A few weeks ago, I was visiting with a friend about playing the piano. He had started taking lessons a few months ago and was a little frustrated with what he felt was “slow progress”. He said he enjoyed learning but didn’t think he’d ever be really good at playing. He was having fun but thought he was just “bad at music”.
I thought a lot about his comment. Is it possible to be “bad at music?” Is this an issue of self-doubt or are some people just unable to benefit from making music?
For example, just because you might not like a piece of music doesn’t mean that music isn’t well written or expertly performed. It may be that the song simply doesn’t appeal to you. For me, music is less about sound and more about feeling. I’d much rather go see a band that is having a ball on stage but maybe isn’t that technically skilled – than see a band that is performing the piece expertly, but doesn’t have any personality. Watching people have fun makes me feel better so that is the type of music I most enjoy. That doesn’t mean that the musicians I don’t enjoy are “bad performers,” though. It’s just my preference.
Some people may listen to a beginner play a song and think it sounds terrible – but that’s subjective. Others may listen and be impressed with the beauty of the simple melody. Parents listen to their children play and are proud of their progress and love seeing the sense of accomplishment on their face. In that case, the beginning students aren’t virtuosos, but the point is that they are progressing. …and, in that case, we say they are doing well.
So what does it mean to be “good at music?” Can we judge that?
If you’re having fun playing – if you are enriching your life making music – isn’t that a good thing? After all, most people aren’t learning piano to become professional players. Most are doing it for themselves because it makes them happy. And isn’t there huge value in learning a new skill – especially when it makes you feel good?
Music is ART and art is all about expressing yourself. Whether its painting, writing, dancing, or making music – it’s really all about what that activity does for YOU and not the rest of the world. My dad always said, “There are things that are pleasing and there are things that get pleasing results” which means that some little thing that makes you happy right NOW is less important than doing something that may not be as fun right now but will lead to LONG-TERM happiness.
I would argue that playing music is something that does both – it allows you to have fun while learning and have even more fun as you get better. How good will you get? Who knows? What is “good” anyway?
There’s something called the Self-Talk Cycle and it deals with how you talk about yourself in your head; what emotions you have about it; the actions you take based on those emotions, and what you tell yourself ABOUT yourself as a result of those actions.
If you constantly tell yourself “I’m bad at music. I shouldn’t waste my time” then that is going to lead to feelings of frustration and disappointment. Those feelings could lead you to avoid practicing and even blocking relationships with other musicians so they don’t remind you of what you’re not doing. You might end up telling yourself there’s no point in even trying because you’ll just screw it up again.
Music isn’t about talent or skill. It isn’t about technique or style. Music is about YOU! It’s about learning who you are and being brave enough to show the world. Learning to play music changes how you look at the world and changes how the world looks at you. Learning Music is learning a new language – a new, universal language that allows you to communicate on a deeper, more emotional level.
So, be creative and use your imagination! Stop being afraid of making “bad music”. After all, if you remove the potential for bad music, you also remove the potential for great music. Don’t let that happen because the Truth is:
The only way you can be “bad at music” is if you deny yourself the joy of making it!