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Does Your Musical Fire Need Relighting?

musicianship performing Oct 27, 2014

Does one of these stories sound like yours?

1. You’re busy living the hectic modern life – teaching, performing, practicing, family – and you’re just not getting the emotional lift from your music that you used to.

2. You know what you want. You want to play music, and you’re doing all the things you’re supposed to, but you’re still not getting results. Your frustration level is mounting, and you’re not sure if you should stick with it or find something else to do.

3. Everything was going fine, until…your family needed more of your time, you had an injury, you had to help care for a sick loved one. There were other important things that needed your time and attention, and now you’re finding it hard to get back into making music.

Sometimes it feels like the spark is gone. The joy that you could count on in your music just isn’t there.

Before you give up and try stamp collecting instead, read my story of when I almost gave up the harp…

I always knew I wanted to be a harpist. According to my mother, I knew it from age two, when I heard the harp on the radio, asked what it was and said that was what I wanted to do. And sixteen years later, I was well on my way, enrolled at the preitigious Curtis Institute of Music. I felt ready to set the world on fire.

But it didn’t work out that way. I had a rough first year at Curtis. There was the usual discombobulation that most students experience going from high school to college life. But this was more than that. This was my harp playing.

It seemed that I couldn’t do anything right. My teacher told me my sound was ugly, my playing was unmusical, my practicing wasn’t enough. Every week I dreaded my lesson. Even worse was the fact that this was the same teacher I had been studying with for years, and I knew, or thought I knew, that she supported me and believed in me. This was a major blow and made me even more confused. I played many lessons with tears rolling down my cheeks.

So having been told that I had to fix my playing or else I wouldn’t be coming back to Curtis, I knew I had to take matters into my own hands. Literally. I had always loved playing the piano, and I devised my own plan to use my piano playing to rehabilitate my harp playing. I dedicated that entire summer to my plan. I played only the piano, not the harp, for three or four weeks, until I felt more peaceful. Then I started analyzing what I did at the piano and transferring those observations to my harp playing, going back and forth between the two instruments. By the end of the summer, I felt I had made progress. But I had yet to show my results to my teacher.

My first lesson that autumn was terrifying. I knew this was “make or break” time and my whole idea of my musical future was on the line. I don’t know if my teacher realized the enormity of my relief when she told me that I had done well over the summer. She didn’t say much, but my summer study plan had worked. That was the day I began to take charge of my musical life, and I have never looked back.

I hope you never experience a musical crisis like that. But in case you feel things slipping way from you, here are some quick things you can do to renew your musical energy and get back on track.

Write your “why I started to play the (your instrument)” story. Find a picture of the person, place or occasion when you first felt the inspiration and put it on your music stand. That’s WHY you’re doing this. Feel the power of the WHY.

Listen to a favorite piece of music, one that makes you dance or sing, or one that makes your heart beat faster. Even better, go to a live concert. Absorb the energy.

Hang out with music friends. The company of people who understand and share your passion for music will help shift your focus and motivate you.

Give yourself a specific goal and decide on a plan to achieve it. There is nothing like action to bring the life back to your playing and practicing. And be sure to get some help and some accountability for your plan from a teacher, coach or trusted friend.

Lastly, don’t sweat it. The fire inside us musicians rarely goes out altogether. There are always embers there, even if they are under a heap of ashes. Breathe on the embers a little, add some kindling, and your fire will be back before you know it!

You can read more of my story in my ebook Kaleidoscope Practice: Focus, Finish and Play the Way You’ve Always Wanted. Check it out on And you can read the first chapter FREE!


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