Something big happened recently. So big it made me cry.
Was I crying because my cat died, or because someone yelled at me or I stubbed my toe?
No. No. And no.
I was crying because I’d just realized I’d spent 40 years falsely believing I was “a non-musical.”
A “non-musical” is a person who thinks they can’t sing, can’t dance and an instrument is a magical creature they have no business touching.
You might be a “non-musical” yourself, or know someone who is. If this is the case, this article is definitely for you.
I usually talk about things like how to manage anxious thoughts and what to do when your life looks like you sat on it. Compared to all that, surely the subject of music is a small thing? A luxury. An add-on to enjoy when the kids have grown up or you’ve “sorted out this other mess.”
I used to think this way too.
It’s like with creativity
We’re taught that only some people are creative. As if it’s a thing. Like being able to roll your tongue. Or having hazel eyes.
But creativity is part of being human. No-one is more creative than anyone else. Our creativity shows up in different ways, but we all have it.
I spent the first 30 years of my life wishing I’d been born a creative person and accepting I wasn’t.
And until recently, I felt the same way about music.
Until I met Franco . . .
My then boyfriend, now husband.
Almost from the beginning Franco suggested I learn to play the guitar. He thought it would be fun to play together. Perform together. Write songs together.
I thought he was kidding at first.
Franco grew up in a Von Trapp-type household where meal time conversations for he and his four sisters ran along the lines of ”Who knows what period this concerto is from?”
They had a full sized church organ at home – the blower was in the basement. Franco plays beautiful guitar and has the voice of a swarthy Sicilian baritone.
I on the other hand have a long list of reasons why I am the world’s most unmusical person. Truly – if you think you’re unmusical, I’ll bet I can convince you I’m worse.
I put his enthusiasm down to new love.
But over the months he has gently – because that’s his way – persisted. And always I’ve had an answer – “actual proof” as to my non-musical-ability.
On being a world class unmusical person
When Franco said things like, “You know, everyone can sing.” I said, “Yes, but not me. I’m worse than other people.”
When he told me he’s taught people to sing who were tone deaf, I said, “Yes, but I’m too scared to try, I even mouth the words to Happy Birthday.”
When he told me anyone can learn to play, I said, “No, but I tried when I was younger (piano, clarinet) and I was horrible. Ask my sister.”
“I’m just not from a musical family.”
But as the months have passed the truth about music has started to come out. And no one could be more surprised than me.
Here’s what I learned about music:
1. We all have rhythm
When you tap your foot – that’s rhythm. And if you don’t feel it naturally, you can learn to feel it.
But for sure, there is rhythm within.
2. If birds can do it . . .
Turns out Franco was right. Singing is for all of us.
Thinking I couldn’t sing was painful. At social occasions I felt embarrassed. Not only that, I was missing out on the joy that comes from joining your voice with others.
It was surprisingly scary at first. Until I learned not to worry if I didn’t hit every note. And I began to celebrate the notes I was getting – which were more than I realized.
I learned the more you do it, the better you get. Go figure. And little by little, as my fears have receded I’ve begun to enjoy it. Really enjoy it.
Now, I sing all the time.
I sing alone. I sing in front of Franco. I sing with family and anyone else.
I sing well known tunes and I make up my own little tunes. I don’t know what a harmony is exactly, but when Franco practices I fool around and sing a made up part – like a conversation.
Learning to sing, when you don’t think you can, is both literally and figuratively like finding a voice you never thought you had.
(See below for recording of me signing and playing, Week 1! It’s sweet in it’s beginnerness.)
3. Musical people are people who play and practice music.
You’re not born “a musical person.” It’s a choice. Anyone who is highly proficient has at one time spent hours each day practicing.
People who play know this. They understand everyone has to start at the beginning. In fact, they frequently do it themselves.
If a “musical person” wants to learn the Tuba, they find one and start practicing. They’re no better than you or I. They just realize they need to practice to get better.
And they don’t worry how bad they are to start.
4. The secret to feeling confident in a music store
I always thought a music store was a mysterious place other people went. A store where they spoke another language.
I thought they’d laugh at me.
Turns out it’s just a store – staffed by people who love seeing newcomers dive in and have a go. And they do speak another language, but they want to teach you their language!
It was the same the first time I went into an art store, I half expected someone to come up and ask me to leave unless I could prove I was “an artist.” Not kidding.
A music store is your friend. You can wander in, chat to people, pick up different instruments, even ones you don’t know the names of, and you can buy them too.
5. The truth about sucking
I grew up thinking activities only feel good if you’re good at them. That pleasure comes from being “successful.” By mastery.
But you know what – I’m terrible at the guitar. So terrible my strumming hand can completely miss the strings so I do an air-strum. But I love it! It feels great.
So where’s the fun?
The fun is in practicing and seeing an improvement.
The fun is in making a pretty sound come out of an instrument. Even when that pretty sound is surrounded by some non-pretty sounds!
The fun is in taking charge and just doing it!
The bottom line is – WE ARE ALL MUSICAL!
The aim of this article isn’t to say you should learn to play an instrument.
The point is, you can if you want to.
Truly, truly, truly.
In almost everything I write about I talk about belief systems, and how it’s hard to see ones we have. We are so sure that what we think is the truth.
We go through our lies denying ourselves huge areas of expression, enjoyment and participation.
The satisfaction that comes from seeing “the other side” is huge. This is why I was crying. This is why I wanted to write this article.
Is there an instrument that stands out more than any other or that you’ve always wanted to play?
Or singing – are you like I once was? There are a lot of us out there you know.
Learning a new skill is a great way to meet people too – in classes, but also, it’s surprising how often when I tell people they suggest we should play together! There are so many ways to learn nowadays too – lessons, books videos.
It’s invigorating. Then there are the benefits that come with carving out an hour or two a week to do something nourishing just for you.
Thinking you can’t make music, is painful.
I heard of a guy once who said
I’d give ten years of my life to play the cello.
Meaning, he’d happily die ten years earlier if he could play the cello. So why didn’t he just play? His dream was right there in front of him and he couldn’t see it.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter! What do you think, how do you feel about music?? Or creativity? Have you had similar walls come down?
PS: It occurred to me to throw out the idea of starting a group for “non-musicals” wanting to find their musicalness! Led by Franco. What do you think? Pop a comment below or email myself or Franco if you’re interested.