If you are reading this, there’s a chance you are a musician. And whether you are an accomplished professional or an amateur, you are able to read and play music. Think about how you learned to do it and who taught you. You probably learned as a child. Was it a parent or friend, a private teacher or a school teacher? Did you take lessons for a long time? Do you play many instruments? Are you self-taught? Do you play by ear?
So many things go into our development as musicians. Most likely you took lessons somewhere in school or privately, and there are people you remember who taught you. Now as an adult, you’ve continued your development as a musician. Whether it’s to learn to play a second or third instrument, or just improve your skills on one, there’s always more to learn and you can always get better.
How can we do that and how do we continue to enjoy it? Many young people stop taking music lessons when they are made to feel inadequate or incompetant. Teachers along the way have an enormous impact on inspiring students to grow as musicians. And they have enormous power to turn children off to music. Adults are equally sensitive to feeling criticized as they unveil their vulnerabilities and play an instrument in public.
Adult beginners have the extra challenge that they’ve lived long enough to have heard wonderful music and in their heads, they expect and hope to sound the same. Their challenge is to let go of expectations and allow themselves to explore and learn, without being so self-critical that they can’t enjoy the practice they need to improve their skills.
There are more people than teachers involved in creating a nurturing environment for anyone who is learning. The parent who won’t allow their teenage drummer to host band practices in their garage because they’re too loud. The siblings who cut off the strings of their brother’s violin because they can’t stand the screeching. The alcoholic piano teacher from the conservatory who told a college student she lacked the fundamentals and shouldn’t waste her time in lessons. The wife who won’t allow the husband to have a chamber group practice in their home because she can’t stand the noise they make. The husband who banned the Scottish wife a chanter because he just couldn’t stand the thought of her learning bagpipes, even though she’d wanted to since she was a kid. The wife who refused to allow her husband to practice his beloved banjo, and insisted her husband play guitar, because she couldn’t stand it. The teacher who told the child to stand and hand out programs and Not to sing!
At the other end, there were all the people in your life who supported and allowed you to develop your musical skills to become the musician you are. Your parents let you host your rock band in the garage, even though it involved apologizing to the neighbors occasionally. Your partner welcomes your hosting chamber groups at home, because there is a joyful sound in adults laughing and joyfully making music together. Your friends and teachers encouraged you to keep on trying to sing on pitch, to play on pitch, to lift your head high and enjoy making music, because we can all do it.
As adults who enjoy playing an instrument, you can also have an impact on inspiring the children around you to know they can do it too. And you can have an impact on the other adults around you, by appreciating and welcoming practice, chamber groups of all kinds of collaborations, and participating in the multiple and varied musical groups in our communities.
Think about the people who tolerated your practice while you learned and who encouraged you along the way. Whether you actually thank them for this gift, at least take a moment to remember who they were.
From TACO to the San Francisco Symphony, and all levels in between, adults love to make music. We love listening to it. We love playing it. In addition to the growing numbers of classical music groups there are rock, bluegrass, pops, bands, folk and more. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s Prince or Pirates of the Caribbean, Poulenc or Prokofiev, bluegrass or rhythm and blues, music is the soundtrack to our lives and if we are to continue to have people make it, we must encourage each other and the children around us to feel welcome to try.