1. Practice Makes Permanent
All musicians have been told that practice makes perfect, by a well-meaning person. Yet multi-instrumentalists understand that that is not true. There is no perfect performance. We have close to perfect performances, but there is always something that only the musician knows went wrong. We are over-critical of ourselves. Furthermore, when you learn multiple instruments– and you learn this following secret from experience– you are careful to learn everything the right way. If you practice something enough times, you will develop muscle memory and your movements become a habit. Trying to break a habit is hard, but then you have to relearn it the right way! Shout out to all the musicians who have experienced this. It’s a pain, but necessary for the future.
2. Woodwinds, Strings, and Brass Instruments Are Hardly Related
Multi-instrumentalists understand that you cannot do a trumpet and clarinet duet using the same sheet music. It would sound absolutely out of tune and awful. The reason is because each instrument is tuned to a different key, with a few exceptions in the instrumental family. Also, not all instruments read music in the same clef. Some read treble clef and others read bass clef. Piano reads both! We know that when learning your second instrument, if you choose one outside your first instrument’s family, you feel like everything you’ve learned is a lie. Yes, it’s quite demeaning. Take saxophone and guitar for example. Saxophone mainly reads sheet music and guitar mainly reads chords. A saxophone can’t even play a chord! “What is this madness,” you exclaim! Also the fingering is completely different. Now compare clarinet to trumpet… how about those fingerings? It’s a struggle. But once again, it is very doable to learn two instruments from different families and keep the fingerings straight.
3. Each Instrument Is Different, It Just Is
People ask me all the time, “Do you ever confuse your saxophone fingering with clarinet or vice versa?” The short answer is no, I don’t. Once you learn an instrument, the fingering, the scales, the tuning, is all solely a part of that one instrument. Then when you pick up a different instrument, it’s the same thing. It has its own set of technique and fingering. For example, like when I get done playing saxophone for an hour and then pick up a clarinet. I automatically start reading the music like it’s a book. It’s just a way of life. In a very obvious example, the mindset is very much like playing the bass and then sitting down and playing the piano. Your mind just switches gears because it KNOWS, back to that muscle memory, how everything feels and sounds. I don’t even think about switching gears, it just happens.
4. New Skill, New Instrument, No Difference
Another question I get asked, usually after performances, is “Is it hard to learn how to play guitar?” To me, that question sounds like, “Is it hard to learn how to cook?” Or, “Is it hard to learn a new language?” Learning a new instrument is no different than learning any new skill. It takes dedication, hard work, and time. The thing that is so misleading is that people only see the finished product– the performance. The audience does not see all the time I had spent practicing and what it sounded like when I first started that particular piece. And I hate that. It is SO misleading. When I perform, that is my very best work. I don’t always play that flawlessly. Sometimes I like to play around with it and just make different sounds and tunes. People think that I just play like I perform, all the time. And to be honest, I don’t. Simply stated, learning an instrument will be like learning how to cook. At first the music will taste bad. But you’ll read the directions and follow the steps. And the more you practice, the better you’ll get.
5. Why Learn so Many Instruments?
I officially play 5 instruments. Why did I take the time to learn so many? Simply because I wanted to. The first instrument I learned though, wasn’t my decision. My parents made me learn clarinet (it was the only instrument we had around), yet I wanted to play saxophone really bad. So I learned clarinet and learned to love it. But then when my parents surprised me the next year with a saxophone, and at last I could play the instrument that I truly admired, I went for it. I taught myself over the summer, and was just as good as everyone else when I returned back to school. A few years after that, I fell in love with the sound of finger picking on the guitar. So I borrowed an old guitar from a family member and taught myself. Then I not only wanted to create beautiful music from instruments, but from myself (my voice.) So I started taking voice lessons. And then I heard a song on the radio with a killer piano part and wanted to challenge myself to learn that part of the song on the piano. But then I just realized while I’m at it, I might as well just learn the instrument itself. So why did I learn so many instruments? I just wanted to. I enjoy a good challenge. Although learning instruments has always just made sense to me, I can challenge myself daily to new music and different techniques.
Multi-instrumentalists understand that each instrument is so very unique. Not only the way it looks, but the way it sounds. I greatly admire the sounds that each of my instruments create. As well as the genre of music that each of them are known for. That is one of the main reasons we learn so many instruments. Our knowledge of music would not be complete. We need to be well-rounded in a sense, and learn to appreciate new music to develop good taste. And this interest lasts a lifetime. I for one, am not done learning new instruments. Next is violin!
What inspired you to learn how to play multiple instruments? Let me know in the comments below!
Featured photo credit: http://www.joshplotnermusic.com/multi-instrumentalist/