Apr 28

Musical Role Models: Depressing or Inspiring?

Are you the type to be discouraged or inspired by great performers?


It seems there are two kinds of people in the world: those who react positively and those who react negatively in the presence of someone who is “better” at something than they are.

For example, while observing a successful performer having accomplished a specific task, individual A might

  1. be discouraged and tempted to throw in the towel.
  2. think or say something something like, “I’ll never be that good, so why bother?”
  3. believe the performer is showing them up.
  4. feel envy, jealousy, or enmity towards the performer.
  5. be hesitant to share his/her “lesser” talents with others in the future.

On the other hand, individual B might

  1. be inspired and encouraged.
  2. think or say something like, “That was incredible. What can I do to find similar success?”
  3. believe in the performer’s good intentions to share a positive achievement.
  4. feel gratitude and admiration for the performer.
  5. be excited to improve and share his/her talents with others in the future.

As a musician, do you find yourself more like individual A or B? When you see a great musical performance, are you inspired and encouraged to practice and improve, or are you tempted to give up?

Having a positive attitude about playing music is incredibly important to your success as an artist. Sure, we all have our frustrating days. Like when no matter how much you’ve practiced, you just can’t seem to get that tricky phrase down. Or you’ve spent months or years working on a piece to perform in a competition to discover one of your peers has smoked you on the same number and beat you out. There may be days when your teacher seems disappointed by your lack of progress, or your technical weaknesses may seem too challenging to overcome.

But music and playing your instrument aren’t meant to be torture, and practice shouldn’t be depressing. If you find yourself feeling discouraged about your progress as a musician, try taking some time to reflect on a few of these questions:

  • Why do you play your instrument?
  • How does music enrich your life?
  • How does music enrich others’ lives?
  • What are your greatest strengths as a musician?
  • What are areas where you can improve?
  • Who are musicians and performers who inspire you?
  • What do you hope to accomplish as a musician?
  • Do you love what you do?
  • Do you like practicing? Or do you hate it?
  • Do you set realistic goals for yourself?
  • Are you investing the time and effort required to meet your goals?
  • What motivates you as a musician?

I often think of a story my husband shared with me from his teenage years when he worked doing construction and remodeling. He worked with many foreign immigrants who struggled to make ends meet. Once, when driving around a beautiful neighborhood of large and impressive homes, one of his coworkers, Hugo, an older man with a difficult life, gazed at the beautiful homes and said, “Aren’t you so happy for these people? I am so happy for them. Look at the beautiful homes and lives they enjoy.” Hugo rejoiced in the successes of others, knowing that even if he never had the riches or talents or beautiful things they did, he could still be happy that someone could have them, if not him.

So even if you don’t perform solo at Carnegie hall or fight back a slew of fans dying for your autograph or sound like Joshua Bell, don’t be discouraged. No matter what level of performance you’re at, remember that there is no “perfection” in the world of musicianship. Be grateful for role models and teachers who inspire. We, including them, are all students, no matter our age, striving to create something meaningful through our art. We constantly improve in a never-ending effort to become a little better at what we do while enriching the lives of others (and ourselves) in the process. So don’t give up. Enjoy the journey, and let yourself be inspired!

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