I am finding that a few of my students are becoming upset or frustrated with the difficulties and challenges that music presents to them. Whether it is the technical aspect of their instrument, or the shear difficulty of feeling music and making the simplest exercises sound musical and meaningful, some students unfortunately become disheartened. But I am here to say that this is okay: music is hard and if it weren’t hard, people like myself would be out of work because everyone would want to be a musician!
Our musical ability is like a muscle; we break down musical exercises until we are sick of them. Sometimes these exercises may make us feel uncomfortable physically (they are awkward for our hands, embouchure, or vocal chords) or mentally (they shake our confidence), but eventually we are able to overcome and build our skill level. Erik Johnson, one of my musical mentors in college, once told me not to be discouraged during the periods when my playing sounds like garbage to me. It is during these periods in which something is really happening and you are on the verge of accomplishing something great. You should really be concerned with the times when you are content with the way you are playing, because it is during these periods that you must search for a higher level of musicality. Erik is my musical guru.
I am presenting a challenge to all of my students. This challenge pertains to myself as well because I have not completely mastered this aspect of music. The challenge is to own your mistakes and to be proud of them! If you are reading a piece of music and you flop through a passage, keep reading and read the best you can. If you are soloing and you play a “wrong” note, do not stop and say you messed up; keep soloing and do solo with passion and soulfulness! When you go to practice, do not just practice the things you know. Take a deep breath, tell yourself you can do this, and slow down the things you always mess up, and then slowly bring them up to speed. I believe in all of you and I know you all have the potential to be great musicians!
Jim Scanlan teaches guitar at Hunterdon academy oif the Arts in Flemington, NJ