Jul 25

Why do something unprofessionally?

As I’ve been amping up my study of rock drumming, as well as working harder on my knowledge of recording and other music-and-audio-related stuff, I’ve been thinking a lot about *why*.

Why *study* something that you don’t plan to do professionally? I intentionally wrote “unprofessionally” in the title of this post, because it has interesting double meanings. Unprofessional doesn’t just mean amateur – it fact it has such a negative connotation that most people say ‘hobbist’ or ‘amateur’ instead of unprofessional. Unprofessional has the connotation of bad behavior *by* a professional.

If your hobby is scrapbooking, or gardening, or knitting, or lots of other ‘traditional’ hobbies, then you probably don’t practice. Sports and Music seem to be the main hobbies where practice is expected, *even if you are unprofessional*.

So the question always becomes what are you practicing music *for*? To be a rock star? Unlikely. Just like being a professional athlete, only the tiniest percentage of people who play music will ever become even locally known for doing so. But how many professional scrapbookers do you know? (I know a couple, but they are really professional salespeople).

Are you practicing to play a concert? For an open mic night? Or, as the trend is now, to impress people on YouTube? A lot of folks I know that practice quite a bit practice so that they can perform…at their church services. In fact, I know several people of dubious ‘faith’ that have found church services to be the only real musical outlet the can find.

Why has there been an explosion of Ukelele players of late? Why does Guitar Center stay in business?

If you want to play softball, or soccer, or golf, you can find a league near you.

But if you want to play music; it seems like the diversity of musical styles and the ‘independent’ nature of musicians makes leagues so hard to build as to be impossible.

Is that it, or is there more to it? One can’t ignore that watching little kids play soccer poorly is funny. Watching anyone play music poorly is not. So the specator aspect is very different. Why doesn’t my city have a giant park with band practice spaces in it, just like they have soccer and baseball fields? Is the the noise? The spectator aspect? The popularity? Or just the lack of ‘rules’ such that you can achieve a critical mass of people to all do something in an organized way?

It’s pretty weird.

So the question is, why do people still play music? I think one has to develop an appreciation of practice *as* the hobby, which is a bit odd compared to other hobbies. I mean, I may go to the driving range to play golf, but after that, *I go play golf*. But I can enjoy playing drums and guitar just fine without ever playing a concert or in front of other people at all. I record myself mostly as an exercise in learning how recording works, and as a way to analyze my playing.

But there is an element of music…playing with other musicians…that is where the magic really happens, and just ‘practicing’ all the time doesn’t really give you that. I think the Rock Band video game actually gives you a taste of that…better than just playing alone in your basement. It’s not the same as jamming, but at least you can feel how your part contributes to the whole, and what the song lacks if you screw up.

I hate to say it, but I think the key problem with playing musical instruments is that the barrier of ‘good enough’ is way too high. I can play baseball and enjoy myself even the first day I learn how…but perfecting my throwing, catching, and hitting can bring greater enjoyment.

Instruments like the guitar take a long time to even play comfortably, much less play well.

And there is the issue of what you are comparing it to. When you play baseball with your peers, they likely play fairly close to the same level as you do, so you can enjoy the game at the same level…but with music, every song is like learning a brand new game. (Once you have a lot of experience, each song becomes a little easier). If you are a slow runner, chances are the guy on first base is poor at catching the ball. So everyone being bad at the game works in favor of the experience. But for music, it’s the opposite. If anyone is bad, it makes it harder for everyone else.

So what to do? People love music, and games like Rock Band have proven it.

Here’s my blasphemy: I think we need easier instruments. There is no way to ease into most instruments. There’s been a lot of progress with keyboards that light up under your finger and such, but those don’t really help you in a jam situation on a song you are creating.

I think the Fretlight Guitar is one step forward, but you still have to physically master the guitar, which isn’t easy.

I’m sure many of you who have lept the hurdle of playing a ‘real’ instrument are pshawing me. But look at what kids attention is competing with – games that teach them how to do things step by step. Instruments need to evolve. They can, and have (iPad instruments are amazing), but what is missing is that leaping point from being able to play along to your favorite song, to jamming…and somehow moving toward achieving ever-increasing proficiency.

I hope the future gives us more fun ways to be able to bring music back up to something that everyone can enjoy, and not just something that people tackle as a challenge, or practice ‘as it’s own reward’…