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Seven Common Musician Complaints and How Not to Have Them

Musicians complain. A lot. If you’re a musician, and have complaints, I’ve developed a little FAC (Frequently Answered Complaints) for you to refer to when times get tough. Here’s seven common complaints musicians have, and how to stop having them!

Practice sucks/is hard. Schedule it, make it a habit, and don’t push yourself too hard. The fewer decisions you have to make to get to the practice room, the simpler practice becomes. Stop when you can’t focus, and come back to it later – once you’re staring off into the distance, you’re not going to get more practice done.

I don’t like X conductor’s style. There comes in every time in every young musician’s career when they get a gig and they cannot stand the conductor. Sometimes it’s a one-off. Sometimes, however, it’s more permanent. They may be ruder than you’re willing to put up with, or they may simply have a musical vision you don’t understand or agree with. How to handle this? That can be tricky.

First, if the conductor is actively unpleasant, then your first order of business is to figure out how to exit stage left without upsetting anyone who may help or hinder your future career. No one can force you to stay in an environment where you are uncomfortable or feeling attacked. Be polite and resign after any upcoming performances.

If it’s a musical decision issue, I’d recommend hanging around for a while, to see if you can learn from the experience. Worst case scenario, you learn what not to do in the future. Best case, you learn something new and develop respect for the conductor. Either way, hanging around for a season is probably a good idea.

I’m not first chair. You’re not first chair yet. Next year, or in your next ensemble, you may get that spot. Keep practicing and studying, and you’re only going to get closer to that goal! Furthermore, whoever got first chair may have experience you don’t know about, or have a specific trait in their playing that the director prefers, unrelated to straight-up skill. Some people have warmer or cooler tone, for example. It just means this one isn’t the fit for you.

I get so jealous of other performers. What specifically is causing your jealousy? Their abilities? Their placements? Figure out what is causing your negative emotions, and make a plan to improve your own standing in those areas. Using spite as fuel for self-improvement is a fine way to get started on that path! Just don’t be mean to anyone, and it’ll be okay.

STAGE FRIGHT. AHH YELLING. Stage fright catches everyone at least occasionally. The solution here is once again to figure out what’s causing the negative feelings. What, specifically, are you afraid of? You love music, obviously, so playing the piece isn’t it. Are you afraid of messing up in front of your peers? Probably! Well, guess what – your peers are 95% of the time paying no attention to you, and 5% of the time being jealous that you’re the one on stage, and not them.

In the worst case scenario: you mess up, stop halfway through, and run offstage. Will it suck if that happens? Yep! But let me tell you something – in nearly a decade of regularly performing in front of people, and watching others perform, I have never once seen that happen. So you’re going to be okay! You’ll be fine!

I don’t know what I’m doing in life. Saaaaaaaaaame. To fix this, have like 6 backup plans. I have at least two non-music careers I’m prepared for if, say, my larynx and eardrums explode simultaneously and I survive. I also have four separate music-related paths I could take, at least. Do I know which one is going to happen? No! But I have plans to follow depending on what happens with auditions next year, with family stuff, etc. It doesn’t stop the anxiety entirely, but it certainly makes it easier to handle.

I physically do not know how I am supposed to memorize all of this. One page at a time. One bar at a time. One measure at a time. When you’re done with actual audible practice for the day, and once you’ve learned the piece, you can listen to recordings, so you can get the larger form in your head. Then work on the actual technical details from there.

You got this!

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