If you’re a teacher you know as I do that once in awhile a gem proceeds from your mouth unannounced. You may be expressing an idea you’ve expressed hundreds of times, but for some reason the internal and external factors align so that something actually noteworthy is said. So you take note. You remember it so you can hold on to it for next time and now you’ve become a slightly more effective educator than you were before. This happened to me a few days ago when I was discussing how practicing actually makes your musical experience better. I said:
“Whatever you put into music, music will give back to you. It’s very honest that way.”
This is a truth.
Other areas of life are not so honest, but music will give you exactly what you give it. If you’ll listen to new recordings, music will give you new inspiration. If you’ll work on writing new tunes you’ll find yourself expressing new ideas. If you’ll put together an organized way of practicing and do it, you’ll get better at your instrument.
Music isn’t a master. Music isn’t a servant. It is an equal partner. It doesn’t want to exploit us and it doesn’t want to go easy on us either. It simply wants to mirror our effort back to us.
Music is justice. No mercy. If music catches us going a few weeks without practicing it’ll embarrass us on the gig. Should music sneak a peek of us not proofing our parts and handing them to band members, it’ll punish our rehearsal. If it sees you playing selfishly on a gig, music will whisper gossip in the ears of your band members and stop your phone from ringing.
And for goodness sake don’t think you can fool music. It’s been doing this since the beginning of time! When you try to do that thing that you know haven’t mastered yet on the gig, it’ll let you fail.
You might slip one by your private teacher but you and music both know as you leave your lesson that you faked it. Mrs. Hanson and Mr. Jones may coddle you, but all music will do is raise its right eyebrow.
When music makes us face the consequences of our inactions it doesn’t pity us. It doesn’t put an arm around us to comfort us. It looks at us – free of any trace of emotion – and shrugs. “What did you expect to happen?” it says.
If music has any mercy at all, it’s in its forgetfulness. If after paying the dues of our lack of effort we notice our shortcomings and start working on them, music will see that and forget the past. It looks at us now and gives to us exactly as we are in this moment. But of course yesterday’s great work is quickly forgotten by music when it sees us slacking today. Thus, music’s one merciful trait may also be its most brutal.
We can let music’s honesty be a comfort to us. It’s in our hands, friends. Music won’t leave us hanging if we don’t leave it hanging. Music will reward you with the next gig, the next lick or your next great tune if you’ll toil for it. Figuring out how that minor 7, flat 5 chord works will come if you’ll sweat for it.
If you’re enjoying success that’s because of music’s honesty. If it’s not going so well, that might be music’s honesty too.
Music is honest. Let’s make sure we’re being honest with music.
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