gender. We wanted to play fun songs.  That’s all well and good, but there are deeper, perhaps unconscious, reasons why we would take on such a challenging endeavor as learning music.  Tapping into these needs can provide all musicians the motivation, inspiration and (most importantly) the drive we need to get you over the inevitable plateaus and challenges we all face when learning music. 

Want something proactive to do to tap into this kind of drive?  Perhaps a little exercise to give you the edge you need to keep up your practicing?  Try this: write down 3 reasons why music is important to YOU.  As you write down each answer, go as deep as you can about how playing music will make you FEEL.  The more you tap into your emotions about learning music, the more compelling reasons you will have to sticking with your practicing.  

Write them down and keep that little list handy.  The next time you look at your instrument and don’t feel like you want to practice, you can look at that list and get back to why you want to play music in the first place. This list will be very helpful to get over any laziness or lethargy by tapping into your thoughts about what music truly means to you.  If you haven't practiced in a while, you should check out these strategies to help you get back on track.  However, the best way to keep practicing is to not STOP practicing.  Understanding how music makes you feel is one of the best ways to keep you on track!  Have fun!

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