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So I don't know if this makes sense. But I have a really hard time actually putting something into the music I'm playing. I often feel like I'm just going through the motions and not really saying anything.

It's fine when I'm just starting to learn a new song, but the more time I spend on it, it just becomes like a chore. It's pretty frustrating and I rarely get around to actually finishing a piece.

I'm often uninspired. I love music and it's what I want to do, but I find myself pretty often feeling a bit depressed/uninterested. I feel like I lack the drive/passion.

Do you guys ever feel like this? And if yes, what do you do to get over it?

  • 2
    Do you play on your own or in a band? – user45784 Dec 3 '17 at 16:34
  • nope, piano solo. but I'd actually like to be able to play in a band, playing with others sounds more interesting – may Dec 10 '17 at 14:29
  • I got stuck like you when I started arranging bossa tunes with my teacher. He understood that I'd had enough and told me to go hang out in bars and find guys to play with. Maybe that's the pep pill you need. I found a music school where they have this workshop and although we're far from good, i really get a kick out of it. – user45784 Dec 10 '17 at 17:54
  • There are loads of these style questions. Have you researched other answers on here before posting your own? – cmp Dec 20 '17 at 19:31
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Do you guys ever feel like this?

We all go through this at some point. Everyone does, no matter what they are doing - music, art, truck driving, programming - it is the human condition. As @Tim said: It sort of reflects life. Sadly not upbeat and exciting all the time.

Musicians are perhaps more prone to this sort of challenge than many others, because of the amount of practice and dedication it requires to be a good musician, often with little "immediate gratification". Athletes are another group with similar challenges.

And if yes, what do you do to get over it?

You have some good answers. I will add these points:

  • Have patience. As the saying goes, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration". Use the 1% of inspiration to slog through the other 99%: Keep working - do not give up. At some point you will get more inspiration, and be able to continue, feeding off of that.
  • Reflect on what you've accomplished. You feel like you are getting no-where - not doing anything important. Counter that by doing a retrospective of your accomplishments: Consider where you were 6 months or a year ago, and appreciate the progress you have made, even when you felt you were "just going through the motions and not really saying anything".

    The strange truth is that often at those times - when you feel like you're just going through the motions - you are making the greatest progress, because the music is becoming ingrained into your mind and memory and becoming part of your standard musical vocabulary. Things are becoming reflex and muscle memory, which happen without conscious effort - perhaps particularly without conscious effort. Our brains work in ways that we do not completely understand - sometimes very counter-intuitively.

  • Make small goals and milestones for yourself: "This week I'm going to learn these 3 songs, or learn to play these scales or chords", etc. By working through your small goals, you get a constant feeling of accomplishment, and you give yourself focus and direction.
  • When you feel like your back is against the wall, change it up a bit. Try something new - a different piece, a different style or genre - something to give you a new challenge and new inspiration. Even take a little break, or cut back somewhat on your practice time, to relieve the monotony and the pressure on yourself. Humans are not machines, and making good music is not merely a mechanical process - we do not perform well in a creative endeavor without rest, reflection and change.
  • Find others to play with, if you don't have them already. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of this. When you play with others, you find new inspiration: You have to learn how work with other musicians and make them believe in your abilities; You have to change your approach and mindset to fit into a group; You learn new things about music and how to play from others; You have people to talk to about your challenges and worries... The list goes on.

Hang in there - Good Luck!

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    Don't just consider where you were 6 months ago - listen to what you recorded yourself playing at that time! The difference will prove what Stinkfoot has said. And the 'play with others' is paramount - no matter what level you are currently at. Play with those better, and not so good, than you are. – Tim Dec 4 '17 at 8:53
  • @Tim - listen to what you recorded yourself playing at that time! - All included in "Counter that by doing a retrospective of your accomplishments...". :) Tnx – Stinkfoot Dec 4 '17 at 9:02
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    It was all the big words what confused me... – Tim Dec 4 '17 at 9:19
  • @Tim - I read a lot of big thick books and my SO is an Art Historian, so I pick up such things. LOL But note that I did quote you. – Stinkfoot Dec 4 '17 at 18:04
  • Thank you so much for all the great advice! I do record myself but whenever I listen back, months later, all I can do is pinpoint all the ways I could have done it better XD but it does help to improve that way. I think I should set smaller goals, like you said. because sometimes I overwhelm myself with all the things I feel like I have to do and maybe I should try to cut everything down to smaller chunks. – may Dec 10 '17 at 14:25
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Yes, us guys do get like that. It sort of reflects life. Sadly not upbeat and exciting all the time. Don't know if/how I'd cope if it was...

There is a myriad of reasons why we do anything - let alone learn or play music.

You need to determine those reasons, from your own standpoint.

Are you learning something to keep the teacher/parents/partner happy?

Are you learning something for your own gratification? Sounds like it's not working!!

Are you learning something because 'it needs to be learned - it's the stage I'm at'?

Are you learning something to be able to play it in an ensemble/exam?

These are only a few of the reasons for doing something, and it looks like if any of them apply, the end product doesn't justify the means for you right now. You need to come up with justifications that are valid for you. Goals need setting - realistic goals. Sometimes we just have to learn to play something but without a valid purpose, we'll be in your boat.

Visualise where you'll be in 6 months, 2 years time, etc. Think 'if I can play this piece which is boring the pants off me, how will it be of use?' Ask your teacher (you should have one!) for an answer to this - and if it's a convincing one, be convinced. They usually know better...

Another facet may be that you're not in the right frame of mind to practise when you try to. Tired after a hard day, worried about something, distracted, etc. etc. Work out a best time/place to play. There have been several questions posed on this site which address your sort of problem - hopefully someone can earmark them and more importantly, their answers.

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You need a REASON to learn a piece and to perform it. If you haven't got one, and you're not enjoying playing just for the sake of it, do something else instead. The world has too many wannabee musicians already.

What does 'it's what I want to do' mean? Are you hoping for a career in music? Well, practice and practice some more, until 'learning a new song' just means reading the music.

Yes, we all don't always feel like going to work! But no-workee, no-eatee.

  • I don't have a reason, I just love music and playing. Honestly, I couldn't care less if someone says I'm a wannabe. What I was searching for was a way to get past that mental block, of when you've spent days on end on something, and you have a kind of writer's block about it. – may Dec 3 '17 at 14:51
  • Like I said, do something else for a bit. There's no deadline. – Laurence Payne Dec 3 '17 at 19:15
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You posted in a comment that you only play solo piano and not with others in a band, so one thing you can do on your own is to get some recording software and work on recording full productions yourself.

If you don't already have a keyboard you can pick up an inexpensive USB/MIDI keyboard and plug it into your computer to get all kinds of new sounds through virtual instruments. Then in addition to your main piano part, try composing additional parts for synths, strings, horns, and maybe even do some drum/percussion sequencing, etc. the options are literally endless here. And you can take these productions as far as you want. You don't even have to get into all the technical complexities of mixing/mastering in order to put some songs together.

I think you will be amazed at how much your inspiration and creativity will grow while trying to produce your own music. As a result it will cause you to push your own technical and musical abilities in order to perform the parts that you hear in your head and have them sound just right. When something doesn't feel right, try to figure out why... Is it timing? Is it dynamics? Is it phrasing? Does this part actually fit with the other instruments or is it too busy? etc. Through this self-correction process you will keep pushing yourself to make your part and performance better. And during this process resist the earge to do the "quick fix" by editing the performance after the recording to make it sound better. If it doesn't come out right, record it again! Use this process to make yourself a better musician, not a better audio editor. ;)

Then comes the really humbling part...after you have completed your song and you are pretty happy with it. Pick a song you like in the style of music you are writting, open it up inside of your recording software, then switch back and forth between your recording and the professional one. This will be an eye opening experience! The professional song will likely sound a million times better. This is where the REAL work begins when you try to figure out WHY theirs sounds better. Take notes! Pick the professional song and your song apart and try to figure out what the differences are. What is it about the professional song that grabs you while your song might sound kind of "meh"? Once you've picked out a few specific things, start a new project and make another song from scratch...

Rinse and repeat! :D The more you do this, the better you will get.

Having bigger projects like this to work on will likely be a lot more fun and inspiring than just kind of plunking away at your instrument on your own and as you mentioned simply "going through the motions". Making recordings of yourself will expose your performance flaws like nothing else and having real tangible projects like this to work on will give you more motivation to see it all the way through to completion.

  • Some really good advice here – David Bowling Feb 13 '18 at 18:53
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(Re)connect with nature! Go out there and observe: could be the wind, the rain, a tree or a little insect ... Go in there and observe: how does it feel to be alive, what do you love, travel a bit alone, etc. :)

  • spending long hours indoors practicing can cause a bit of cabin fever, I guess. It actually does help to just get out, do something else or just sleep on it. I've been a bit more productive since posting this question, so hopefully i keep on track lol. thank you for answering! – may Dec 10 '17 at 14:27
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Start making your music a communication with other people.

Make music into a social occasion.
Start playing with other musicians and vocalists. Like, now. Start a weekly jam at your place or a local bar or coffeehouse. Pick a genre so people know what to expect. Starting cultivating musical friends who you hang out with and play music. Especially drummers. Solo pianists tend to have weak time because they can play rubato all day. Drummers will get you playing more rhythmically and with stricter tempo. And vocalists. Vocalists will make you play in weird keys and insist that you support them and not noodle or grandstand.

Music is a performing art. Perform.
If you're not already performing in public, start playing out regularly. Any place that will take you. Open mics, jams, bars, weddings. Start developing set lists for these venues. Record your performances--recordings are merciless, they'll tell you exactly what you're weak on.

Just taking these two steps will motivate you and hone your practice. You'll have a simple goal: don't look foolish. It's a great motivator. It worked for me.

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If you are practicing a piece of music very long there is a chance that you get bored on the way and that keeps you away from playing it with passion once you learned all the techniques included in the piece.

I would go through a piece of music in the beginning and extract all its technical aspects.

  • Scales
  • Chords
  • Arpeggios
  • rhythmic patterns
  • left-right coordination aspects etc.

then make yourself little exercises out of this aspects or find etudes written to only concentrate on those techniques.

Then practice those, maybe also transpose them to different keys etc...

In the meanwhile go through the actual piece, but as a whole. Don't "over-practice" the piece and focus on the exercises or etudes to acquire the technical aspects.

This is how I, get over it, or not get to this point of being frustrated with a piece of music. Often when I practice Scales and Arpeggios for a couple of hours I get the inspiration back for improvising or interpreting music that I can play. The more structured and disciplined I work, the faster I get to play "freely and inspired!"

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Yes, I can relate to your problem completely. I had to play the same blasted song over and over and over again to the point of tedium. Honestly though, I realized a long time ago though, that as long as I played the piece as it was written to be played, it didn't matter what was going on in my head at the time as long as my audience got a kick out of it.

I'd like to point out though, that as un-intuitive as this may seem, that when I tried to insert my emotional two cents into my playing, I'd listen to it afterward (I often tape recorded my playing as a way of improving my performance), and it would sound contrived and sappy. I noted this fact and came to the conclusion that emotive execution and an excellent performance were two very different things. I also realized that when an audience is listening to a performance, my only job was to display my mastery of the piece and of the piano, and the notes themselves, played as the composer directed, would cover the emotional element without my help, if that makes any sense.

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