It is hard to understand what music is about. As someone’s who’s been teaching this art for almost 3 decades, I must say that sometimes the work gets delicate and complicated.
I have a student, let’s call him Bob, who has done everything he was supposed to do. He has picked up the sticks with a valiant and dedicated heart. He has explored different styles, practiced to develop the necessary muscle memory to get some speed. He has understood the principles of reading and sharpen that skill to an almost seamless flow. He has worked hard on every concept I have pushed in front of him.
And yet, Bob cannot help but be frustrated. There is this song that eludes him. He has tried and tried, and he cannot break through. Also, in his way has stood this concept, be it a samba pattern, a double shuffle or a tempo exercise. That gets his blood boiling because he’s so close to being able to play it. There are so many things he has already conquered, as a matter of fact. But those obstacles leaves him restless. Drumming is losing its appeal. He’s ready to quit.
That is where we use one lesson to talk. We need to sort a few things out. In particular this all so important question: what is Music?
Bob sits down and is willing to talk. He explains to me all the techniques he is not getting, what he should be understanding faster, what he ought to get right away. He should be able to do that song without any problem, it is right up to his level, after all. Or this concept should already be digested and moved towards improvisation.
I think I see what the problem is: Bob is on a mission. Music, properly practiced and tamed should give him all the satisfaction he demands. The more he serves Music and dedicate himself to the intricacies of its techniques, the more he should understand about it. And Music does not do that. Music obliges him to face a difficult question : what is Music? What is Music to Bob? Is it an emotion? An outlet to a stressful life? A door to a better world? A sport? An absolute to judge everything by? All of these diverse questions are valid and tackle some of the very reasons my students come to take drum or piano lessons.
But Music is not a mission, and Music is not an absolute. Music must be tailored to the dimensions of the person playing it. Only then will we have the chance to hear what is inside his heart, which is the only truly interesting part of Music. Music must be practiced and played with a lot of humility. It is not a given, it is not something you are entitled to. It’s techniques as well as its emotions has to be coming from a very simple place: the honesty of what you feel. If this song eludes you today, maybe you are not ready for it. Does it matter? Not really. Life doesn’t stop, it continues. Do another song, something you can grasp easily. Yes, do that, and dig the musicality in it. And chose the next song to not be so challenging that it makes you want to quit. That, the quitting part, that’s the cardinal sin. Music should never stop, just like you, and always, just like in life you need to find the resources to keep going.