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From The Top: Getting into Music, First Steps and Some Ideas on Resilience

Whilst trying to write this blog, I found myself grappling with a few objectives. As this is the first post from me, it had to be something of an introduction. But, with Prelude being a music school, the future blog posts also had to be: informative and educational; engaging and entertaining; short enough that it’s not over the top; long enough that it’s understandable; and preferably somewhat original. This, combined with my desire to make the topics in some way applicable to all levels of ability and my habit of using overly complicated syntax… …grammar [see!?], made for quite the intellectual minefield.

However, I did have one idea that seemed to help. With this being a brand new, monthly(ish), guitar-centred section of the Prelude blog, I wanted to establish a clear timeline for the posts. It felt beneficial to create posts in an almost chronological order and to use my own experiences and education with music/guitar as a vessel through which various tangents of technique, equipment and musicianship can be explored. I felt like this would not only make individual blog posts coherent as stand-alone articles, but also make the guitar-centric posts coherent as a whole from the start. Now that’s out of the way, I mentioned that this was an introduction.

So, I wanted to talk a bit about getting into guitar, but more importantly, that exciting inspiration people often have when getting into an instrument. I wanted to examine this excited inspiration a little and use it to give some thoughts on mind-sets and resilience. However, I was also keen to avoid the oh-so-easy route of romanticising a few hand-picked moments from my adolescence through which the ‘music spoke to me’. I don’t want to devalue this idea, but I wouldn’t say it happens as poetically as everyone thinks and I began questioning the benefit of waxing lyrical about these apparently pivotal moments. To some, it seems as though it would be vague and potentially condescending, merely adding to the to-do list of what can easily seem impossible, whilst to others, it perhaps seems relatable, but ultimately unhelpful.

I could’ve written a tribute to the first few albums that I couldn’t stop listening to; or that one specific gig at which the guitarist captivated me; or the friends, family and teachers that encouraged me and gave me the chance to learn and/or perform. Whilst I do owe thanks to all of those events and people, it’s not very useful on a music school blog. I probably will talk about all these things at some point, but only if it actually serves the point I’m trying to make. Instead, I want to try and use these moments of inspiration to illustrate a point that I remember as a particular watershed moment in my guitar learning: that they cannot do the work for you.

First of all, this inspiration is important, especially if someone is just starting out. It really can, and does, spur people on to learn and improve. That’s why you should seek out, and hold on to, the music that moves you. However, as someone learns a few notes, chords and songs, things can become tricky, mainly because guitar, like almost every other instrument, takes a fair amount of time and effort before any results become apparent. But it is this moment of things becoming apparent that I’m trying to zero in on. Those times when you get that penny-dropping realisation can happen every now and then, and they feel glorious if they do. But, they are not really serendipitous. They are often the first time that months and years of hard work pay off and you finally nail that specific something towards which you’ve been working. I guess it can be applied to any learning process in life, but progress is so often only noticeable when one looks back at where one used to be.

Now I feel like I’m potentially being unnecessarily harsh and obnoxious – which is obviously not the intention. I just wanted to use this post to show that there can be problems with thinking that these moments of inspiration is what makes you improve.

Think of any guitarist you like, it seems like a fairly logical certainty that, despite any natural talent they may have had, there was definitely a point where they didn’t know how to even hold the instrument, let alone play it. Everything they have achieved is because of the work they have put into it. Yes, there are elements of luck involved, the whole ‘right place, right time’ thing, but that’s more to do with commercial acclaim than musical skill. My point is, no single experience can give instant ability. It takes time to build and the majority of that time has to come from the student. Once a week, teachers can inform, guide, advise and correct, but they can’t just give someone the physical ability.

And so, to wrap up with some positivity, we can make a couple of statements:

  1. For people that are starting out in their first few weeks or months, the point is that you should hold on to whatever music transports you; elevates you; moves you. They are powerful ideas and will drive you to practice, but that’s just it – it has to be your practice (I’m definitely going to write more on practice and resilience in the future because they’re important and there’s more to say on those topics.)
  2. Whilst practice has to happen, don’t think of it as a chore. It’s only effective if you want to do it. I would say exactly the same to the more experienced player too.
  3. However, for those that are more experienced, I would also add that whilst it’s great to look back on the past with rose-tinted glasses and think these moments were meant to be, you should also remember just how much work you put in to get where you are. Personally, this is helpful because it reminds me not only of how far I’ve come, but drives me to imagine where I can take things in the future.

In all honesty, I’m struggling to tell if this is stating the obvious, or if it’s uncaringly inflammatory, or if it’s just trying so hard to be profound that it’s just a critique of everything. However, if there is a main point to this post, I’d want it to be this:

The never-ending effort it takes to learn an instrument is completely worth it. It can and does transform lives. Yes, there will definitely be times of struggle and when they strike, try and ride the wave of inspiration until you arrive at the penny-dropping accomplishment. If you can do this, the music will literally transport you in life. It doesn’t have to be moving you from your room to the stage where you’re playing it live for people; it could be to the point of writing and recording your albums; jamming with your idols; landing that music based job, whatever you want. I would wish everyone the best of luck in making that vision a reality.

I now feel like I’ve segued from potentially harsh to cheesy attempts at motivation, and in that spirit, I’ll sign off by saying that these things cannot literally happen for you, they happen because of you.

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