One of the many things I love about the holidays is having extra time – not only to do things I love doing or that I’ve been wanting to do for a while, but just to contemplate things while removed from the chaos out there. These holidays have given me more space to think and more time to pursue passion projects like blogging and playing the ukulele (Oh, and they also gave me a gastro bug! Thank goodness that’s over now!😑). I took up the ukulele about 1.5 years ago for no apparent reason at all. I just wanted to learn something new, and I decided it had to be something inexpensive to set up and that I could learn autonomously. Well, learning the ukulele really fit the bill. It cost me about $100 in total to buy my instrument, case, tuner, capo and chord reference book, and I haven’t had to pay for lessons as I’ve been learning exclusively from YouTube. While fitting in some extra practice these holidays, I noticed myself waxing philosophical about the past year-and-a-bit of learning, and I thought it might be interesting to share my thoughts here.
Here are the five things learning an instrument has taught me about life…
Perseverance is the key to success. I used to think this was a trite saying, but since taking on an instrument I’ve realised that it’s true. When I first started and had finally figured out how to strum and learnt a few basic chords, I tried to start singing the words to the songs I had learnt while playing them, and it just would not work. My frustration level was off the charts! It felt like trying to rub your belly while patting your head kind of thing. But…after many, many hours of practice and infuriating stopping-and-starting, somehow, somewhere, something clicked and I could do it. I now know that when I get to a new challenging hurdle in my playing, it might seem impossible now, but if I practise enough I will learn it.
Small things add up to big things. My favourite online ukulele teacher Cynthia Lin always reminds her students to fit in just 5 minutes of practice per day. Sometimes I’ll choose a single chord progression and commit to practising it for 5 minutes before bed every single night. I’ll then be excited to find that over the course of a few weeks, with what feels like bare minimum effort, I’ve actually perfected it. I’ve found this with my efforts towards minimalism and zero waste, too. Just avoiding creating one piece of rubbish per week adds up to a huge reduction in waste in the long term, and choosing one thing to declutter a day is just as effective in the end as one chaotic minimising-fest. No matter how small our actions or efforts feel, it’s comforting to know that the final outcome is greater than the sum of its parts.
There’s almost always another way to get where you want to go. One of the challenges I love about learning the ukulele is the quest to make chord transitions as quick and easy as possible. I’ve learnt some transition tricks from online videos, but others I’ve figured out myself by thinking outside the box and playing around on the fretboard, sometimes radically changing my fingering of the first chord so as to make arriving at the second chord easier. This made me realise that if there’s something we want to achieve and our current path isn’t working for whatever reason, we need to look at our metaphorical fretboard and see where we can move our fingers to get to the same place in a different way.
It’s ok to take one step forward and two steps back. Sometimes if I don’t practise for a while because life gets busy, I realise I’m forgetting chords, or I can’t remember how to play a song I once knew entirely by heart. This lesson has been about realising that making “un-progess” is nothing to be ashamed of. Life is like that sometimes, and while it can take a while to get back into the flow of things, having already made that progress once before gives us the innate knowledge we can easily make it again when the time is right.
Being your best self is more important than being the best. If I was to compare my skill level to a professional’s, it would seem pretty limited, but if I erase that comparison and acknowledge that I’m always playing to the best of my ability and striving to improve, I’ll be content regardless of how I compare to anyone else. We’re all on a different path, and within that path we’re all at a different stage. That’s why playing an instrument has taught me that being the best isn’t important, but being my best is.
What about you? Is there any learning or other process you’ve been through that has taught you life lessons that extended beyond the thing you set out to do?