Reversing the Dwindling Spiral of Musical Enjoyment
People take up a musical instrument because they want to experience the joy, pleasure, fun, aesthetic thrill - call it what you like - that can come from making music. Often they do experience it with relative purity at first and even for quite a while afterwards. But for many of us, sooner or later, this positive feeling becomes tainted or diminished - or even disappears entirely. One of the main culprits in this could be called “the tyranny of competence.”
Tell someone that Joe Blow plays guitar or piano, or whatever, and often the first response is “Is he any good?” This is the tyranny of competence at work. Could “Is he having fun with it?” be a more appropriate first response?
Playing music can become too much about how good we are (or more accurately, how good we arenʼt), not how enjoyable it is. Of course, becoming a better musician is an extremely legitimate and laudable goal to work towards. But in the end, is it not the increased aesthetic pleasure for the player and listener that makes becoming a better musician worthwhile?
The problem is that becoming good enough can become THE reason one is playing music. Then if you donʼt think you are progressing fast enough, practicing becomes just another one of lifeʼs unsatisfying chores or even another reason to beat yourself up. This is unfortunate and not at all necessary.
Jazz saxophonist great Ornette Coleman used to like to sit in and play with elementary school bands. He understood that beginners can have a fresh, innocent joy and excitement in music making that more than makes up for their low technical level.
I would encourage you to enjoy the music you are playing now at whatever level you play at. If you took up the instrument yesterday (or just feel like you did!), even that level can be enjoyed. Continue to work to improve, certainly, but be sure to take pleasure from where you are now. Remember that when you do attain the higher level you dream of now, that will then be your present level. From there I guarantee you will see a higher level up the line that you will desire very much to be at.
There is no final “there,” just a series of “hereʼs” and musical enjoyment is possible at every one of them.
John Payne, November, 2010
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