Why do we strive to better our own musical performance? I can think of four reasons other than economic ones in the following order of importance.
- To get increased emotional enjoyment from hearing things that are pleasurable to our ears
- So we can demonstrate our abilities and/or be relied upon to satisfactorily perform with others
- So we can measure and appreciate the improvement in our abilities
- To derive notoriety or adoration from our listeners
The reasons why you strive to better yourself musically is most likely a combination of all these factors. These factors should be weighted correctly.
We measure our joy from listening to music based on a number of factors. These factors culminate in the emotional pleasure or displeasure we receive as a result. The perception of joy varies in all humans although there are some common threads that are universal.
Think of a solo instrumental piece of music, not a song. Let’s look at the four and there are only four, variables in any piece. They are:
1. The choice of instrument (voice included)
2. The tonal qualities of the instrument (the resultant sound of the instrument with or without added equalisation, effects, compression, sustain etc)
3. The note choices (rhythmic structure, pitch, duration, attack, decay)
4. The velocity of those notes (volume).
Our enjoyment of a piece of music depends on how we compute and decipher these variables.
Now if we add an additional instrument to our solo piece of music, the four variables discussed above are subject to the influences of this new instrument and its’ variables. Add two more instruments and we’re getting our standard contemporary rock band together and creating an infinite number of factors influencing our perceived enjoyment of the piece of music. Now let’s add another instrument, the voice which has the same four variables but also introduces a new and very tangible method of communication, language. As soon as lyrics are introduced, there is a whole new factor coming in to play. Case in point, Nine Inch Nails’ song Closer in which the words “I want to f&*k you like an animal” are sung. It’s petty hard not to be drawn to that lyric if you’re English speaking. I’m not sure what the bass is doing at that point in the song, because my potty mind is being distracted. But I digress.
It’s the relationship of one instrument’s tone, timing and pitch to itself as well as how it relates to other instruments, which makes the “science” of music so interesting. This is a whole other subject to discuss however not the point of this blog. The point is about why we strive to better ourselves musically. The most important reason should be for the continuing pursuit of excellence dealing with the above variables and the resultant pleasure it gives you. This in turn keeps your motivation and focus strong, feeding your musical pleasure and improving proficiency.
The second most important reason we should strive for musical perfection should be to demonstrate this to others. This is most imperative in a band or ensemble situation. These other people, your band mates, are relying on and anticipating your musical input. This in turn affects their enjoyment of the music and performing it with you. You owe it to them and yourself to do it as best you can. You can do this with least effort if you follow reason 1.
Now to reason number 3. We all like to measure our improvement in our abilities in just about every aspect of our lives and musical performance is no exception. It shouldn’t however be the focus of our attention as to do so will distract you. I liken this situation to the physical and mental high that physical exertion gives us. We feel good after strenuous exercise for many reasons however you should question why you need to measure your achievement rather than just enjoying the high it gives you. It’s like when a steroid taking gym junkie starts losing reasoning as to why they’re working out. The high from the exercise used to be enough but now it’s more a measure of biceps and abs. You can still measure the improvement in your musical abilities provided it’s not distracting you from reason number 1. You will improve organically.
Reason 4 is all about you. Sure we want notoriety and adoration. We’re human and we love to be loved. Unfortunately there are too many musicians who write or perform their music based around this reason either consciously or otherwise. They’ve missed the point and the distraction that they’ve created for themselves will ultimately be their downfall or at least create a future day of reckoning.
Stick to reason 1 and people will love you.