Remember when you started playing your instrument for the very first time? Those were the golden days: practice what you want, when you want, how you want, and don't worry about anything else. Nowadays we don't get to enjoy that same luxury. There are auditions to win, juries to pass, money to be made, and everything has to be perfect. We HAVE to practice for hours on end every day. Right?!
In a sense, yes. Whether you're trying to make it into All-State Band, win a college a audition, or even a professional job, you need to meet a certain criteria to win the audition, and the only way to accomplish those things is to practice. No practice = no accomplishment.
But in another sense, we really don't have to practice, and it actually seems a bit silly to ever complain about practicing. Consider this: Why do you have to practice? You likely have to practice to win some sort of audition. Or perhaps you have to practice to please your private teacher at your lesson next week. Or, maybe you have a big solo at your next concert. In any case, you need to practice so you sound good when other people hear you. OK - fair enough.
But going a step further - why?? Why do you have to please your teacher, or please that audition panel? Why do you have to get into that school, or win that scholarship? Why do you have to nail that solo?
When you get to the root of these questions, they all end at the same answer: You have to practice because YOU decided you wanted something that requires practicing. YOU decided to take on a challenge. YOU decided that you wanted to perform music for people.
As artists, it's easy to get caught up in the grind of preparation and completely forget why we started playing music in the first place, and this is very important because we who pursue careers in music have a different mindset than many of our classmates pursuing "normal" careers. Let me explain.
For many people studying business, for example, they have to do their homework. They don't want to do it. In fact, they may never feel like doing it. They haven't been studying business since they were young kids. They don't spend their spare time watching Youtube videos about business. And they certainly don't put their favorite businessman on the screensaver for their laptop or phone.
But in the music community, things are very different. This is something we've freely chosen to do since we were kids. We spend much of our free time consuming music. We have musical role models who we look up, and if we really like them we'll even pay a lot of money to see them perform live. And this is all because WE CHOSE MUSIC BECAUSE MUSIC IS INHERENTLY FUN!
I don't mean to knock on the business community in any way - but I think it's important to illustrate this point, because we as musicians have something very rare that we can easily take for granted. We're fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend most of our days working on an art form. The things we spend our class/homework time on is the type of activity that normal people engage in during their free time. Think about that. How many other people can say that??
I believe this exercise in perspective can be very valuable in how we view our music. Very rarely does anyone pressure us into doing music for a living. In fact - you likely experienced the opposite. Yet here you are: a musician. Because of all the things the world has to offer, nothing else grabbed at your attention the way music does. Nothing even came close.
So when you're having a rough day, when you don't feel like putting in that last hour of practice, remember why you started. Remember what you're working for. Remember all the experiences you've had and the friends you've made as a result of the thousands of hours of practice you've already put in. And then ask yourself - do I want more of those memories? I think you know what the answer is :)