Hello Troubadourians! Why do you play music? Why did you choose the instrument you play? What need in your life does playing music fill? Do you ever stop to ask yourself these questions? I do. Every day I ask myself those questions and more. I do it to remind myself of the joy that playing brings me, to remind me that there are beautiful things in my life, that I can transport myself to wherever I need to be just by picking up my guitar and playing it. It’s easy to get completely involved and focused on the responsibility of making money to pay the bills; that’s where our bosses want our focus to be and that’s where society tells us our focus should be if we are to be responsible citizens. Yet we nearly worship our musical heroes regardless of whether they are popstars or players and “artists” are revered as if royalty. So, what does that tell us? That playing music is just for school children and those “chosen elite” who become household names? And the rest of us either have to give it up or relegate it to a distant hobby status? Or… society’s judgments be damned, we play wherever, whenever we can. Some of us can even make a somewhat comfortable living playing music.
For those social rebels who have never stopped playing and improving since that first moment when the realization hit them that the instrument in their hands and the sounds it makes will forever be a vital component of their lives, music has been as necessary as breathing. Necessary but often not understood. Justifying the time and money that we so jealously devote to music can be a cause of many arguments with parents, spouses, and employers who just don’t “get it.” Any of this sound at all familiar? I’m sure it resonates with many of you who read this column. And it has certainly defined my life in music. So why do we do it? What drives us to continue to practice and play and struggle for excellence in spite of all of the negativity we encounter? For me, it’s simple. I love playing the guitar. There’s nothing in my life that “gets” me where I need to be like playing the guitar and making whatever music enters my mind. I can play old favorites, figure out new songs that I’ve heard, or make up music that has never been played before. And when I play with other musicians who are likewise driven to play, well, the experience can be transcendent.
Just the other day, I was rehearsing with the band I play in with my good friend Sven. As I was playing the songs, my guitar began to feel weightless in my hands, like it was going to float away. Now this is an eight-pound guitar, not light by any measure, but the music was energizing and uplifting and the guitar was reacting to the environment it was in. Were we players feeling weightless too? I didn’t ask specifically but it was obvious that there was a lightness of spirit in the room that was engulfing all of us. I love it when that happens. It’s why I play. When we can achieve that same spirit while performing onstage and lift an audience like we lift ourselves, well, that makes everything else seem trivial by comparison. I can live with everything and everyone that seeks to act as an obstacle separating me from my music as long as I can create those moments where time and space seem to be held in suspense.
So let me ask again: why do you play music? If you’re having trouble with your answer, don’t worry. There are as many reasons as there are players. But I’ll hazard a guess that at least part of the reason is that you just love playing. I’ve analyzed my motivation a little more than most people and I can articulate the feelings that can often be difficult to even acknowledge for many people. But that’s just me. I’m analytical by nature and by education, and I think it’s important to be in touch with my feelings and emotions—mainly so that they don’t run my life and so I can enjoy them on my terms. That might be a little too compartmentalized for most folks so let’s leave it as “you play because you love it” and place no dampers on your joy. That’s the best and easiest reason for playing and one that no one can argue against.
Whether you perform in clubs, in church, in the studio, or on concert stages, it’s all the same. If you play open mics, coffee houses, or house concerts, it’s all the same. If you never play outside of your living room—or bedroom—but you play with joy and sincerity, it’s all the same. That’s the point; play because you love it. Love it and respect it. Keep practicing and keep working to get better. If you give your best to the music, you’ll receive the best in return. Let it surround you, let it lift you, let it engulf you, let the spirit take you wherever it wants and you can’t go wrong. Don’t make excuses just play. Don’t procrastinate just play. Don’t be embarrassed just play. There’s no shame in being a good player, you worked hard for it so enjoy it. If you’re good enough to get paid for playing, bravo! Keep working because believe it or not, you’re winning. If you aspire to be good enough to be paid for your playing, know that there’s a lot of work required but you’re worth the effort and so is your music. And remember that you don’t have the get paid or even perform in public to be devoted to your music. Don’t discredit your time, effort, and talent by holding it inside.
Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (firstname.lastname@example.org)