Learning to play a musical instrument can be downright intimidating. If you ever tried to strum a guitar or bang on a drum for the first time you know that feeling you get, “Am I playing this thing correctly?” Any one of use who attempted to learn how to play know what it’s like. Some of us get so frustrated that we soon quit thinking “oh man this is just too hard!” or “I can’t play this thing, it’s too this…or too that.” I remember when for first time I was presented with a saxophone in music class in junior high, the first thing that came to mind was “What the hell is that?” It looked so complicated with all those buttons, pads, rods, and keys. I looked at my music teacher and thought “You expect me to play that?”
Sure enough when I first blew into the mouth piece, out came this ear-piercing shriek that could wake the dead. It didn’t sound anything like what a saxophone should sound. But eventually over time I somehow managed to get a nice clean tone, learned all the numerous fingering, proper breath control and even learned to read music. I am so glad that I did not do the one thing that would have prevented me from getting so much joy of playing this wonderful instrument – quitting!
When you quit at the beginning stages of learning because you think to yourself “I can’t do this” then you are simply missing out on the sheer joy expressing yourself through music. Sure it’s going to be tough at the beginning but you can’t let that stop you. Can you imagine if Prince had quit learning to play the guitar we would never be able to “Party Like it’s 1999.”
So if you throw in the towel early you might never know how far you could’ve gone. Of course, some of us are more musically inclined to play better than others. It just comes naturally to them – they seem to be born with it and they can just easily master the violin or piano while barely out of kindergarten. Don’t believe me? Just check out all the YouTube videos of child prodigies playing one of Bach’s concertos or one of Mozart’s sonatas. And some of us, like myself, really have to work just to play a simple C major scale.
I want to present to you that there are ways to start learning how to play, even if you quit a long time ago or if music just simply fell to the wayside. I believe it is never too late to start learning anything especially music. There is no silver bullet or any kind of magic pill out there to get you to start playing the guitar like Jimi Hendrix or the violin like Itzhak Perlman. So how do you start learning and get better? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall – PRACTICE! Persistence is also key. I will offer some of my tips and suggestions that have worked for me and hopefully will get you to pick up that instrument and start playing again.
Get Inspired First
Playing any musical instrument especially for the first time is a daunting task. You’re not sure what keys on the piano to press, or how to use the bow on a violin. If you have a good enough teacher he or she can show you the way. If you are self-taught and figure it out for yourself that’s great. But a lot of us may not have had the best musical education and not all of us can figure things out for ourselves.
So what is one way to get started in music? Just find someone who you think will make such an impression on you that he or she will inspire you to start playing. Hearing someone else play can truly be a life changing event. Remember what it felt like when you first heard one of your favorite musicians sing or play. Exactly. You may have been so inspired that you went out to your local music store or pawn shop and bought your first guitar or trumpet and wanted to play just like your heroes.
If you are fortunate enough to have parents who loved music and also happen to be very musical and instilled in you a love of music then consider yourself lucky. You may have heard your dad play some awesome blues licks on the guitar or you may have heard your mom play a real cool jazzy number on the piano and that may have started you on your musical journey.
Now some of us may have parents who are not so musically inclined – my parents especially. Growing up I don’t think I ever saw my mom or dad play any kind of instrument but at least my mom could sing. Music just wasn’t something they were that interested in. I myself had no interest in music at all as a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s. I was interested in more important things like my Star Wars action figures and Saturday morning cartoons.
Fast forward to that first day of music class in junior high. Remember the saxophone I mentioned earlier. I couldn’t tell a saxophone from a whole in the wall much less know of any saxophone players. But as time went on I actually got better at playing and got inspired by such legends like John Coltrane, Stan Goetz, Clarence Clemons and bunch of other great musicians. The more I listened to these fine saxophone players the more I got inspired, the better I got at playing and the more I wanted to keep playing.
Inspiration is key if you ever want to start playing or get better at whatever it is you are doing. It can come from anywhere and sometimes you don’t have to look for it. It can just come out of nowhere.
Listening and Feeling
Listening to music is what all of us do no matter if we are in the car or doing our exercise routine. It makes us feel good and helps to make the day go by faster. But that is just passive listening. I think one way to learn any instrument is to first listen to the music made by that instrument but also listen to how it interacts with the other instruments and how well they blend together to form a cohesive unit.
When you actively listen to the music, see if you can figure out what key is the music in, what is the main melody, what is the chorus, how is the song structured, what emotions are evoked and so on. This active listening will give you a better understanding of your instrument and give you ideas when you are ready to compose your own music.
Find Like-minded Individuals or Groups
No man – or woman – is an island. Once you found your musical inspirations why not seek out others who share your passion. Nothing is more enjoyable than to be around those who share similar interests. And who knows where it might lead to. You and your like-minded friends might even form a band. That’s how I got started with my own band in high school. I had a small group of friends who had about the same musical abilities as myself and we were so passionate about the music we loved and especially the instruments we play that we naturally formed our own little band. We got together on weekends, taking turns at each others basements and just jammed to all our favorite songs we grew up listening to. Good times!
When you find others like you who are just starting out or who may have more experience, you can learn a lot from them and feed off of one another. There is nothing more satisfying than to be around those who are just as enthusiastic and passionate as you are.
Play With and Experiment as Many Instruments as Possible to Find the One That You Like
OK, so you decided you want to learn to play an instrument. The big question is – which one? One way to go figure out what to play is to experiment with as many instruments as you can get your hands on. For example, try out a piano and if doesn’t suit you then move on to perhaps the drums. If the drums aren’t your thing then try out a guitar. Or maybe it could be the ukulele that is more to your liking.
Just keep experimenting till you land on that one instrument that makes you say “that’s it! – I think I found what I’m looking for.” If you are still having trouble figuring out what to play, then you can always go back to the section about inspiration. Listening to your favorite musicians will inspire you to eventually choose that one instrument that is right for you.
Don’t Get Forced into Playing an Instrument – Do it Because You Want it and Just Have Fun
The most important tip I can give anyone about learning to play an instrument is don’t do it if you don’t want to. There is nothing sadder than to see someone pickup an instrument for the first time – just for sole purpose of impressing or showing off to someone, or because their parents made them do it, or they just happened to be assigned to a music class as part of the school curriculum and given an instrument to learn, and if they don’t learn how to play it properly they will end up with a failing grade in music class!
Lucky for me, I actually started to enjoy playing my saxophone that I was assigned to in junior high – I did not choose it – I guess you can say it chose me!
My point is you can’t force it on yourself or anyone else for that matter. I have seen parents enroll their kids for piano or violin lessons and the kids just absolutely hated it and end up miserable. It has become an absolute chore for the kids to go to these lessons. I think it would have been better if the parents first introduce their kids to the world of music and let the kids get inspired by what they hear, and if they express a desire to learn then the parents should consider music lessons.
I for one absolutely hated going to piano class back in grade school. The teacher simply just gave us students these boring lessons and expected us to play what we were given. Needles to say I struggled and in the end I learned nothing about the piano and I never gave music much of a second thought back then.
The key is if you want to learn how to play any instrument and get better at it, you must have that inspiration that will motivate you and guide you on your musical journey. It’s the one thing that makes you say “that’s why I want to play!” and most of all – just have fun.
Rock on \m/