6 Vital Things to Know Before You Decide to Play an Instrument

*For best performance, read everything in a wisely-old-wizardy-Dumbledore voice.

It’s late afternoon. I’m sitting with my tablet, drinking a hot chocolate while the rain is falling outside like some really weird girl in a random Adele music video. I know I should be practicing the violin or piano. And yet, I’m scrutinizing a recording of myself playing and focusing way too hard on my flaws rather than noticing the things I’m actually doing pretty well.

If I were to be honest, I never expected playing instruments would be like this. I thought it would be all sugar and honey cakes and first-place ribbons and compliments. But it’s not. As the old Chinese saying goes, “One minute on stage is the result of ten years of hard work.”

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You can’t become great overnight.

Ah, how we all wish you could consume a miracle pill, spin in circles, click your heels together, then wake up the next day feeling motivated and ready to dazzle everyone with your epic instrument-playing skills. Woefully, there is no such miracle pill and the only path to success involves many sleepless nights, a half dozen chewed fingernails, a thousand dead corpses, and much hard work and practice – especially the latter two.

It’s easier to improve when something has your undivided attention.

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You should never, ever have to juggle your hobbies.

A perfect jack-of-all-trades does not exist. Sure, your neighbor might be skilled at dancing and playing ping pong and running, but, is she or he truly perfect? Don’t you think they might be a lot better at ping pong if they only focused on ping pong? Likewise, when you are learning an instrument, you can certainly have other hobbies, but if you really wish to stand out, make your chosen weapon instrument your very primary focus and aspiration. This may even include choosing between two instruments. Harsh, but true.

Someone will always be better than you.

No matter how hard you work or how many musicians you vengefully murder, there will always be a few that manage to get away and do what you do, except better. Though you might pull your hair out over this, know that your attempts at mass genocide will be for naught. The best thing you can do at any given time is to know what you can do and work on improving the things you can’t. Remember, dear reader: If someone will always be better than you, someone will always be worse than you, too.

Your fellow musicians are your friends.

Now that you’ve come to terms with your mortality, perhaps it’s time to recognize that your fellow musicians are there to help you. So ask for help when you’re confused! Ask for help when you need a demonstration! Ask for help when you forgot something! Ask away, my friend! And when other musicians come to you for help – because a time will come when that will start to happen more and more frequently – give them what they seek, just like a wise musician once gave you the help you needed long ago.

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F is for friends that do stuff together, U is for you and me…

Be patient, be diligent, and be faithful

You know what, reader? There will be times where you won’t be able to win a competition, or maybe you’ll mess up your best piece at a recital. And guess what? It’s absolutely fine if you can’t get that fingering down in one sitting. It’s absolutely fine if you’ve been trying for a month and you still can’t coax a sound out of your flute. And if your vibrato sounds more like a drunk goat singing at the top of its lungs, even after 356,688,878,567 attempts? That’s fine. Just keep practicing. Just keep believing in yourself. And just keep doing your demonic fairy-summoning rituals.

DON’T. EVER. GIVE. UP. After. A. Bad. Day.

If, in the end, you decide that music is just not your, err, groove, by all means stop practicing. But if you’re having these thoughts just because of a bad day, psshhhh! Cry, throw a pity part, and then take whatever you’re thinking about and throw it out with the trash! Out! Out! Lastly, proceed with your cult practices with a smile on your face, like all practices should be.

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If you were looking for a sign to start playing an instrument, this is it! There is no better time than right now! But do take care and place your mental sanity above anything else and know your limits. Old, veteran musicians: What do you want to tell our newbie musicians? We want to know!

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