woman's hands playing an upright piano“Ultimately, your musical progress will depend more on your skillfulness with the creative process than on any talent.”
The Musician’s Way, p. 313

We dedicated musicians invest heavily in growing our abilities because we know that the personal and professional rewards are immense.

Few things in life rival the joy of making music.

Why then do countless young artists who have talent and opportunities to excel nonetheless practice halfheartedly, miss application deadlines, avoid publishing websites, and otherwise dither?

Musicians and Inner Conflict

One cause is inner conflict. Loads of musicians undercut themselves because their love of music collides with an opposing force.

Frequently, that force stems from fear that their musical ambitions will leave them disappointed – that they won’t “have what it takes” or be able to make good livings from music.

Other times, family members ignite conflicts when they chide students to do something “more practical” or, conversely, push them into music as children.

Conflicts also germinate when students’ musical dexterity isn’t matched by genuine zeal.

In such situations, students’ prowess earns them scholarships and attention, but they don’t feel internally driven. If relentless practicing prevents them from exploring their other interests, those dormant interests will keep tugging at their hearts.

Whatever the source of a conflict might be, if rising musicians don’t sort through their feelings and form constructive relationships with music, then the demands of their musical duties will chafe against their unresolved issues.

That friction can then result in, among other things, performance anxiety, self-doubt, depression, negativity, and self-defeating behaviors such as avoidance and substance abuse.

Unconflicted Artists

In contrast, unconflicted artists follow their musical passions tenaciously.

They practice daily, bounce back from disappointments, and perform regularly. You can hear their commitment in every phrase they perform.

Fellow artists often find them inspiring and seek them out for collaborations.

They also investigate diverse career avenues and entrepreneurial projects, ensuring that they’ll carve out rewarding niches for themselves in the music industry.

4 Steps to Recognize and Defuse Inner Conflicts

Given that inner conflicts scuttle creativity, learning to recognize and defuse them is a key part of our gaining facility with the creative process. The Musician's Way book cover

Here are some quick suggestions for doing so.

Step 1: List your musical aspirations in a file or on paper.

Step 2: Examine your actions over the past month or so: Have you consistently acted in ways that support your goals – say, by practicing deliberately, getting along with colleagues, seeking feedback, and pursuing career-oriented projects?

Step 3: Take stock of your emotions and self-talk over the past month: Have you been largely positive or negative about your life as a musician?

Step 4: If your actions and feelings are consistent with your listed musical aims, then you’re on track to achieving those aims. But if your thoughts and behaviors are not in line with your goals, then it’s probably time to recalibrate your relationship with music, and it’s usually best not to go it alone. Career counselors, teachers, and mentors can help you reinvigorate your musical activities and career. Therapists and coaches can guide you to root out any inner conflicts or other psychological issues.

Whatever steps you take, though, if you feel that you aren’t living up to your artistic potential, there’s no better time than now to reset your life compass.

For more about overcoming inner conflicts, see the following sections of The Musician’s Way: “Committing to the Creative Process” (p. 109-112); “Boosting Creativity” (p. 309-314).

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© 2010 Gerald Klickstein
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