I had a great visit recently out at Camp Pendleton, California, with the 1st Marine Division Band. I occasionally have the opportunity to visit our sister bands in the fleet, and take a week to do some training with them. What that means for us is, sitting in on band rehearsals, offering private lessons, master classes, and just doing a lot of playing together. The weeks have always ended up being great fun, and have given me a great appreciation for what our Marine fleet musicians do, and are responsible for, on a daily basis. They have a difficult job, and it encompasses way more than just playing their instruments!
One of the younger musicians posed a question to all of us in a master class that I have heard a number of times before, both in our trips to the fleet as well as in many other settings throughout my career. In fact, I have asked myself the question many times!
The question the young marine asked was: “How do you stay motivated to play and practice?” I don’t think he tagged on “especially when work is not very much fun sometimes”, but there was definitely a sense of frustration and exasperation this young man was feeling about being a musician as well as keeping up with his everyday “work” duties. So, here’s the answer I gave him….
First of all, forget what you were taught to feel OBLIGATED to do in your every day practice as a musician. Yes, you need to maintain your basic skills as a performer, but how you do that is now totally up to you. Many of us were taught one way of playing, warming up, practicing, etc. You are now on your own. You are not beholden to anyone! There is no teacher there to tell you what you are doing is wrong or unproductive, or that the music you’re playing isn’t really what you should be working on. Want to play along with movie soundtracks instead of practicing Rochut every day? Go for it! Want to learn a violin sonata on trumpet? Do it! The point is that your music making is only limited by your imagination.
Action: I want YOU, dear reader, to take a second to think. What is the FIRST thing that pops into your mind that you would like to play or do as a musician that you are not currently doing. Now, write that in the comments below. I want to see what everyone comes up with. See below for my own comment… This should be interesting… It can be anything, really.
So, after forgetting our obligations and thinking about what we really want, the second thing is to COLLABORATE. Music is way more fun when you include other people. Most definitely, there are times where we must practice alone for hours on end to develop new skills. No doubt. However, many things that are mundane or are simply “staying in shape”, or “getting in shape” are much more fun when you include other people. Don’t like trombone quartets? Start a brass quintet. Hate brass quintet? Form an R&B band. Whatever.
I didn’t phrase the next thing to this young man how I’ll say it now, because I didn’t want to sound rude to him at the time, but if you’re bored or unmotivated, it’s generally your OWN FAULT. If you have been pounding away on the same old thing and it has gotten stale, and you’ve neglected to change up your routine, then that’s on you. Find some new things to play. Check out a new warmup method. Find a new etude book. Work on a new solo. Make a recording. Get after it!
Hang out with other motivated people! One thing I get from my colleagues often, is that I get to be around their music making and see what motivates them. It both inspires and motivates me. The often quoted saying, “you’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”, is very true. Find the people around you who ARE motivated, and spend some time with them. Play duets, buy them coffee, pick their brain, form an ensemble… Valor Brass has been around for 13 years now, and the motivation and encouragement we bring each other is a large reason.
So, I’m truly curious to hear what everyone else does, whether in music or in any other field, to stay motivated! Please, comment below, and let the ideas fly!
I always try to keep in mind another favorite saying: “Motivation is for amateurs!” I love that. In other words, just do the work, every day.
Drop me a line, let me know what you're up to!
The Virtual Trombonist