Losing the joy in music?

Guest Post by Simon Reich

After reading a rather sad article by Washington Post author Arianna Warsaw-Fan Rauch, I began discussing the issues raised in the story with other musicians.

Arianna lamented her loss of joy in music due to endless exercises, scales, playing the same pieces ad nauseum and various other musical drills akin to army training, that robbed her of any love she might have had for a life as a musician.

Once I’d read the expose, I wondered about the author’s mental or emotional approach to music. Was it her attitude or the way she interpreted music that was a reason for her eventual dissatisfaction, and could this also affect your own (or if you teach others) students longevity and enjoyment in the art of music?

Creative and Analytical

To set the scene for how this loss of joy in music could begin, I have my own personal theory about musicians and the catgories that break them up.

The people with left and right brain tendencies, perform different tasks. Those who exhibit creative tendencies (painters, poets, creative musicians etc.) tend to work out of the right side of the brain and those that are more methodical, mathematical and calculating (accountants, scientists etc.) work out of the left hand side of the brain.

There are a few columns I see musicians divided up into, but two headings that relate to this topic, are the:

Creative “Right Brain” Musicians.

Pro’s for these people include:

  • composes own tunes
  • plays by ear
  • hears compositions in their mind …
  • …and can coax those out of a musical instrument
  • ad lib at will
  • often plays well with other musicians, can bounce ideas around an ensemble and come up with even more creative ideas.

Con’s for these people include:

  • can’t use sheet music or not always good at reading notes
  • keen to push boundaries to the detriment of those wanting order in their music
  • may not react to teachers that well
  • tend to stray from strict guidelines – sometimes from boredom with consistent repetition.

Analytical “Left Brain” Musicians.

Pro’s for these people include:

  • learn the language of music notation
  • adhere well and like the boundaries and rules placed within a given piece of music
  • practice scales and exercises to achieve higher competency
  • they like the quantitive roles of exams and competitions
  • are goal focused.

Con’s for these people include:

  • can’t often ad lib
  • may need sheet music to perform a tune
  • don’t readily break rules and therefore may not achieve “happy accidents”
  • may view music as another subject to be “ticked off” within their academic years
  • may feel pressure from parents to achieve high results.

So with that differentiation out of the way, it helped me to see more clearly how a person who wants to become a musician, ends up losing the joy and thrill of playing it.

This is a difficult situation to understand, as I have this feeling in me that music is interwoven into my personality, that the lessons I took as a young child “awakened the sleeping giant” and provided me with the technical skills to then unleash the musical inspirations I was both hearing in my mind, or “found” after improvisational experiments.

An example of a musical student operating out of the right brain was shown in a video interview on the Piano Day website 2017 from a pianist and singer, Tom Adams.

“When I started having piano lessons, the teacher would often send me home with a piece to learn for the next week. I’ve always found working from sheet music is quite hard so for a while it presented me with a bit of a problem. Fortunately my mum was an accomplished pianist and knew music well and when I was a kid I started to get her to read the sheet music and just play the piece. I discovered that once I had heard it a few times, I was basically able to play it back without reading the notes, in fact I find it much easier to play from memory than to train myself to read sheet music, and as I was able to turn up each week for my piano lessons and apparently showed I’d learnt the piece, my teacher never questioned me. At the time I thought what I was doing was cheating, but in retrospect the experience was really teaching me. This was to become a very valuable thing to do, particularly as I went on to start learning other instruments, playing in bands and writing my own music.”

Motivations

Many theories could explain the loss of joy in learning or performing music. Most of these could boil down to “What is the individuals motivation towards music?”

If a person is doing it:

  • to please others
  • tick off another item on a list
  • compete in competitions with the aim of beating others
  • achieve perfection
  • follow in a well worn musical path of a parent or relative
  • study music because they were told to
  • or perform in a purely technical style without any genuine love for what they do

… well any one of these reasons for being a musician could cause a loss of joy in music over time, if you ever had one to start with?

Having fun or enjoying the musical journey, is something I take for granted, but it’s quite possible some people don’t even pursue that side of the craft?

If that’s the case for you, then I’m pretty certain your musical journey will be short lived, or something you end up begrudging.

Rediscovering the Joy

  • Having a combination of a right / left brain approach to music would be ideal – or at the very least, something to strive for.
  • Yes, music that’s fun & enjoyable is always the ultimate, but at the same time having goals and learning new things is also a great pursuit as well. I consistently believe that a person never stops learning, and to think we know it all is pure folly.
  • Exercises have their place in learning, but so does experimentation.
  • If you feel yourself “losing the joy in music”, stop what you’re doing and find those things that gave you excitement before. Maybe now could be the time to put those endless exercises aside and try some “experimental free time” on your instrument. The type of unleashing that could invigorate you with “happy accidents”.
  • Conversely, if experimentation and improvising has stagnated and your skill levels aren’t rising to meet where you mentally want to strive for, then exercises, scales, music theory or even catch up lessons, could enthuse you again.

“Losing the joy in music” seems like an oxymoron to me, as I’ve always seen the two linked inextricably. When I’ve been down, playing and composing has pulled me up and when I’ve been happy, music has lifted me to an even higher place again.

If I had $1 for everyone who came up to me after a performance and said “I wished I kept up with my musical playing”, I would be a rich man. Don’t let hiccups in your musical journey make you throw the “baby out with the bath water”.

Examine your motivation for playing and see if it’s really a place you want to be? If it is, go for it with all your might!! You’ll never regret it. Music can be a healer, teacher, sounding board, friend, inspiration, encourager and so many more positive points that would fill another blog.

Don’t turn down a blind alley that makes you think it’s all drugery and work. It’s too beautiful a gift to be labelled in that way.

Lift off!

Whenever I fly in an aeroplane, I’m reminded of the fact that the sun is always shining above the clouds. No matter how dreary the day below on land is, once we fly above those clouds, there is the sun doing it’s job. In the same way, the joy in music is always there, it’s only you that will take that joy away.

Simon Reich

Simon is a pianist and award winning composer from Victoria, Australia.
Further information : Simon Reich Music

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