Let’s talk for a second about why when we hear a song and we want to learn it, why do we so often instantly go to a place of frustration? Why are we so hard on ourselves, saying, “Why can’t I do that? I’ve been playing for five years or seven years, or even my whole life!”
To answer that question, let’s go back to the steps that have to happen to be able to play something:
The first step is one that a lot of us have down pat… We have to listen to music we like. Interestingly though, some people don’t even understand that. Some people think they can just put the music in front of them and that they’re going to be able to make music based on reading something off a page. They think they can simply look up the lead sheet on Google or just watch a quick YouTube video lesson and away they go. That’s not the case. This is an aural art form. Music is meant to be heard first. So step one is that you better be listening to that song and lots.
Step two is to dig deep enough to find the music you love. Most of us do that and know the excitement that we feel when we find an album we love. It’s like picking up an amazing book that you want to get to the end of… or somebody cooking you a meal and you want seconds and thirds. You just want more of it. Some of us, though, get stuck on what we should learn. (I’ve certainly been there.) You are told ‘you have to play this song!’ by someone you trust (a teacher, a friend, your brother). So instead of digging deep to find music you truly cannot live without your study list is made up of other people’s songs that they truly cannot live without. Focus on what moves you now others.
Step three is the hard part. This is the part most people skip or lose patience with after a short, half-hearted attempt. Step three is when you slice that song (in all its beauty) into bite-sized, learnable chucks. Tiny little goals. Baby steps to mastery, if you will.
A trumpet player friend once said to me that the difference between a fan and a musician is that the musician takes that third step. The musician thinks, “I like this, and now it’s time to sit down and do the work.” It’s not enough to just love music. It’s not enough to have listened to 10,000 hours of music. The third step is the key step and the one that derails most people.
Why do most people bail on the third step? Because the third step takes awhile and it’s nowhere near as fun—especially at first. Step three requires a level of patience that we don’t have a whole lot of. Most of us only have patience for a few things in our lives. For me… I’m only going to sit down and learn so much with my knitting needles. I had big dreams and hopes about the hat I was going to knit for my daughter over the holidays, but I just went back to the scarf I already know how to make. I only had so much patience to learn something new.
We have patience to tackle only a handful of large new projects at any one time. Transitioning from Music Fan to Musician requires an incredible wealth if patience. This is not simply a two-minute YouTube video lesson. This is not your buddy showing you a few chords on guitar. Those things are fine, but they will not take you to the promised land. They will keep you on the sidelines looking in at the real players.
So on the outset of tackling any new song, you have to ask yourself three things:
- Have I listened to this song lots first.
- Do I truly love the song
- Do I have the patience to start breaking down the parts. All the parts.
Sometimes it’s okay to just listen to a song. But if you want to learn the song, if you want to really know the song and be able to play it for others the rest of your life, you have to be clear on the three steps. That clarity and follow through is what makes a musician.
– by Nate, Director of Private Lessons
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