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8 Good Reasons to Be a Lousy Musician

8 Good Reasons to Be a Lousy Musician

8 Goo Reasons to Be a Crappy Musician

    I’m a crappy guitarist. In the 20 years that I’ve been playing, I can’t once remember playing scales, and I’ve never sat down to "practice". I still have trouble with F-chords, I have awful right-hand technique, and my tempo has been known to swing from too fast to too slow without ever hitting "just right".

    I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

    See, I realized a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be a Famous Rock Star, or even a semi-locally-famous folky. That dream I have where Ronnie’s down for the count and I have to fill in on-stage with the Rolling Stones — and we’re going on in 5 minutes! — would always be just a dream (thankfully).

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    That realization freed me to stop trying to be cool and to just enjoy playing, and to this day my guitar is the one thing I own that I would consider going into a burning building for. Playing guitar has stopped being something I do for everyone else (even if they weren’t listening) and has become one of the few things I do simply for the sheer enjoyment of it.

    You, too, should be a lousy musician

    Everyone should have at least one thing in their life that they do for no other reason than that they enjoy it. As it turns out, though, it’s harder to do things for their own sake than it would seem! Collectors dream about the Big Find that will make them rich, writers dream of the best selling novel that will get them on Oprah, crafters and handy types think about how much money they’re saving on gifts and household necessities — and musicians dream about their big break with the Rolling Stones.

    To be able to revel in an activity that you’re not all that good at and that you don’t care that you’re not all that good at, to strive for and embrace mediocrity in some area of our lives, that’s a hard thing for a lot of us to do.

    But it’s worth it. Here are eight things I get out of being a crappy guitarist:

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    C) There’s no pressure.

    If i never get even the tiniest bit better than I am right now, it won’t matter. Nobody’s life, freedom, or even happiness depends on how well (or poorly) I play "Rocky Raccoon". Whether I improve or don’t improve is totally irrelevant to anything or anyone but me.

    D) It creates a social bond between myself and others.

    I’ve met thousands of other crappy guitarists over the course of my life, and a few great ones. Being a guitarist myself creates a connection between us, gives us something to talk about. Guitarists are always giving each other little gifts — showing each other how to play a tricky part of a song, teaching each other new chords or new ways to make old chords, sharing licks and riffs with each other.

    And, of course, non-musicians are always interested in the fact that I play. It gives them something to talk to me about (apparently my knowledge of early Cold War government sponsorship of social scientific research doesn’t give them much to hold onto!) and, of course, it is mildly entertaining for them to hear me play.

    E) It creates a social bond between other people.

    I carried an acoustic guitar with me all over Europe for a year, keeping it under my bed in hostel after hostel, carting it in it’s heavy reinforced case from town to town on busses and trains, dragging it through the streets of Paris, Prague, Budapest, and Amsterdam. And I’m glad I did.

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    Not just because playing in hostels and on park benches helped me make friends, but because it helped the people around me make friends. Once a roomful of travelers have sung "American Pie" at the top of their lungs together (badly), the ice is pretty much broken. People start interacting, because nothing can make them feel any more self-conscious.

    F) I get immediate gratification.

    I pick up a guitar, finger a chord, and strum, and music comes out. What could be more rewarding? I play, music happens. Instantly.

    And if I try something tricky, I can hear on the spot whether it worked or not. If I’m trying to figure out a song, I’ll try all manner of different things, until suddenly I hit the strings a few times and the song I’m trying to learn starts coming out.

    G) I’ve developed a new appreciation of music. 

    Because I’m always listening to music with an ear towards learning how to play it, I’ve become adept at working out how the different pieces fit together, and what makes each of them work, apart and together.

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    Aside from the increased formal appreciation of usic, I’ve also become much more appreciative of the work that a musician has to do to make a song work. Songs I might have — heck, <em>did</em> — totally dismissed at one point I listen to quite seriously today, because I know how difficult it is to make even a bad song.

    A) Playing music creates mindfulness.

    Guitar playing is, for me, a kind of meditation. There have been too many time to count when, looking for a moment’s distraction, I’ve ended up playing for hours. When you’re playing, your attention is (usually) focused entirely on the here and now, the unfolding of notes and chords into melodies and, ultimately, songs. This kind of mindfulness means I’m living entirely in the present, even if  just for a few moments — a skill that most of us, with our crazy lives and hectic schedules, have a hard time cultivating.

    B) It’s relaxing.

    Just listening to music is often enough to help ease the stress of our day-to-day lives; making music is a thousand times more effective (as long as you’re not worrying about how you’ll deal with your groupies after you’ve broken big on MTV). The combination of mindfulness and almost willful mediocrity lets me ease up on myself and just be for a little while, clearing my head and soothing the tensions that build up over the course of the day.

    C) It’s just for me.

    Finally, playing music is something that I do solely because it makes me happy. While I can and do share my playing with others, in the end I play for entirely selfish reasons: because I feel like it.

    What are you lousy at?

    I think everyone should be lousy at something they love. What do you do that you simply don’t care if you ever get any better at it, that you do just because it pleases you to do it? Let us know!

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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