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Accepting and Embracing the Musician That Is You

By Erica Ann Sipes

An earlier version of this article appeared on Beyond the Notes

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I’m always looking to find the silver lining in every situation and these past few months have been no exception. Spending months at home, sharing a room with my piano, has been mostly a joy and a consolation, but it’s also played a bit of a number on my psyche.

Facing an unknown future, especially in regards to my musical pursuits and career, combined with having a lot of time on my hands to pay attention to what other musicians are doing, has been a mind and ego bending experience. At times I’ve found it inspiring and motivating but at other times it’s made me want to throw my hands up in despair and to shout: “What’s the point?!”

I have a feeling I’m not alone, nor do I think it’s something musicians are facing just right now. It’s a mind game that we all face at different times, sometimes more frequently than we’d like to admit. It’s a human tendency to look around us at others and to compare ourselves and our situations.

How do we compare? How do we stack up? Why can’t we be more like so-and-so? Will we ever be as good? It can be an exhausting, draining, and self-defeating game that we play.

What can we do to get our attention back to the silver lining in all of this?

For me, the answer begins with realizing that what I am typically doing when evaluating myself is akin to trying to compare apples to oranges. Even restricting my options to considering only apples and oranges is too limiting, in my opinion.

All of us put together create the fanciest, most exotic fruit salad you could ever imagine because we all have different natural abilities, skills, talents, preferences, and experiences:

  • Perfect pitch
  • Photographic memory
  • Ability to play by ear
  • Ability to sightread/read music notation
  • Ability to memorize
  • Ease of understanding music theory and harmony
  • Size of our hands/other physical qualities that can aid in playing our instrument
  • How old we were when we started taking lessons
  • Growing up in a household with other musicians in the family
  • Having the resources to have good instruments to play
  • Growing up in a city, surrounded by musical opportunities or growing up in a more isolate area
  • Having connections with the right people at the right time

Some of the items on this list are things that we simply can’t control or change, and some are things that we can continue to work on and nurture throughout our lives. But the point is there are so many factors that make us who we are as musicians and it’s these differences that make it futile really to judge ourselves against any other musician.

If you’re an apple, don’t look to make yourself into an orange. If you’re an orange, don’t expect yourself to be an apple. No matter how hard you try, you are what you are.

Does that mean you can’t work on yourself to make you an even better musician? No!

I’m all for regularly challenging and pushing oneself — it can be thrilling, rewarding, and will keep those neurons in your brain healthy and strong. But what I’d say is, please do it within your own skin. You are what you are and that is a gift.

Embrace it.

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Erica Sipes has spent most of her musical time as a piano collaborator, playing with and coaching musicians who play just about every instrument. Her passion is helping musicians at all stages discover how to approach music, practicing, and performing in a way that leaves them empowered to make their own musical decisions, encouraged, and excited to share their talents with others.

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