“I took lessons as a kid but I can’t play anymore.”

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that sentence then I, well, I guess nickels aren’t worth what they used to be. The point is, I’ve heard that sentence hundreds if not thousands of times.

Over the last 15 years of my music career I’ve made over 1000 public performances. After all of these performances I would have the opportunity to chat with a few of the audience members. Without fail, there would be at least one person after every show who told me how sorry they were for quitting music as a kid. Whether the reason for quitting was sports, school, moving to a new town, or their parents not being supportive, now, as adults, these people seem to think that music should’ve and could’ve been a priority.

So, who’s fault is it? The parents? The Teachers? The schools? The student themselves?

Yes.

The fault is not in a person or program, but in a mindset.

We, as a culture, have adopted a perfectionistic mindset when it comes to learning and playing music. In many music programs perfection not just a goal, but an expectation and a standard.

That can be good, right? Set the bar high. Make them reach for the stars.

Well, it can be good for a very (and I mean very) select few, who, through mental toughness and sheer determination attain a level of musicianship that qualifies them for Juilliard, or Eastman, or the Royal College of Music, or, fill in the blank. But is that really what we had in mind when we started playing music?

I know it wasn’t for me.

In fact, my earliest musical inspiration came from a man who “couldn’t play music anymore” because he quit taking piano lessons as an 11 year-old. So then how did he inspire me? Well, somehow playing John Denver’s Country Roads on the guitar did not qualify this man as someone who “played music.”

The man that inspired me to play music by performing 1 of the 2 songs he knew was my father.

I was very young but I remember right where I was sitting and I definitely remember what I was thinking. It wasn’t “hmm, this guy can’t play music.” No, I loved it. I didn’t want him to stop. I wanted him to teach me. I wanted to play music.

I know for a fact that this desire is prevalent in both young and old alike. We want to play music.

“I just wish I could sit-down and play.”

So why, after years and sometimes even decades of taking music lessons do people find themselves in a place where they can’t sit down and enjoy a simple song on the piano, guitar, violin, clarinet, trumpet, etc…?

It is because these people haven’t learned to enjoy the beauty, inspiration, and relationship that can come through imperfect music. It takes humility to go from practicing six hours a day on Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 to playing Oh When the Saints for your children. But if your children are anything like I was, the 3-chord-song will make their day every day.