One of the biggest keys in transitioning from a weekly music student to a lifelong successful musician is simply inspiration. I’ve had both students and parents both ask me “How do I get inspired?” or “How do I get my child more inspired to play their instrument?” As someone who clearly remembers what his inspiration was that transitioned him from a weekly piano student to a dedicated lifelong musician, I can only speak from experience.
As a child my parents signed me up for piano lessons at a young age. This is obviously the first step in almost any young musician’s journey to becoming a lifelong musician. Your parents sign you up for lessons and you either last or you don’t with trying to learn that instrument. I took piano lessons for a few years before I finally found my inspiration, which was jazz and gospel music. Something about the juicy sounding chords and grooves made me completely obsessed with wanting to play it. I’d watch DVD’s of different jazz concerts that my dad had bought and also heard musicians in church playing jazzy fills and catchy grooves. As someone who had taken classical piano lessons for a little while, I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t learned how to play that kind of music yet. Classical music is a very solo-based type of genre when learning it on piano but I wanted to play with the guitar, drums, bass, etc… At some point, I ran into a musician in my high school music class that sat down on a piano and began playing jazzy chords and fills. Immediately I came up to him and asked what he was playing. I asked what was the musical terminology that related to what he was playing. (i.e. “these are altered chords”, “these are blues scales”, etc…) Once I knew exactly what I was not learning in my lessons, I immediately came to my instructor and asked him “Can you please teach me how to play altered chords and blues scales?” The rest is history.
My story in finding inspiration is truly as simple as that. My instructor simply needed to know what I was burning to learn. He was teaching me all the right things like music theory, scales, consistent learning of classical songs, etc… but what really put me over the musical hump was simply learning things that made me want to sit on the piano for hours. I wouldn’t want to leave the piano until I learned how to play a C minor blues scale up and down the piano, for example. Don’t get me wrong, there are rudiments that a student absolutely has to learn in order to progress on their instrument. There are going to be aspects of learning any instrument that will be mundane and repetitive just as there are in learning any subject in school. However, major progress and long-term satisfaction comes in learning things you want to learn to play in the midst of practicing certain things that can be a bit boring but must be practiced to make it to the next level. As in my case, in some instances it may be as simple as telling your instructor something you heard that you really want to learn to play. My instructor taught me all the right things but did not know the true musical passion that was burning inside of me until I told him what I wanted to learn to play.
So to answer the question in the title; what have you heard someone else play that you would love to learn to play yourself? Maybe it’s a song. Maybe it’s a style of music. If it’s an extremely difficult song to play and it’s a popular song, there is a much simpler way to play it. Start there. If it’s an extremely difficult genre of music such as bebop-jazz, find out from your instructor exactly what you have to learn to get you to the point of being able to learn bebop jazz and don’t stop practicing until you are there. This will motivate you. This will continue to inspire you. You learn a song you like and the excitement pushes you to learn the next one. You learn one cool-sounding chord/scale and it pushes you to learn the next one. Allow this snowball effect to continue to push you to learn the instrument and continue to become better at it.