Have you ever tried to learn music? Perhaps play a musical instrument? Probably. I know I have and still do. I have strummed a guitar. Tickled a few ivories. Persisted with the harmonica. Just as a hobby you understand. I know I am not a musical genius. My musical talent lurks in the village idiot category. I have made peace with that and yet I do try and improve my playing.
What I quickly discovered is that playing an instrument has amazing similarities to painting. This is a little disturbing to me as a teacher. Within this truth is a horrible thought.
You Have Been Playing How Long?
Like I said I enjoy playing the harmonica. A fun instrument for the musically challenged. The thing is though it is bloody difficult to get beyond absolute beginner stage. To get those cool blues riffs or play folksy tunes well you need to work. Really work at it. Everyday. One could be forgiven for giving up after a month or so.
Recently I watched a video of a harmonica player chatting about expectations that many beginners carry. He said he gets many emails from beginners wanting to know how to play certain things. They get frustrated because their progress is slow. The expert then asks these folk how long they have been playing. The typical response is four to twelve weeks. The expert musician then points out that he has been playing for twenty years. He still admits there is much to learn.
What is a beginner musician to do? Give up or keep playing scales? The ideal answer is that she keeps playing scales and learns her craft. The truth is that most quietly give up. This is the horrible thought I referred to above.
Art and Music
I did mention that I find art and music to be very similar. When teaching painting I often refer to color notes. Much like musical notes painters must try to arrange color notes into pleasing relationships. Get it wrong and the result is unpleasant. Either for the eye or ears as the case may be. Then there is full tone for music and a similar idea for strong color and composition in painting. Thin and miserly paint is like blowing thin and reedy notes on a wind instrument. Not good at all.
But it is mostly about skill and time where the gritty truth can be found. To get good means doing the hard work. I am sorry to say that most beginners do not get past this hurdle. Or is it a plateau? A long seemingly endless slog with no end in sight. Sorry if this is a downer, but there is good news too.
Scales are a Pain
Yes even the experts hate playing scales. I have heard a few say this so I am not making it up. Scales can be boring. Doh ray me faa so help meeee! But they all tell me to practice scales. Over and over until I know my way around the notes the instrument makes. It is torture. It is also why I know I will not be playing professional harmonica. I do not live and breathe it and the commitment to get to that level is beyond me. But - most importantly - if I do persist I can expect to get pretty good one day.
This means I can play a few sexy tunes and impress my good wife. Enjoy a little relax time jamming to a blues riff in the safety of my studio? Why not indeed. Hell yes!
Decide to Pick Yourself
Many people want to take up painting. I have the privilege to teach painting too. Am I misleading you if I say that you can paint beautiful paintings at a high level of skill? Not at all. Will you get frustrated learning how to paint? Very likely and I hope that you do. This means that you want to improve and you will do the work. What if you simply want to have fun and relax? Painting will do that for you too. It is a wonderful thing to create art and I highly recommend it for anyone.
The trick is to know what it is you want to get from your art. Then decide whether you are up for it or not. There is no super-shortcut. The best advice I can offer is to find the lessons relevant to the type of art you like. Then do the work. How often you practice will decide on your progress and learning curve. There is no magic formula. This takes old fashioned effort.
Value Has a Price
If it has real value then there is a price to pay. If it is too easy we do not value it. This applies to everything in life. The price may be in money, time, effort or fear. Many other ways too I expect. If the skill or knowledge is noble then the outcome will enhance your life in many respects. The price you pay will seem small with hindsight. You will gain wisdom and probably bore your grandchildren with sound advice. Sounds good to me.
And the Winner is ...
Watch an awards ceremony, like the Oscars for instance, and you will hear this lead up to the winner being announced. Everyone claps and there are smiles from the winner. This is the glamorous part everyone sees. But the others taking part keep going too. It is the taking part that matters. Where the real rewards wait for you to uncover. Yes it means doing scales if you are a musician. Painters need to practice sketching, color mixing, brushwork and testing compositions. Make mistakes over and over. Then one day you complete something special. You have take a step up and then you carry on.
There is work, frustration and sometimes you want to pack it in. Then the next step and something new clicks for YOU. That is what art is about. Keep on creating and you can count on progress. That is the way life works. Good to know.
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Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa