Here’s some irony for you. As artists, many of us are fiercely independent people. We have strong opinions on what does and does not constitute beauty. One of the classic stereotypes of artists (especially musicians) is that we’re all of the “anti-authority” camp, and we want to stick it to “the man”.
What’s ironic is that one of the reasons that people gave for struggling to learn new skills in their arts is that they don’t have someone telling them to do the work.
So, we can’t get better at being rebellious because we don’t have enough people telling us what to do.
Now, I’m just poking fun at the idea, but the truth is, we artists lack structure in our learning attempts. We don’t set up any sort of checkpoints along the way to measure our growth, so we give up because we can never tell if we’re progressing or not. And I’m not saying “we” in a general sense. I’ve definitely struggled with this, too.
Structure and discipline are not the golden bullets that will suddenly alleviate all of your struggles, but these two characteristics are invaluable to most new students of the arts. Structure doesn’t even have to involve a complicated system.
The Arts on a Buddy System
Think about this. If you get involved in a new workout plan, what is one of the best ways to make sure that you’ll actually do the workouts? Join a gym? Nah, they earn money whether you workout or not. But, if you get a friend to workout with you, all of a sudden you’ll find yourself actually getting some exercise time in. Why? Because you made a commitment to a friend, and you don’t want to let him or her down.
Why can’t you do the same thing with your lessons? Do you know anyone else attempting to learn an instrument? Do you know anyone seeking to use some sort of learning system to help improve their lives? It doesn’t have to be art. You could partner up with someone who’s trying to stick with a diet. The principles are the same. Both of you have something that you wish to change, and the challenges are difficult enough that you both need some accountability to see it through. You’ll both be able to be sympathetic and encouraging to one another because you understand what the other person is going through.
In this transactional relationship, you both benefit from each other’s time and encouragement.
Working with a Teacher or Mentor
In other cases, you may have someone that you’ve either hired or that has agreed to work with you out of the goodness of her heart as a mentor. This is a much different relationship. While there is still a transactional value between the two of you, you are learning from someone who is more highly advanced at this new art than you are.
Take every opportunity to soak up as much wisdom as possible. I worked with voice and guitar teachers in college, and they were incredibly helpful in the way that I understood how to make music. Having someone there to help you pick out your growth points immediately is such a faster way to learn than just reading a book or taking online lessons. Private lessons certainly cost more, but I grew leaps and bounds during the time I had with my instructors.
You Have Options, So Pick One
The danger with having too many options is that we think all of our choices will always be available, so we end up never picking one. The other danger is that we face “option overwhelm”! In both case, too many choices translates to “no activity”.
So, here’s my challenge to you. Pick out a book, a website, a friend that can keep you accountable, or a teacher that you can start working with in the next week. Pick whatever option is most readily available and start working towards your artistic goals. You can always change options in the future if one doesn’t work, but you’ve got to get started somewhere. (That’s as close as I get to “making you do the work”.)
Taking the Idea Deeper
I talk more about the ideas of finding patience and avoiding comparison in learning music in the book Musician Unstuck: Creating the Perfect Practice. We explore the barriers that hold us back from learning, overcoming those barriers, and ways to set up your own practice schedules that work to your strengths. The book is available on Amazon.