By: Konner Scott
While everybody’s musical experience is different, I thought it might be fun (and hopefully helpful) to compile a list of things that I wish I, specifically, had been told as a child while I was beginning to explore my love for music. With any luck, this list may offer up some insight that may benefit you and your musical child!
1. PRACTICE CAN BE FUN!
I was a very competitive child. Starting at the age of eight, I joined a swim team, and found immense pleasure in competing not only with those around me, but also with myself. Few things brought me more joy than watching my “best times” whittle down as I found ways to get from one wall to the other even faster.
What I wish I had been told is that I could apply the same principle to practicing music! As I grew older and fell more in love with swimming, I began to resent my piano practice time more and more. By my early teenage years, it had become a torturous chore to sit myself down in front of the piano and play songs I didn’t particularly enjoy. I went through the motions and played without any passion whatsoever. The only part of the process I enjoyed was creating: finding new chord progressions and melodies, and constructing songs from them.
It wasn’t until many years after I stopped taking lessons that I discovered I could apply my competitive spirit to my practice time, and that it would make me a much better musician because I actually enjoyed what I was doing! These days, I cherish my practice time- where I can learn new riffs and runs, constantly trying to beat my former “bests” from the day before. Whether trying to play a section of a song faster than ever before, or improvise with new complex chords I had never used, I’ve learned to apply the joys of challenging myself to my piano practice time in a way that I was never able to figure out as a child.
2. THERE ARE NO LIMITS TO CREATIVITY.
I STILL struggle with this one. My best songwriting ideas have come when I remove all self-judgment and create for the sake of creating, and yet my natural tendency is still to try to control and micromanage my creative process to the nth degree. Is this a “proper” chord progression? Do I need to copy this rhyme scheme in the next verse? Can I change keys in the bridge without overcomplicating my harmonic structure?
Over time, I’ve refined a mantra that helps me clear the judgmental voices from my mind and enjoy the complete and utter lack of limits that exist in the creative process:
“If it sounds right, it is right.”
3. YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING, SILLY.
As a child, I was fortunate to be very musically inclined. I started playing piano very young, and music just made sense to me.
Because of my natural talent, I developed an internal arrogance that severely hindered my music education. While on the outside I may have appeared humble, I was quietly convinced that everything I ever needed to know about music resided in the corners of my own mind.
This perspective caused me to shut out all fellow musicians that might be able to help me. You have a theory concept you want to share with me? Nope; sorry; I’m better than you. I can figure it out on my own- and even if I don’t, I’ll find something superior to it. I don’t need your silly theory anyways. I would push away anybody and anything that could help enrich my musicality, and boy did I pay the price.
The best thing that ever happened to me was to have the great fortune of becoming a professional musician… and then finally realizing how poor of a musician I actually was. After spending years in grammy-winning recording studios, late-night jazz clubs, southern megachurch bands, open mic rooms, and so many more hubs of brilliant musicianships, my arrogance has been chipped away piece by piece. You can only spend so much time around TRUE talent before you realize that your paradigm of yourself as a “musical genius” is a complete farce!
Don’t get me wrong; I still have a lot of self-confidence. I need it to succeed in this industry. But instead of assuming I know everything, I understand that maybe I have the potential for greatness- but I have a heck of a lot of learning and practicing to do to get there!
4. IF YOU WANT TO BE A MUSICIAN FOR A LIVING, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY.
I loved music from a very early age, and always knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to make it my life someday. However, as I got older, my dreams and my actions began to deviate. In junior high and high school, I began to devote myself single-mindedly to competitive swimming, which helped me get into my dream university. In college, I pursued a mechanical engineering degree, which was either for financial security or to appease my practically-minded parents- I’m still not sure which.
Four years later, I was working a dead-end hydraulic engineer job, watching the days and years drain away and wondering if I had thrown away every opportunity to pursue music that had been granted to me.
Fortunately, I had the courage to quit that job and pursue my dream. Sure, it took me until my mid-twenties, but now I’m living my dream life, knowing I get to wake up and do what I love every single day.
The thing is, it has taken a LOT of hard work to get here! This idea I had that I would just wake up one day and suddenly be a musician couldn’t have been further from the truth. It took a quarter life crisis and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (more tears than I’m proud of admitting) to get to this point. I regret nothing about the path I’ve taken, but I sometimes wonder how my journey would have looked had I fully understood and committed to my purpose at a younger age.
5. LEARN TO PLAY SONGS YOU LOVE
The creative in me is forever petrified of writing something unoriginal. I live in constant fear that I’ll have an idea that I think is the best thing since sliced bread, only to find that X musician did the exact same thing earlier… and better.
For this reason, I’ve often avoided learning to play the music I love to listen to. I’ve spent much of my life trying to “create in a vacuum”- relying not at all on my influences, only on my sheer ingenuity. This, of course, is ridiculous. All great artists stand on the shoulders of the great artists that came before them.
Truthfully, the best way to become a master of your craft and develop true creative freedom is to learn and internalize the songs that truly inspire you. There’s a difference between blatantly ripping off music that inspires you, and allowing it to be stitched into the fabric of your soul so that you can synthesize and express it in brilliant new ways. I only wish it hadn’t taken me so long to understand that!