There comes a time when an artist can feel like they've 'reached their potential' in music. Where the creativity seems to lose it's flair, or playing that cover gets to be a repetitive motion, and in some cases, they question whether they should continue playing. For a lot of musicians, the ability to play is a release to express emotion. But what happens when the ability to express that emotion to it's full potential is gone?
Myself, I've had music in my life for longer than some people's lifetimes, but truth be told, it was never a constant term. Life happens. A family comes along. A career gets built. The day to day existence of life's necessities pushes the hobbies and passers of time to the side. Over the years I've used music as a means to release my anger, to let out my frustrations, to help me in times of despair, and of course celebrate my happiness. Whether it was to sit down and write out a compilation, sing along to that one song that triggers the emotion perfectly, or just crank out the tunes to release the energy I was feeling inside, music was always the most effective therapy for me. Even now, with health conditions limiting my hand movement, I have accepted the fact I will never be able to play like Billy Sheehan or Geddy Lee on the bass, or shred a guitar like it's no one's business. My physical health has pushed my music playing days to the side. Of course I still sing whenever I get the chance, whether those around me want to hear it or not, but the creative rhythms and melodies have been pushed to the wayside. For now.
A few months ago I sat with my slimmed down collection of guitars (and if you ask how many guitars I need, then please refer to my April 25th blog titled "another guitar? I can explain...") and thought about the days on stage, the jam sessions with the bands, the hours spent writing, collaborating, arguing with bandmates, etc etc... and thought I was done. I've done what I could in music, so, what's next?
From there, I started to think about the musicians who overcame their own obstacles. Rick Allen, the one armed drummer for Def Leppard, is a prime example. On December 31, 1984 (which was shortly after the band solidified their stardom from the album Pyromania and it's six million copies sold) and his girlfriend swerved off the road on a sharp bend and went through a drystone wall. Rick lost his left arm in the crash, and many swore they would never see him play again. Even his bandmates questioned the fate of Def Leppard, as they didn't feel comfortable with just replacing their drummer that had been a member of the group since 1978. With help from Simmons electronic drum company, Rick built himself a custom drum kit with switches and pedals to compensate for the lost arm. A few months later, he called the rest of the band together for a jam session and rocked out to Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" - Three years later the band's most successful album Hysteria was released.
Several others have also pushed the boundaries and limitations and have made a major impact in music. Beethovan was deaf. Jeff Healey was blind. Django Reinhardt played guitar solos with only two fingers. And here I was, thinking I was done. In actuality, I'm just beginning another chapter.
I've decided to adapt to my limited hand movements and try to play other instruments... which yes, could mean... more guitars!!! I've begun looking into playing a slide guitar, Gotten back into tinkering on keyboards, and been looking at electronic drum kits. Will I be as good as I once was, or at least considered myself to be? Probably not. And I'm ok with that. But I will not give up on the music because of the declining abilities. Instead, I will adapt, improvise, and in the end, overcome.
For those who have hung up the guitars or packed up the drums because they feel they no longer have it in them, allow me to ask you this: Has it benefitted you to do so? I'm not talking the frustrations, the pain and suffering you endured because you have limited playing time, or your current lifestyle doesn't allow you to make the time anymore. That's all part of adapting your lifestyle to suit. I'm talking about that itch deep down inside that musicians get at three in the morning to jot down or work through what's playing in their head. That feeling you get when you see another band play live and reminisce of your glory days. When you hear a tune you used to play, do you still think in your mind if you can still play it note for note?
There are some who just don't have it in them anymore and no longer want time to play - I get it. For those who can simply move on without that itch, I wish you true success in your next hobby or pastime. But for those who still have that burn inside them to keep going, then whatever obstacles you're facing to keep the music going, you need to work it out.
Arthritis, diabetes, limb paralysis, amputation, even mental depression - just a select few of the many personal wellness challenges many of us face in our daily lives. If you're a member of the club that have one of those I mentioned or something similar, then it's up to you to accept it and let it consume you, or face it head on and not let it control you.
1) Force yourself to play. if whatever situation you have is affecting your playing ability, you need to play on. Yes, it'll sound like nails on a chalkboard compared to what you've done, but you can't give up simply because it sounds gross.
2) Keep a positive mindset Don't pick up your instrument thinking, aww this is gonna suck... Because that's a given. It will. Who cares? Don't want witnesses? Send the others to the park, the store, and dedicate yourself to that brief period of time to let your mind, your body, and your heart get back into the ability to express yourself through music.
3) Recognize. Adapt. Progress. Much like what Rick Allen did for Def Leppard, you need to do for yourself. Recognize the limitations that have been chosen for you. Learn to adapt to suit. It may take a totally different playing style, or some modifications to your gear, but if the current setup isn't working then you need to evaluate what your setup is, and what exactly is causing you limitations.
4) Seek help If you're recognizing the problems and unable to find a solution, seek help. This could be a simple post in a musician forum, talking to your music inclined friends, or even hitting up the local music store. My experience in the music community, there's a few bad seeds in the mix looking out for themselves, but for the most part we're all willing to help one another. There is the possibility your situation is not unique - perish the thought... eight billion people in the world and someone is going through something similar...
5) Never give up. You hear this ideology in fitness goals, career mindset, and personal relationships, so it's not unique to say the same thing here. the four previous points will try to defeat you. You'll lose the ambition to play, you'll resort to the "I can't" attitude, and not even try or discuss the problem with others. Failure is not an option and you're only hurting yourself in the process.
Stay true to yourself and you will overcome. Accept the challenge given to you, and beat it to a pulp. No one or nothing should ever have the right to take the music from you.