Music Mondays: Comparing My Writing and Musical Journeys

Part of a series I’m entitling Music Mondays (we’ll see if we can make it a weekly thing!)

I expect music to be a very large part of this blog, as music is a very large part of my life. Like many other kids, I seriously pursued music in an academic way: practical exams, theory exams, 3 hrs/day practice sessions, all that good stuff. During it, I learned plenty about diligence, work ethic, and raw sweat. I don’t regret a moment of it, and it has definitely helped my writing––which I will expand upon in this post.

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A study scene in my bedroom. Note it’s a psychology textbook on the music stand.

Growing up with no siblings to regularly socialize with, I loved both literature and music, but those two loves took on very different forms. Whereas literature was relegated to leisure time (I read books and wrote “stories” after finishing my homework), music was a structured pursuit. I had a) a music teacher, b) a set time and amount of hours I aimed to practice per day, and 3) exams and concerts to prepare for.

I think this difference is vitally important. It’s complicated, but I’m grateful and regretful at the same time about the approach to musical education I experienced. You see, the great thing about having a structured musical education is that it gave me concrete accomplishments to mark my progress with. I can easily verify that the name on my diploma is indeed mine, and say: “Oh, right. At least I’m legit at something.”

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These keys have been part of my life for nigh 14 years. Seemed right to take a selfie with them.

But writing is a little different. You don’t get a writing teacher, exams, or concerts. Sure, you can do contests, but these are less tangible than the “grade level” you get from classical musical education. If I’m writing a resume for a writing or communications job, I really have to dig around my history to find something solid to put on. I mean, “experiments with poetry and flash fiction in top-secret notebook during wee hours of morning” doesn’t exactly scream “I’m qualified!” does it?

Yet, one thing I have to criticize about my classical music education is that it was too focussed on accomplishments. Don’t get me wrong, I am immensely grateful of the skills I’ve gained from rigorous practice. I just think my musical journey was too focussed on the destination and not the journey itself. It wasn’t until towards the end of my piano education, when I picked up guitar, self-taught myself how to play by ear and figured out how to record tracks that I realized how important the journey, and figuring things out by myself, is.

Then again, I definitely think my writing journey can use a little structure! It’s just so damn difficult to set aside time each day to write when we have so much going on in our lives. We denigrate our writing to the bottom of the priority list because there’s no exam or concert to fail if we don’t deal with it right away.

So I guess the lesson learned here is: give yourself some real goals, but also give yourself time to figure out what you’re doing. I know it’s one of those tight-ropes of balance that are really difficult to get right…but that’s the point! 🙂

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On a related note, I honestly haven’t made that decision of what to really pursue in my professional life, although 8 times out of 10 I’m fairly certain I’m a stronger writer than musician. Presently, I’m a junior music teacher at a brick-and-mortar institution. Presently, I’m also pursuing a literature and creative writing degree at a brick-and-mortar institution. And hey, perhaps I’ll be neither. Perhaps I’ll be a T-shirt designer, a world-class barista, or my science gene might suddenly activate at age 42 and I’ll become a brain surgeon.

I’ll figure that out on the way.

Note: these photos are all lazily recycled from my Instagram

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3 thoughts on “Music Mondays: Comparing My Writing and Musical Journeys

  1. Pingback: Music Mondays: The Art of Practicing Music (and Writing) | breakfast with words

  2. I agree that pursuing better writing needs more structure. You can play piano through muscle memory though; you can’t write a story with muscle memory. Any ideas how to go about such a structure? Surely writing 3 hours a day will be a great boon to your creative pursuits, but in line with the structure of piano practice, ANY 3 hours of writing won’t do. I could write my to do list over and over. Or I could… (suggestions)? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good point about the muscle memory! I didn’t even consider that haha. But yeah: remember it’s perfect practice that makes perfect, not practice alone. I would try to set a small, manageable goal of time per period to write. Like, even 5mins a week makes a difference. But don’t ask me, I’ve been terribly undiligent since I finished piano!

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