Hey – do you feel like giving up? Is your musical life driving you a bit crazy and you’re wondering if you should just throw in the towel?
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We all hit sticking points in our musical lives. It might be a painful performance gone wrong, it might be a frustrating technical skill we’re struggling to get right, it might be a confusing quagmire of music theory, or the feeling that our brain or ears just aren’t made for music the way other people’s seem to be.
These things may start small but they can accumulate to the point where you’re on the brink of giving up completely.
It can start to feel like you’re in a bad relationship where nothing ever goes right – and you might well find yourself wondering if you should “break up” with music.
And in fact many of our members at Musical U are returning to music later in life having actually hit that breaking point when they were younger. Built-up frustrations combined with life getting busy can mean music takes a backseat or gets dropped completely.
That’s a tragedy – because music is incredible and when things are going right I think there’s almost nothing better than the joy we can experience through music-making.
I’ve been through this myself – more than once! – so I wanted to record this to share what I’ve learned along the way for myself and with our members, in the hopes that it helps you avoid that breaking point or if you’ve broken up with music in the past I hope it’ll help make sure the next time is more like a marriage than a fling.
I’m going to share the mindset and the way of thinking things through that can help you when you feel like you’re hitting that sticking point – and can actually be used proactively too, to prevent you ever getting close to the point of giving up in future.
We recently surveyed our Musical U tribe about what they felt was their biggest sticking point in music – and here’s one of many replies that hit on this topic:
“Ok, I want to learn to play a musical instrument, buy an instrument, so have some lessons, oh I’ll need to know some music theory, read some theory books, do some online courses. Make some progress. Practice, practice, sort of practice, practice, maybe tomorrow. This is too hard, give it away. Perhaps if I try a different instrument, buy a different instrument. The whole process starts again, spread out by quite a few years. No point rushing these things.”
So this chap was clearly poking fun at himself a bit – he knows this behaviour is counter-productive but is struggling to escape from it.
And I had two answers for him. The first comes back to something from a previous episode that we’ll link to from this one, all about your Big Picture Vision. I’d first want to ask him: Where is it you want to get to?
Because if his goal is absolute mastery of a single instrument then yes, this pattern he’s describing is unhelpful and frustrating and not the best way to go about things.
But maybe actually if he stopped and thought about it his goal is just to enjoy exploring and learning more things in music. And if that’s the case then actually there’s nothing wrong with what he’s doing – and maybe all he needs to do is let himself off the hook for the fact that his musical life and progress doesn’t match up with some inherited template he’s imagining learning music “should” look like.
So that’s the first thing I’d want to straighten out. But let’s assume that he really is frustrated because he really does want to get more and more advanced and focus in on a single direction with his music learning.
Well then it comes back to this question of “How do you know when to give up?”
And this is where it gets tricky. Because we’re not robots. Or at least, we shouldn’t be!
What I mean is: for us to get all passionate and fired up about our music learning we need to let our emotions play into it a bit. Although we might feel like the most efficient learning path is to find a course or a sequence of learning and then plough through it in a straight line, step after step, day after day, until we reach the end.
That’s a neat idea – but we’re not robots and that pretty much never works out. For us to be motivated we need follow our whims and chase down new inspiration that pops up along the way.
And that means there will be some detours or zig-zagging in your music learning path. It’s not just okay, it’s necessary.
But of course there is a danger here as that member who wrote in was pointing to. That if taken to an extreme, it *can* lead to the feeling that you’re going in circles because you never persist with one thing for long enough to see satisfying progress.
You don’t want to be a musical dilettante, flitting about from this to that on a whim and never actually improving.
So how do you know when it’s okay to change direction or jump to a new topic in your learning, and when you should knuckle down, call on your self-discipline and power through the hard work necessary?
How do we find the balance between following our passions and inspiration – and being diligent enough to actually improve in music?
Here’s the secret: it’s all a matter of scale.
This one idea can be your secret “Get out of jail free” card that lets you escape that sense of despair any time you feel like giving up.
Any time you feel like giving up completely, here’s the hidden truth: You actually never want to give up in the *big-picture* sense.
If you’ve taken time to get clear on your Big Picture Vision and you’re in touch with your “why” in music, then the overall musical journey you’re on is never going to be one you genuinely want to give up on.
To put it another way: we never truly fall out of love with music – even if the relationship’s become a bit toxic…
But it can certainly *feel* like you want to give up completely. You absolutely can feel *tempted* to give up completely.
But that’s a red herring.
What’s making you *feel* like giving up is always on a different level of *scale* than your big, driving motivation.
What does that mean? It means that we don’t get frustrated or disappointed by our *dreams*. We get frustrated by the day-to-day and the practical bits-and-pieces that go into trying to achieve those dreams.
So when you feel like giving up, the one critical thing you need to do is to pause and ask yourself:
“What am I *actually* feeling fed up with?”
Because I can guarantee it’s going to be something small.
Maybe it’s a certain instrument technique that’s driving you crazy. Maybe it’s getting a certain piece or set of pieces up to the standard you want. Maybe you’re tackling some new area entirely, like learning improvisation for the first time.
What frustrates you in the moment, day to day, will be something small, and specific.
Okay. But it’s a bit trickier than that, and here are the two reasons we end up feeling like giving up entirely:
Firstly, when these small-scale frustrations repeat day after day it starts to feel all-pervasive. It feels like our whole music life is failing – even though it’s actually just this same small thing again and again.
Secondly, sometimes the small, specific thing isn’t one practical skill like instrument technique.
If you’re spending your musical life doing activities without a clear, coherent plan that’s aligned with your big picture vision then you can wind up making progress in the small things but you’re moving in all different directions – and so your overall music life can feel like it’s stalled or failing.
So when you’re thinking “I’m not making any progress” or “I never get better”, that’s not a sign that you should give up completely – it’s just one of these two things making small, specific frustrations feel all-pervasive.
What’s the solution then, in those moments when you feel like giving up?
Pause. Take a deep breath.
And then examine what exactly you’re spending your time on. Ask yourself if it’s all aligned with what you truly care most about in music. Get specific, so you can see that the thing frustrating you is just a small thing, in the grand scheme of things.
Then remind yourself that your excitement and motivation for that Big Picture Vision hasn’t changed. You still care just as much about the overall musical journey you’re on.
Then, once you’re feeling a bit of enthusiasm again you can take a fresh look. Ask yourself whether that small thing frustrating you is even important. Ask yourself if there’s another way to approach it, or if it’s best to take a break and reconnect with musical activities that light you up.
Draw a little box around the specific thing or things that are frustrating you and then take a fresh look at how you’re spending your music time with your Big Picture Vision to guide you.
Now believe me when I say that doing this can be like a silver bullet for frustration in your musical life, if you actually bother to do it. But I know you might also be thinking “Alright, step back, get perspective, give yourself a little pep talk. But this thing is still driving me crazy!”
So in my next video I’ll be giving you a few more practical tips too, on how to know when to persist and when to give up. If you want a sneak peek them go ahead and grab the free cheat sheet for handling that question of “should I stick with it?” – just hit the link or visit the shownotes for this episode at musicalitypodcast.com.