Playing Music: The Good Parts

We love the good parts. The best scene in the movie, our favorite chocolate in the box, the center of a Tootsie Pop. In music, performances, applause, beautiful gowns, a love of music, or just being able to play a piece well are some of the good parts. And these are usually the things that inspire us to pursue music in the first place. But how do we feel about the not-so-good parts, like practicing?

 The family story goes like this: My uncle, who had a great passion for classical music, was a very talented piano student. When he was a teenager, people would stop on the street to listen to him practice. But practice was boring, and cars, friends and girls took over his time. Later he was in the army, and the great pianist Arthur Rubinstein came to perform for the troops. My uncle was fortunate enough to have a seat on the stage where he could see Rubinstein’s amazing hands at work. That night he sent a telegram home to his parents: “Why didn’t you make me practice?!”

The truth is no one can make anyone else practice. You can try bribes, rewards or threats, but they only work for a while. The work is hard, and not everyone decides it’s worth it. Practicing is not the good part.

I always ask new students why they want to play the harp. The answers are mostly variations on a theme. “I saw a harpist…” playing on TV, at my school, in the mall, at a wedding…”and it was so beautiful.” The truth is most of us became interested in music because of the good parts.

But the good parts aren’t why we stay in music. Somewhere along the line, we make a decision, consciously or not, to pursue our passion for music in spite of the bad parts. We decide that the reward for us is so valuable that we are willing to put in the hard work to do what we love. That is an act of rare self-discipline. Think of all the children who study music and give it up. Like my uncle, they don’t give up their love of music, just their personal musical pursuit.

Even more amazing, is that those of us who stick it out and keep working, actually grow to love the work. Practice is something we understand as essential to our endeavor. It is not the good part, but it is an important part of the whole. If we didn’t have to practice, would the rewards be as sweet?

This post was inspired by a blog post of the always inspiring Seth GodinJust the good parts.


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