5 Lessons We Learn From Taking Up An Instrument

The beauty of music

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash
Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Like most people, I was confined to the safe vicinity of my home during the pandemic. As time progressed, I slowly got bored of binging series after series, wasting time just cause I felt I had to. Days were rushing as hours felt like minutes, and minutes felt like seconds. I lost my sense of time; my unfailing internal clock must have been broken.

I concluded that I needed a new hobby to make use of all the extra time. There were many options I could choose from, but I knew, at this time in my life, there was only one hobby for me — guitar. My relationship with the guitar was one of unrequited love. The guitar was always trying to get my attention, while I never gave it any. After much procrastination, I finally decided to take up the guitar, consummating our sacred bond.

Initially, learning a new instrument can be overwhelming. There are so many intricate details regarding the playing style, tuning, chords, etc. If you are teaching yourself, you might wonder where to start, and once you start, it doesn't seem easy. Your hands lack synchronization as they slide over the fretboard, producing a cacophony of high-pitched screeches. Playing melodiously seems something of the distant future. You wonder if you will ever get better.

But as you practice consistently, day by day, you see yourself improving slightly. Your hands move better and faster as the guitar produces a musical tune. All of the hard work you thought was in vain is bearing its fruit now. You can now feel yourself getting addicted to your instrument as you constantly try to learn some new song or technique. Oh, how rewarding this is, you think, as you realize your own hands are producing such soothing, mellifluous music. It has been a long, difficult journey, but your determination and consistency have paid off, leaving you with some important lessons, in my opinion, about life and hard work.

Lesson 1: Practice compounds over time

At the start, the daily practice seems to make no difference. You might even find yourself a little less motivated over time. It seems very difficult as there is no definite indication of any progress. A feeling of disappointment and failure engulfs you.

But don’t give up; keep at it. There is no sudden leap from bad to good; improvement happens over time. Every day you practice, you get slightly better, even if it is as low as a one percent improvement. All of your daily practice gets compounded over time, I realized as I looked back at my journey. That’s why it is important to keep practicing, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Make your instrument easily accessible so you can just start playing. Keep it in your living room or by your bed, whatever you think will help. Set small achievable goals for yourself. Even learning something as simple as, “Happy Birthday” on your instrument makes a difference.

Over time you are rewarded for your unwavering dedication and consistent hard work. You realize you are playing pretty well now and can pick up new songs faster. You have now become one with your instrument.

Lesson 2: There is no single right way

Often we are told that there is only one way to succeed or improve, and most of us believe this statement. Learning an instrument can give a different perspective on this topic. There are myriad ways to start learning so that everyone can learn at their own comfort level. Some people like to start by learning songs that they love that they imagined themselves playing on stage. These people finish song after song and learn different styles from various artists. Intuitively they are learning what notes sound melodic together, and what don’t.

Alternatively, some start with music theory, learning about pitch, scales, modes, keys, etc. You learn about different systems, like CAGED on the guitar, that help you visualize patterns on your instrument. You understand why certain notes sound good together. You learn why your favorite song sounds the way it does. You might even be able to create small riffs from the theory you learn.

Also, some people become great players with the help of a teacher, and some are self-taught. There is no one right way to improve as a player. It’s important to choose a path that is best suited to your liking and pace.

Lesson 3: Respect is important

In life, you give respect to get respect. You can’t expect someone to be nice to you when you don't reciprocate the same; that would make you a hypocrite.

When you’re learning an instrument, it’s the same. Only if you take care of your instrument will it gift you with the most melodic sounds. You learn the importance as your time with your instrument increases. Cleaning your guitar strings regularly prevents rust and allows easy sliding, oiling your fretboard prevents cracks and wear, and polishing your guitar body helps retain its shiny finish. The same is for every other instrument; you need to treat it like a machine. A well-oiled machine is always better than a worn-out one.

When you show your instrument respect, it stays in pristine condition for countless years, aging like fine wine. You can even pass it down to the next generation.

Lesson 4: Learn the rules and break them in your own way

It is essential to learn all the rules when you learn a new skill. The same goes for any musical instrument. These rules govern what notes and chords can go with each other. You have your chords of a key to make different chord progressions, like an I-IV-V progression. You also have all your notes of that certain key. Following all of these rules can produce excellent music but will lack flavor and uniqueness.

Only when you break these rules will you get your unique style. You might go about doing this by plucking chords from the relative minor of a key or by using the minor chord of the key; both offer a unique sound to the ears. Some people like to flat the seventh notes giving their music a jazzy feel. Others like to use elements from the different modes, such as Dorian and Mixolydian, to change the brightness of their music.

Real progress begins when you break these rules and see what works for you. That’s when you can make music with your unique flavor.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”― Pablo Picasso

Lesson 5: Enjoy the journey

There are days where your hands seem to be out of rhythm and others where they are as skilled as a surgeon. The challenges can get really daunting, especially if you have been working days to surpass them. You can only hope your practice is not in vain.

The downs and roadblocks can get really annoying, but you wouldn't be able to cherish the ups and good moments without them. Every moment along the way teaches us an important lesson. That’s why it’s important to cherish every moment throughout your journey, even the bad ones.

Case quite often, it’s the journey, not the destination, that is most enjoyable.

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