Thursday, September 17, 2009

Am I not good enough? Am I too old?

ballad singer and banjo player Dellie Norton.

I often hear beginner mountain dulcimer players asking "Am I too old to learn to play the dulcimer? I don't have any natural talent for playing music! I've never played music before, it seems like so much to learn, and I'll never be good enough, so why bother?" Whenever I hear this question, I think Well, ok, say for example you are 75 now. You can either start playing and in three years you'll be a 78 year old who plays the dulcimer, OR, you can not make the effort at all and in three years you'll be a 78 year old who doesn't play the dulcimer. Um...I know which path I would choose!

Remember this: very few people who play instruments ever become good enough to be 'professional musicians'... But it is just as important and rewarding to play a simple melody that brings a smile to someone you love, or just to yourself.
Our society has for too long fostered the notion that only 'real' musicians should make music, and that they should do it up on a stage while the rest of us pay to sit and listen and buy CDs. Making music is just too much FUN to restrict to only a chosen few! In past generations, music making was a natural part of everyday life, and most communities and families had some sort of home made music going on- singing while they worked, playing simple tunes in the evening at home, or at community dances and picnics, at church and at school. If someone hit a wrong note or didn't sound perfect, they just carried on with the tune. People made their own music instead of buying it.

Music is a tonic that brings joy to all it caresses. And the mountain dulcimer is arguably the very easiest musical instrument of all to make heavenly sounds on right from the first moment you play- even just strumming across the open strings creates a celestial chorus. How can you beat that? We don't have to set ourselves the lofty goal of becoming a highly skilled player. Such a goal has prevented countless good people from ever starting to play at sad! They see themselves as untalented failures even before they play a single note. To you I say: you are allowed to leave those kinds of goals and tasks to the young and ambitious if you like. Instead, why not set yourself free by making your own goal simple, enjoyable, and more realistic for yourself?- a goal of just playing a very simple tune or two for your own enjoyment. Personally, I admit to you that I have set my own musical goals to be less lofty over time, and am much the happier for it! I have stopped beating myself up for what I cannot do, and am more pleased in what I can do. That doesn't mean I have stopped trying to improve my playing- it just means I now refuse to feel inadequate about my playing limits and I try hard to no longer compare myself to better players and feel bad about it.

Life is too short to feel you can't or shouldn't attempt to learn something or do something new just for fun. Life is too short to keep thinking you are not good enough, or to end up wondering wistfully what it would have been like to play a simple tune on a simple instrument.
It's high time we all take back our right to enjoy
playing simple home made music for ourselves. Even as brand new beginners, we are... 'good enough'.

What are you waiting for?

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