Life lessons, courtesy of the clarinet.
Life seems so overwhelming when you're trying to master something as complex and difficult as a musical instrument. Most people never master something this intricate (think about it! only a minuscule number of people would consider themselves an accomplished musician to any degree).
But sometimes we forget that we are making demands on ourselves that many people never make. We assume that other people aren’t having the challenges we’re having. That this comes naturally to some people, but not to us.
Well, I’ve got news for you. We all suck at something.
Let me share a typical note I get from young players all the time.
As successful as an artist as you are, we have all gone through comparing ourselves to other people. And I know I shouldn't do this but how do I get through it?
Also as I said before I want to be a music ed major in college, but I'm not the best at speaking or teaching and I'm not the best clarinet player in the world, so should I follow with talent or passion? And you make speaking seem so easy... how do you do it? Whether it be teaching or talking to a girl or just giving a speech? How do you do it? I always feel after I say something, I could have said it so much better, how do I improve at this?
Comparing yourself to others is a quickest way to make yourself miserable. There will ALWAYS be people better than you, and there will ALWAYS be people you envy. If there is one thing I have learned in life, it is that you have to be the best YOU that you can be. That means focusing on the things you do well and nurturing those parts of yourself. The other side of that is being nice, and being patient with yourself with those things that are harder for you. I’m not saying to give up; just realize that the things that come hard will just take more time.
Looking at myself, these would be a few examples of how I’ve tried to do this in my own life:
What I’m good at
I’m good in front of crowds. I don’t get nervous when I have to speak to people. This took a while to figure out, but once I did it just clicked. The secret is two-fold: 1) Don’t take yourself too seriously. If you screw up, you screw up. And 2) Be SUPER-PREPARED. That means, if you are talking about Copernicus for your 10th grade science class or talking about Hindemith before you play the clarinet sonata, know the basics of what you’re talking about. And practice talking.
But I realized I was good at it, and that it made me stand out from the pack, so it became something that I focused on doing better.
Also, I'm a pretty good bass clarinet player. That came naturally to me at a young age, but I also realized at a young age that it was something that made me unique. So again, I focused on that skill, and focused on being the best at it as I could be.
What’s hard for me
As a Bb clarinet player, I’m not anywhere near great. I struggle to do some basic things, like playing high notes. Or tonguing fast. Or playing softly with a lot of control. I’ve gotten better, but it’s still—after 40 years—not where I want to be. And of course, I continue to try to improve (and hopefully I do!) but I realize that I’m not unique as a clarinet player.
Now, I could beat myself up about it, and I could focus on the fact that I’m not as good as other people, but I choose not to. I accepted that I may never play the clarinet the way I see others play it. That’s not giving up. It’s giving myself permission to focus on the things that make me unique.
(BTW, I also HATE the fact that I suck at sports. I wish I could play Basketball, but I simply can’t.)
Now, don’t worry if you haven’t figured it all out yet. I didn’t even start to figure it out until well into college. And I’m still figuring it out to this day.
Life is a journey. Make the most of it!