You’ve probably heard the question before. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. There is actually some wisdom behind this bromide. Jobs that seem monumental become less daunting in bite size portions. Learning a musical instrument would certainly fall in this category. Adult beginners sometimes visualize going from four note ditties to Carnegie Hall in one chasm-spanning gut-churning leap. No rational person would attempt such a gargantuan jump but still many groan inwardly when visualizing the task of going from rank beginner to really good or at least good enough to impress our family and friends.
If we see our musical journey as an Arthurian quest we are half beaten already. I like the word journey better than the word quest. When my wife and I go on a road trip we realize that the journey is as much fun as the destination. We try to always leave time for side-trips and serendipity. Some of our best memories come from the little roadside attractions, farmers markets and unexpected ferry boat rides. We don’t make good time but we have fun along the way. Last time I checked there was no law that said you could only play the notes written on the page. I wouldn’t recommend changing Beethoven at your recital but give yourself permission to make up your own melodies after you’ve practiced your piece. The great classical composers were all great improvisers but once you write down an improvisation it becomes sheet music.
Few take up a violin or cello as an adult with the goal of becoming a paid professional. Give yourself permission to enjoy the ride and look at the scenery. So what if you only know four notes? big deal. They are your four notes. Relish them and if they squeak, they squeak. If you played like Itzhak Perlman you still wouldn’t impress your brother-in-law. Not unless you could evade three tackles and score a touchdown while playing Mozart. We don’t need to look for acceptance for our music, especially early in our journey. We don’t need to look ahead to the end of the book. We’ll get there eventually. We don’t need to allow that nasty little voice in our head to say that what we are playing stinks. It won’t always if we just keep going – just keep playing and practicing and having fun.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – Bilbo Baggins