Home Worship & Creative Leaders Articles for Worship & Creative The One Thing That’s Holding You Back as a Musician

The One Thing That’s Holding You Back as a Musician

No, it’s not the fact that you’re not talented enough. It’s not the fact that you’re too old, too young, too busy or too dumb.

On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you as a musician … really?

Are you happy with your progress? Are you satisfied with what you can do? Are you content with the opportunities your hard work has earned?

I think the answer for most of us is a resounding “no.” Sure, we’re grateful for where we are, but we could always do better, work harder, invest more time into our craft.

We want bigger and better opportunities. We want to write the song, record the album, create the art we feel we were destined to make. But what is holding us back? What is holding you back?

Maybe you’re a wannabe musician who wishes you had taken lessons, learned the piano, done something to make your passion for music a practical reality.

In It to Win It or …

Most of us aren’t in it to make it big. We aren’t an artist for the accolades.

We don’t necessarily want to do next year’s Super Bowl halftime show. We just want to make creativity a part of our day. We want to live a full life, do less task-oriented work, and create something real and beautiful.

But what truly holds us back?

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that comparison and competition don’t get me anywhere. Sure, it pushes me to work harder, but in the end, that’s not the kind of musician I want to be—one who is self-absorbed, always striving to pass people up and be recognized as the best.

If anything, the type of musician that advances is the one who helps others the most. It’s the law of reciprocity—you receive to the extent that you give. Who are you investing in? Who are you pouring into?

So if it’s not about being the best, comparing yourself to others or being discontent, what is it?

The One Thing

Getting to the next level is actually a simple answer. But putting it into action is anything but simple. You know what it is?

Doing the next hard thing. The next. Hard. Thing.

I know you know this.

  • You tend to play the same chord progressions over and over.
  • You’ve played the same instrument for years without experimenting with anything new.
  • You sit down at your instrument and play what is comfortable and fun.

But in the back of your mind, you know what you need to do next. It’s what you’ve procrastinated on for a while.

Instead of playing that cool riff that impresses everyone, practice your 12 major scales slowly, methodically, musically.

Instead of strumming the latest worship song, learn some new chord structures that push you into new musical territory.

Instead of seeing how fast you can play on the drum kit, learn some jazz and swing grooves that make your brain hurt. Or groove for 15 minutes to a metronome without doing a fill.

Instead of just singing your favorite pop songs, work on your tone, enunciation and vocal warm-ups that actually stretch your range.

Simply put, practice what stresses you out. Do what’s hard. Learn to enjoy the difficulty.

Why Difficulty Is Your Friend

It’s about putting one foot in front of the other.

It’s about minuscule progress every day that adds up to massive progress over a year.

It’s about 30 minutes a day that adds up to noticeable results in a month.

The problem with this simple solution is that it’s not very simple. Most of us never do it. We give ourselves excuses. We choose the easy path of social media and Netflix instead of acting on our dreams.

“But it’s just so hard!”

I know—this is exactly why some of my students show up to their lessons unprepared. They resist what’s hard. A week goes by and all they’ve done is take the easy way out—play what’s easy, fun and gets the most feedback from others.

But you’ll never truly develop into the musician you want to be if you resist the hard stuff. You’ll have an underlying laziness in your technique that will keep you from making the most moving music you are capable of creating.

Difficulty, yes, is your friend.

Three Simple Steps for Making Progress

So how does one overcome their resistance to hard things and actually make some progress? Try this:

1. Write Down a Vision—Literally. With pen and paper. Also on your computer. There’s something powerful about writing it down. If you know where you are going, you’ll find the intrinsic motivation to endure difficulty. Matter of fact, it will seem like a small sacrifice compared to the glory of your vision.

2. Decide What to Do Next—This is massive. Many people never reach this step. They dream, but never strategize. They excite themselves on a vision, but never figure out the next action. What is it for you? Right here, right now, what needs to happen next in order for your musicality to grow?

Do you need to research a good coach or teacher? Do you need to sign up for an online course? Do you need to figure out what you’re going to practice? Do you need to purchase a new instrument?

3. Put It on Your Calendar—Once you’ve figured out what your next step is, you need to schedule it. I’ve committed to this with more strategy in 2015, and I’ve seen crazy strides in my productivity. It’s amazing what happens when your creativity gets on a schedule and you keep that appointment with vigilance. Try it. You won’t regret it!

I’d love to hear from you. What is your next step?

What is the next scary thing you know you need to do?  

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David is a Worship Pastor at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh, PA.