When was the last time you sat down at your instrument and played music for fun? I mean, not music you had to practice or prepare, but music you chose to play for yourself, for your own enjoyment?
So often as professionals, we don’t make time for this. We assume that all the music we’re being paid to learn and practice will also count as the musical satisfaction we need to keep going in our career. Kill two birds with one stone, right? I mean, who has time to play for fun?
But the problem is, this can become stifling. Instead of making music as a form of expression and creativity, making music becomes something we have to do, a task on our list. In short, it becomes work.
And when it becomes work, we lose that spark of inspiration, we miss the connection to the creative process, that feeling of making something personal, real, and deeply authentic. We lose some of the meaning behind why we started playing in the first place.
But, the good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.
The inspiration, the connection, the spark - you can get it all back. The key is making time to play music for fun and prioritizing it.
Not convinced yet? Here are four reasons why playing for fun is vital to your music career:
1. It helps connect you to your art.
For some (many?) of us, our day-to-day work includes numerous non-artistic (read: mundane) things, like emails, scheduling, paying bills, and planning. We know this is all part of the job, but it’s easy to let all of these things take up the majority of our time, to prioritize them. As a result, we sometimes end up diminishing the more artistic parts of our job: things like singing, playing, practicing music for Sunday, rehearsing, etc. in favor of checking things off our list.
Does this seem like mixed-up priorities to you? At our core, we are musicians and artists. We are creators. And when we lose sight of that or let it get buried under the daily and weekly tasks that are a part of life, our work begins to suffer. It starts to feel less like creativity and more like work.
Do you know this feeling? Can you relate?
One way to reconnect to your art is by playing your instrument.
Set the timer for 20 minutes (or 15, if that’s all you have right now), take out your instrument (or warm up your voice!) and one of your favorite books. No agenda, no expectation, no goals here - just a few minutes to play for yourself and reconnect to your art. Play through some of your favorites pieces or do something that challenges you and makes you come alive. Sightread a few pieces in a new book or pull out a Bach invention or prelude to work through.
One of my professors in college used to talk about the ways he stayed connected to music and his art. One semester, he challenged himself to learn a Bach prelude by ear. He listened to it while doing the dishes, and didn’t sit down to work it out on the piano until he could sing it all by heart. Then, he spent some time each evening working out bits and pieces of it at the piano until he had the whole piece learned. One day, one step at a time.
Make time for this. Put it on your calendar or your to-do list if you have to. This is such an important part of what we do.
2. It reminds you why you started.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the busy-work and menial tasks and lose sight of the bigger picture. Spending a few minutes playing your instrument for your own enjoyment helps bring things back into perspective. It helps you remember why you started, and more importantly, why you chose to make music your career.
What is your why? What inspired you to pursue music and to make it your profession?
Take a few minutes to write down your answers. Then, spend some time playing your instrument. Practice being present - listening, feeling, breathing, creating.
3. It’s an escape.
Music is a breath of fresh air. In the midst of stress, overwhelm, indecision, burnout - whatever you might be facing today - music is an opportunity to experience freedom, a momentary escape from all the things of life that crowd our hearts and minds. It’s an invitation to rest in the midst of the hustle, to take a deep breath in the midst of overwhelm, to slow down and savor something in the midst of all the busy-ness.
Practice playing your instrument for a few minutes and I think you’ll find you feel more relaxed and ready to return to the necessary tasks in your day, refreshed and renewed.
4. It inspires and rejuvenates your work.
Finally, playing your instrument can actually inspire and rejuvenate your work. Whether you’re a teacher working on lesson plans or an administrator tackling your inbox or a freelancer working on budget spreadsheets, taking a break to play your instrument can help you power through the less-artistic, mind-numbing parts of your job, overcome creative block, and return to whatever work you have on your plate today with renewed vigor and passion.
Why is this? Because playing music helps you stop thinking and find clarity. It helps free your mind to think creatively again.
Related post: An Inside Look at My Creative Process
It also helps you connect to your core, your soul. To listen and be still. These are practices we don’t often incorporate into our day, but they are so necessary and vital, even, to living our best lives, to doing our best work. Everything in balance.
Some of you may know that my husband, Steve, is a composer. Recently, he’s started sitting down at the piano each night to play a hymn. This is purely for himself - a way to escape at the end of the day, reconnect to music, and challenge himself to sightread in 4-part harmony. :-)
His goal is to sightread one new hymn each day, though sometimes, he’ll flip through the hymnal and play several new hymns in a row, depending on time. The important thing is, he’s making a commitment to himself to do this every day and he’s being consistent with it. That inspires me.
How can you challenge yourself, a little each day? What small steps can you take to continue learning and developing your musicianship?
My challenge to you (and myself): Carve out a few minutes each day this week to sit down at your instrument and play. Just play. Don’t spend this time practicing your music for Sunday, play something for yourself, for your heart, and mind, and soul.
Let me know how it goes in the comments! I’ll be here, cheering you on.