By Lauren Rigby, a sophomore music education major at Baylor University.
Take yourself back to the first time you held your instrument. Most of us were ten or eleven, fresh out of elementary school, unknowing of the journey our instruments would take us on. We tentatively held the clarinet (or any other instrument for that matter) on our laps, wide-eyed and ready to play. Do you remember playing your first note? It was probably a weird feeling, a start of something new. Maybe it inspired you to go home and try to make more notes on your own, even if they were just squeaks. This appreciation for the simple things we first experienced years ago may have spurred us to pursue music on a higher level, perhaps even on the collegiate level. But, over time, some of these inspiring musical experiences leave us. The child-like wonder of playing a C major scale becomes second nature, a test of our muscle memory more-so than a legitimate musical experience. Our mental and emotional involvement in practice decreases. We loathe even taking the instrument out of the case, not even wanting to perform the most majestic pieces, the ones that inspired us to play in the first place. We feel confused, alone (How could anyone else dislike their instrument?), and will continuously question our decision to continue playing music. It feels like you will never climb out of this musical rut and will fail to feel inspired by performance after performance which touched every fiber of your being just a few short months ago. If you are in that place right now, I understand.
Musical ruts (infamously known as burn-out) occur to every musician at some point during their careers, no matter the level at which they play. It can make you feel lonely, depressed, and indifferent. They may take weeks or even months to crawl out of, but you will come out of them. If you are in that place right now, take a second and consider why you feel this way. Is the ensemble you are currently involved in not challenging you? Are you frustrated by your private teacher? Are the pieces you work on uninspiring? Once you have worked through these initial things, work through a relaxation process which can ease some of these feelings away. Take a step back. Breathe. Take purposeful time away from practicing your instrument. Then, fall in love with music all over again. Listen to your favorite classical pieces on online, whether they are performed on your personal instrument or the London Symphony Orchestra. Listen to epic recordings of ensembles you were involved in and put yourself there again, on stage, nervous, but excited to play. And finally, dust off your favorite concertos or sonatas, and play them. Remember why you liked each piece and what it meant to you. Explore your emotional connection to the work and allow yourself to delve into the heart of why you chose it to begin with. Then, use your instrument to play those emotions out.
While this is not an “end-all” to level out a musical rut, it is a place to start. Everyone’s journey through the musical realm is different and will take a slightly modified approach to understand and revive that person’s playing. However, at the heart of it, music is a force like no other in each person’s lives. It is the love of music that keeps people playing, a love that should motivate each of us daily just as it inspired you, when you first held your instrument and looked at music through a child’s eyes.