"I SUCK" - Turning Frustration Into Musical Growth – Better Sax

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Ever say that to yourself?

You’re not the only one. In fact, I don’t think there is a single serious saxophone player alive who hasn’t uttered this exact phrase in frustration.

It’s a feeling we can all relate to right? Doesn’t matter if you’ve been playing for a week or 50 years. If you perform for your granny or have won Grammys.

I’d like to share with you my thoughts on how we can all turn these moments around and use them to propel us forward rather than  make us want to give it all up.

I’ve got 7 items of truth for you, and if you read the whole post I promise you’ll head into the practice room feeling a little bit more inspired and motivated. If so, Drop me a comment below.  

Music Is a Lifelong Journey

Think of the process of learning music as a life journey. It’s long and it has is ups and downs. I sometimes watch videos by Graham Stephen who has a popular YouTube channel about personal finance , go check it out.

In one of his videos he talks about the value of investing small amounts of money consistently over time vs trying to get rich quick. And while watching this it occurred to me that this is exactly like the process of learning music.

If you want to one day in the distant future be a great player (wealthy), you have to practice daily (invest small amounts consistently).

In the case of money, compound interest will pay big dividends over years and decades. Same with music, daily, focused practice over long periods of time is the only reliable way to get results.

Those with the patience to invest consistently over time will reap the benefits, and those who are trying to get rich quick or take a shortcut to musical greatness are destined for failure and disappointment.

Don’t Envy Better Players

Realize that just as there will always be people with more money than you, there will always be players that are better than you. Don’t be envious, instead be inspired by what is possible with consistent practice. If you could ask whatever sax player you think is the absolute best in the world I guarantee you they have a list of musicians they draw inspiration from. 

My point here is that, it’s fine to compare yourself to your peers or heroes but don’t beat yourself up for not sounding like them. Even your heroes have heroes and everyone gets frustrated with their own playing from time to time.

Manage Expectations

Accept where you are in the journey and work from that point forward. I can remember a time when every solo I took I wanted to sound like one of my musical heroes and was disappointed when whatever I played just sounded like me. As if without putting the necessary work in I was going to magically in that moment rise to some other level of expertise far beyond my ability. When I learned to accept my own limitations and instead try to play the best version of myself in each performance not only did things start sounding a lot better, but I was no longer beating myself up for not meeting impossible expectations.

Strive to Play the best version of yourself in performances that’s the only reasonable expectation we can have.

Bad Days are Necessary

Bad Performances can be psychologically devastating as you may have experienced but guess what? Every great musician has had them and can attest that those experiences were a crucial part of their growth. In the same way that entrepreneurs will tell you that they learned more from their failures than their successes.

I encourage you to embrace and cherish these awkward moments since they are literally necessary stepping stones towards improvement. 

If you have failed miserably on stage, learn from that and make a big comeback at the next available opportunity.

Bad Practice sessions are equally important and necessary. You’re also likely to have many more of them. While a practice session where you can’t stop saying I suck can be very frustrating, it’s actually a sign of progress. It means that you are more aware of your own shortcomings and have evolved to the point where you are no longer satisfied with how you played yesterday. 

Don’t get discouraged. Instead be brutally honest with yourself in these moments. Record yourself and write down the specific things in your playing that you’re unhappy with. Is it your sound, your rhythm and time feel, an inability to memorize something correctly or play a challenging written phrase?

Whatever it is, Identify the problem and then isolate it. In following practice sessions, work on one thing at a time with the goal of incrementally improving each area.

Too Much Too Fast

In my experience, trying to do too much in too short a period of time leads to unsatisfactory results. It’s pretty much how most people practice though, myself included. I have found that by thinking long term, Each practice session as a mere drop in the bucket, I have accelerated my growth as a musician compared to when I tried to get as good as I could in two hours of practice.

This ties in directly to my first point about comparing oneself to other more advanced musicians. When you’re in a hurry to sound like someone else you will inevitably sabotage your own progress by looking for short cuts.

Information Overload

There is so much information out there to study and learn. It can be very intimidating. So first realize that no one can ever learn it all. Ask someone like Herbie Hancock, one of the greatest musical geniuses of our time and they will tell you they are still trying to learn new things everyday.

So rather than trying to cram it all in. Choose one thing at a time and learn it well. Move on to new material when it feels right or you get bored. Revisit old material again and again in the future when it makes sense to do so. Just keep filling the bucket drop by drop. 

Comfort Zone

In order to grow as musicians, we need to practice slightly outside of our comfort zone. If we only work on material that is easy we’ll get bored and stagnate. If we work on material that is too difficult for our ability, we will become frustrated and likely develop poor habits. Find the goldilocks zone for your practice material and learn how to adjust according to your development. Fun and challenging at the same time is what we want.

Let me know in the comments section below which one of these you need to focus on the most and then get in the practice room and start doing it.

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