Three Truly Terrible Reasons to Learn a Musical Instrument.

Everyone, at some point or another, has thought about how cool it would be to be a rock star.  Some of these people pick up an instrument as a result.  These people are doing it wrong.  There are a lot of great reasons to learn a musical instrument.  These are not those reasons.  These are some of the worst explanations people give when asked, “why do you play music?”

“It’ll make me look cool.”

Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top is cool.  See the sunglasses?
Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top is cool. See the sunglasses?

Stop.  Right there.  You’re already uncool just for saying that.  There is an old saying (at least as old as the concept of “cool”) that says, if you have to try and be cool, you aren’t cool.  Musical instruments are cool.  People who play them are not always cool.  Most of the people I’ve heard that give this reason for playing an instrument see a guy like Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin or Angus Young from AC/DC and think that if they learn guitar, or drums or how to sing, that people will see them in the same way.  They might.  But not if they know that the only reason you play is for external validation.  Play the music for you, and the cool will come.

“It’ll get me laid.”

This is Led Zeppelin.  They had lots of groupies.  You probably won't.
This is Led Zeppelin. They had lots of groupies. You probably won’t.

Pop quiz time!  Which instrument has the highest proportion of players with this reason for playing?  If you said anything other than guitar, you’re wrong.  Once again, a lot of young (mostly male) kids fall victim to the rock star image.  Knowing how to play the guitar really well doesn’t just automatically make women (or men) want to sleep with you.  It just doesn’t, trust me.  Rock stars and other famous musicians get groupies because of their fame and confidence.  Both of which are only partially a result of their musicianship.  You aren’t likely to acquire that level of fame, but confidence is definitely possible.  If you set a goal for your music that has nothing to do with the actual music, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

“I want to be a rock star.”

This is what a crowd looks like when you're in Iron Maiden A.K.A a "rock star".
This is what a crowd looks like when you’re in Iron Maiden A.K.A a “rock star”.

This is the worst of all.  It combines the other two reasons, and adds an even broader level of attention seeking.  If you want to learn a musical instrument for the sole purpose of being a famous rock star, you are going to be in for a world of disappointment.  How many world famous rock stars can you think of that are under the age of 40?  Not many.  How many world famous rock stars can you name that still get to live the 70’s Led Zeppelin lifestyle?  None.  That world doesn’t exist anymore.  There aren’t really any Keith Moon types driving cars into swimming pools and blowing up toilets with cherry bombs.  No one is riding their motorcycle down a hotel hallway or doing lines of ants like John Bonham or Ozzy Osbourne.  In today’s lawsuit happy, corporate world, that type of behavior gets you arrested and dropped from your record label.  The likelihood of becoming a stereotypical rock star in today’s music scene is almost none.  The rock star life isn’t as glamorous as it seems anyway.  They had to pay their dues first.  No one just picks up an instrument and starts playing 30,000 seat arenas.  They get to enjoy sleeping on couches, living hand to mouth and hoping that the next gig pays enough to let you buy some ramen noodles to heat up on a hot plate in the back of the roadies van.

Here is the best reason to learn an instrument.

“I want to make music”

This seems like a no-brainer.  Obviously thats the best reason right?  Well it’s not always so obvious, as we’ve seen already.  The best musicians I know are the ones who just play because they love it.  They don’t have to force themselves to practice because, it’s not a chore.  They view their instrument as more than just a means to an end.  Would some them like to be rich, famous, supercool rock stars who get laid all the time?  Who wouldn’t?  But that’s not the reason they learned the instrument.  The music is it’s own reward, everything else is just an added perk.  Now go practice.

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