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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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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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