Let’s say this: You’re a 25 year old guitar player, serious and passionate about what you do. Each day after work you come home and head into the practice room, learning songs, practicing your technique, and dreaming about getting onstage. But despite all of this effort you’re still not seeing the progress you want.
Or maybe this:
You’re a successful attorney, with a wife and kids and a busy work schedule. But underneath all of that your real passion is music. You’ve taken some piano lessons and even got pretty good, but it’s been years since you’ve played. Now that instrument is just sitting there, gathering dust and staring at you.
Or how about this:
On the weekends you play in a band for fun and every now and then you have a gig, but deep down you know you can do more with music. Maybe write your own compositions or even someday start your own band. You’ve bought some theory books and started taking some lessons, but you keep wondering the same thing…
I’ve met all of these players and many more just like them, and in each case the burning question is the same: Do I have what it takes to be a musician?
Am I studying the right method? Are the things I’m practicing actually going to pay off? Can I – at my age, with my schedule, and my skill level – really do it?
If you’re like me these questions have popped up in your head over and over again….
And your mind probably gravitated toward the usual suspects: talent, technique, and music theory.
Because this is where most players look when they think about the requirements of a successful musician. But the answer is much more simple than any of that.
Let me explain…
So you want to play music, huh?
There are many reasons to play music.
For some people it’s the thrill of being on stage. For others it’s the hustle of getting gigs and buying the latest and greatest equipment. And for some it’s the allure of the musician’s lifestyle.
However, as compelling as these reasons may be, they won’t get you to your musical goals.
The real question you should be asking yourself is this:
“If you put down your instrument today and never played music again, would you be able to sleep at night?”
If you took away all the ‘perks’ and external reasons for playing music, would you still feel a gut-punching need to play?
If the answer is “yes,” then you have the one thing necessary to pursue music.
It’s this nagging feeling, this calling to music that truly drives you to become a musician. You love it. You have to want to play music. You simply can’t live without it.
Beyond all the surface level aspects of musicianship, it’s this inner calling that will keep you going when the going gets tough.
It’s what makes the player that’s not a natural, maybe even the worst musician in a group, keep going and keep getting better – eventually surpassing the naturally talented players.
And this is the force that will push you to get to the next level of your own playing.
But what about music school?
The truth is you don’t need to attend music school to be a musician.
School has it’s benefits, but many of the greatest improvisers never went to a formal music school and many great musicians learned on their own.
It all comes down to your level of dedication.
Are you willing to spend time each day practicing? Even those times you don’t feel like it?
Are you willing to get set goals and become a student again, to look honestly at your skill set and find out what you need to do to improve?
Are you inspired enough spend time researching, listening, and studying recordings? To sit down with one tune and learn the melody and harmony and solos? Can you practice all of that with the goal of finding your own voice?
This is the real education of a musician.
Remember, learning to improvise isn’t easy…
On your journey as a musician you’ll get frustrated.
You’ll get bored and you’ll even get discouraged.
You’ll fail in front of other people and you’ll need to keep improving and learning despite your achievements.
Sometimes you’ll have to slog through the crappy days to get to your goal. You’ll take lessons with great players and realize that you don’t know anything, and at times you’ll feel like all of your practice isn’t going anywhere.
But you’ve got to keep going!
“The problem with all students is that they inevitably stop somewhere. They hear an idea and they hold onto it until it becomes dead; they want to flatter themselves that they know the truth. But true Zen never stops, never congeals into such truths. That is why everyone must be pushed to the abyss, starting over and feeling their utter worthlessness as a student. Without suffering and doubts, the mind will come to rest on clichés and stay there, until the spirit dies as well. Not even enlightenment is enough. You must continually start over and challenge yourself.” ~Shoju
Now it’s up to you
Being a musician doesn’t mean you have to make your living through music.
And it doesn’t mean that you have spend every hour of every day practicing.
It means that music is an essential part of your life and that you’re willing to put in the work to achieve your musical goals.
Anyone can say practice your technique, learn the theory, and find a teacher…
But becoming a musician involves much more than than the notes that you play, the method that you practice, or the equipment you buy.
It starts inside of you. A skill that you’re always working on improving, a goal that you can achieve if you put in the work…
So ask yourself one more time: Do you have what it takes to be a musician?