Something big happened recently. So big it made me cry.
Was I crying because my cat died, or because someone yelled at me or I stubbed my toe?
No. No. And no.
I was crying because I’d just realized I’d spent 40 years falsely believing I was “a non-musical.”
A “non-musical” is a person who thinks they can’t sing, can’t dance and an instrument is a magical creature they have no business touching.
You might be a “non-musical” yourself, or know someone who is. If this is the case, this article is definitely for you.
I usually talk about things like how to manage anxious thoughts and what to do when your life looks like you sat on it. Compared to all that, surely the subject of music is a small thing? A luxury. An add-on to enjoy when the kids have grown up or you’ve “sorted out this other mess.”
I used to think this way too.
It’s like with creativity
We’re taught that only some people are creative. As if it’s a thing. Like being able to roll your tongue. Or having hazel eyes.
But creativity is part of being human. No-one is more creative than anyone else. Our creativity shows up in different ways, but we all have it.
I spent the first 30 years of my life wishing I’d been born a creative person and accepting I wasn’t.
And until recently, I felt the same way about music.
Until I met Franco . . .
My then boyfriend, now husband.
Almost from the beginning Franco suggested I learn to play the guitar. He thought it would be fun to play together. Perform together. Write songs together.
I thought he was kidding at first.
Franco grew up in a Von Trapp-type household where meal time conversations for he and his four sisters ran along the lines of ”Who knows what period this concerto is from?”
They had a full sized church organ at home – the blower was in the basement. Franco plays beautiful guitar and has the voice of a swarthy Sicilian baritone.
I on the other hand have a long list of reasons why I am the world’s most unmusical person. Truly – if you think you’re unmusical, I’ll bet I can convince you I’m worse.
I put his enthusiasm down to new love.
But over the months he has gently – because that’s his way – persisted. And always I’ve had an answer – “actual proof” as to my non-musical-ability.
On being a world class unmusical person
When Franco said things like, “You know, everyone can sing.” I said, “Yes, but not me. I’m worse than other people.”
When he told me he’s taught people to sing who were tone deaf, I said, “Yes, but I’m too scared to try, I even mouth the words to Happy Birthday.”
When he told me anyone can learn to play, I said, “No, but I tried when I was younger (piano, clarinet) and I was horrible. Ask my sister.”
“I’m just not from a musical family.”
But as the months have passed the truth about music has started to come out. And no one could be more surprised than me.
Here’s what I learned about music:
1. We all have rhythm
When you tap your foot – that’s rhythm. And if you don’t feel it naturally, you can learn to feel it.
But for sure, there is rhythm within.
2. If birds can do it . . .
Turns out Franco was right. Singing is for all of us.
Thinking I couldn’t sing was painful. At social occasions I felt embarrassed. Not only that, I was missing out on the joy that comes from joining your voice with others.
It was surprisingly scary at first. Until I learned not to worry if I didn’t hit every note. And I began to celebrate the notes I was getting – which were more than I realized.
I learned the more you do it, the better you get. Go figure. And little by little, as my fears have receded I’ve begun to enjoy it. Really enjoy it.
Now, I sing all the time.
I sing alone. I sing in front of Franco. I sing with family and anyone else.
I sing well known tunes and I make up my own little tunes. I don’t know what a harmony is exactly, but when Franco practices I fool around and sing a made up part – like a conversation.
Learning to sing, when you don’t think you can, is both literally and figuratively like finding a voice you never thought you had.
(See below for recording of me signing and playing, Week 1! It’s sweet in it’s beginnerness.)
3. Musical people are people who play and practice music.
You’re not born “a musical person.” It’s a choice. Anyone who is highly proficient has at one time spent hours each day practicing.
People who play know this. They understand everyone has to start at the beginning. In fact, they frequently do it themselves.
If a “musical person” wants to learn the Tuba, they find one and start practicing. They’re no better than you or I. They just realize they need to practice to get better.
And they don’t worry how bad they are to start.
4. The secret to feeling confident in a music store
I always thought a music store was a mysterious place other people went. A store where they spoke another language.
I thought they’d laugh at me.
Turns out it’s just a store – staffed by people who love seeing newcomers dive in and have a go. And they do speak another language, but they want to teach you their language!
It was the same the first time I went into an art store, I half expected someone to come up and ask me to leave unless I could prove I was “an artist.” Not kidding.
A music store is your friend. You can wander in, chat to people, pick up different instruments, even ones you don’t know the names of, and you can buy them too.
5. The truth about sucking
I grew up thinking activities only feel good if you’re good at them. That pleasure comes from being “successful.” By mastery.
But you know what – I’m terrible at the guitar. So terrible my strumming hand can completely miss the strings so I do an air-strum. But I love it! It feels great.
So where’s the fun?
The fun is in practicing and seeing an improvement.
The fun is in making a pretty sound come out of an instrument. Even when that pretty sound is surrounded by some non-pretty sounds!
The fun is in taking charge and just doing it!
The bottom line is – WE ARE ALL MUSICAL!
The aim of this article isn’t to say you should learn to play an instrument.
The point is, you can if you want to.
Truly, truly, truly.
In almost everything I write about I talk about belief systems, and how it’s hard to see ones we have. We are so sure that what we think is the truth.
We go through our lies denying ourselves huge areas of expression, enjoyment and participation.
The satisfaction that comes from seeing “the other side” is huge. This is why I was crying. This is why I wanted to write this article.
Is there an instrument that stands out more than any other or that you’ve always wanted to play?
Or singing – are you like I once was? There are a lot of us out there you know.
Learning a new skill is a great way to meet people too – in classes, but also, it’s surprising how often when I tell people they suggest we should play together! There are so many ways to learn nowadays too – lessons, books videos.
It’s invigorating. Then there are the benefits that come with carving out an hour or two a week to do something nourishing just for you.
Thinking you can’t make music, is painful.
I heard of a guy once who said
I’d give ten years of my life to play the cello.
Meaning, he’d happily die ten years earlier if he could play the cello. So why didn’t he just play? His dream was right there in front of him and he couldn’t see it.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter! What do you think, how do you feel about music?? Or creativity? Have you had similar walls come down?
PS: It occurred to me to throw out the idea of starting a group for “non-musicals” wanting to find their musicalness! Led by Franco. What do you think? Pop a comment below or email myself or Franco if you’re interested.
Love this post. Well done YOU. I have lived life the very same, yearning to play guitar and just loved singing but was no good. Living in Thailand, there doesn’t seem to be this distinction and people form bands and sing (even if not great 🙂 The local guys would hang out practicing their guitar and would push me to sing so they could hear the correct pronunciation of the words. I kept saying NO at first, eventually giving in and feeling like I had found wings. The freedom to just sing was great. I learned the lyrics of many songs so I could ‘help’ 🙂 I was gifted a guitar from a talented musician and taught some chords. I loved it and your post has inspired me to really try and learn when I return home. Best of luck with your non-musical group. I love your idea but I’m far away. Where are you now? You move around as much as I do 🙂 Keep on singing & strumming!
Hi Caroline, Great to hear from you!
That’s interesting to hear about how things are in Thailand. Funny how cultural this is. I’m convinced now that the cultures we think of as more musical really just do it more!
I’m still in Los Angeles. If we’re ever in the same place – we could have a jam one day! Best of luck with the guitar – and go you – with the singing!!
Hi Lisa!! This is my first comment on your blog although I’ve been following your posts since finding you several months ago. You are truly an inspiration and continually get me thinking outside the box (the box of my old belief system, that is,) which is incredible.
I had to comment here because, while I have always thought of myself as a musical person (I grew up singing, played the piano, learned the guitar, etc.) I have always felt like a NOT GOOD ENOUGH musical person, which is just as bad as thinking you are NON-musical. I used to take such joy out of making music as a child and teen, but in recent years (I’m 25) I lost that joy to self-judgment and comparison and all that kind of junk.
It’s so synchronous that you posted this right now, because lately I’ve been shifting back to my desire to make music, and to do it A LOT. Even in front of other people. And to be creative, which you mentioned as well. This post gives me courage! And I loved your recording — I am a fan!! 🙂
Thanks so much for this and for all the simple-yet-powerful truth you share!
Thanks so much for your note! I read it earlier today – I was at the DMV waiting to sit the practical bit of my drivers license – anyway, your comment and other comments brought tears to my eyes. More crying, and in the DMV!
Go you with the music again! And in front of people!!
I’m very happy for you Lisa, congratulations to you and to Franco for not giving up…
I would like to play the violin or piano. If you do start the “non-musical” group, mention it on your next post.
Thanks Alberto – will do!
Hi Lisa! I loved this post! I’m so glad you are singing and playing! That’s awesome! Enjoyed your recording! You go Lisa! I love Franco’s story and his love and encouragement of you and others musically! I’ve been a musician most of my life(play French Horn in several quintets) and struggled with the mind message “you’re not good enough” that Jessica mentioned. Of course there will be a whole range of proficiency from beginner to professional on any given instrument, including the voice. The trick is to enjoy your expression wherever it is on that scale(musical pun intended!). By the way, for those interested in starting out on a band instrument as an adult, there is a national organization called New Horizons that can be found in many U.S. cities. Their website is: http://www.newhorizonsmusic/org. Thanks again for this inspiring post; I enjoy all your posts…… Fred 🙂
Hi Fred – thanks for your note and for the link to New Horizon’s. And for you encouragement! It’s so interesting to me to hear your and Jessica’s comments – I’d never thought of that aspect, but I can see that it could be crippling too if you let it. Happy French Horning! And thanks again for saying hi:)
Oh I loved this. A friend brought up her desire to play the Ukulele today and has never done so before. She finally bought it. I have a Ukulele sitting on my fireplace mantel and have never tried to play. Thought that as she shared about her desire. I used to play guitar as a teenager. Lost touch with that. And now here you are playing and singing. Love it! Thanks for the encouragement.
Thanks Joan – how wonderful to hear your friend taking the plunge. Woo hoo!! Happy Fall days to you! And happy playing, if that’s what you decide to do!
Lisa! That was wonderful! I loved the encouragement you gave with such beautiful example of your lovely voice and newly strumming fingers 😉 I am thrilled for you! We miss you and Franco. I can’t wait to hear how you sound when we return in the spring! xox
Hey Linda!! We miss you too! Look forward to having a play together. XX PS – I think of you and Scout every time we eat beans!
Wonderful post – and congratulations on realizing your musical-ness! 🙂
I feel the same way about drawing and illustrating. I loved art classes as a kid but never got “good” at drawing. I always assumed it just wasn’t in me. But I’ve always loved writing, and drawing kinda goes hand in hand with writing, so I’m slowly but surely teaching myself to draw and illustrate. You’re right: the fun is in seeing the progress!
Thank you! And congratulations on the drawing and illustrating! Wonderful to hear of your explorations! You’ve probably already heard of this book, but in case not, have you heard of “Drawing on the Right Side Of Your Brain?” My sister used it to learn how to draw. Is great. Thanks so much for saying hi! And best wishes!!
That’s one of the books I’m using to learn! 🙂
Thought it might have been! Cool!!
Cool! Go you. Sounds fab. yes, it’s a popular belief unfortunately. For my part my non-musical thoughts came courtesy of a school teacher who said I “couldn’t do it”, gave up trying to teach me how to read music cos I wasn’t keeping up and assigned me the triangle. I always thought I “couldn’t do it’ till about 5 years ago I saw a film called ‘The Visitor’ where a guy learns to play djembe (African hand drum). The tag goes, if your heart beats you’ve got rhythm. Been playing ever since. No master at it but love it. Because I play I’m around people who play – not just drums but all sorts, so all of a sudden musicality is part of my life. It was there all the time waiting.
Congratulations! That’s such a great picture thinking of you playing the drums. And what a great line – “if you heart beats, you’ve got rhythm.” I’m still a little scared of the drums, feel locked up somehow – we have a couple sitting around the house so maybe I’ll give it a go! I can see that it must feel great!
Three cheers for Lisa, Bravo Bravo!
Hi Lisa 🙂
Wonderful article! So happy for you to have found your own unique musical-ness and may it continue to bring you joy.
I “learned” at school that I was hopeless at art but as an adult I discovered “crafts” and now make my own cards and other stuff. It’s not brilliant but the people who receive my hand-made cards love them and I totally love the process of making them and the joy of giving them.
I agree totally with what you say about creativity being part of being human and my wish is that everyone finds a way to express their own unique creativity and that it brings more joy into their lives.
Great wish – is mine too! So much time spent not realizing we can do these things – although learning is quite a rush!
Have you heard of Sir Ken Robinson? He is an educationalist trying to change the school system to be more creative-supportive – one of his TED talks is the second most watched TED talk ever. …. Just found the link http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html – is called “How Schools Kill Creativity.” Is funny too.
Happy drawing and card making!!
Hi Lisa, loved this topic in particular for myself and for friends and family! I had to email it right away to a close friend who plays the guitar, I know she will enjoy it as much as I did! Keep writing and posting 🙂
Thanks so much Margorie!
It was so good to read this post! After almost 20 years I realized everyone’s an artist, this means myself included. I went to a high school where there was an “art class” an I was always envious and wished I had some talent to learn art just like those in that class. And now I learn drawing and painting in an artschool. Two weeks ago I couldn’t even draw a proper cube, and now I can easily do it. It is a fantastic feeling. It needs a lot of attention and persistence though, but this whole thing is no hocus pocus! I bet it was the same with you playing the guitar and singing 🙂 Again, loved reading this post!
My story around learning i was an artist is very similar to yours – and you’re right, it is exactly like that with music. Great to hear you’re exploring drawing and arty things! Thanks for your note and kind words!
Dear Lisa, your recording gave me chills! Your sound was beautiful and I applaud your courage to share it in your post. Like the other posters, I identify strongly with what you’ve written. a non-musical/non-creative growing up, I even went so far as to buy a harmonica in June to explore some right-brain activity because it’s so noisy : ) Just a few days ago, I told my husband I’d start trying to play it, and I think today may be the day! Thank you.
Like you I am struck by the strong feeling there is amongst those of us who have come to this realization. Isn’t it wonderful. Thanks for your note, I love to hear stories such as yours! And best wishes with the harmonica playing!!
You have a very beautiful singing voice. I know you how you feel about being “non-musical” I kind of feel the same way about myself. Thank you for this article, It’s really amazing. Thank you. xoxo
Thanks Ashleigh – sounds like you might have some fun exploratory times ahead yourself!
I loved, loved, loved this blog. So wonderful that you found your voice! I always wanted to play guitar, tried a few times, bought one and then sold it and now have arthritis so bad I couldn’t play anyway. 🙁 BUT! I do sing and that’s a real joy for me because I didn’t sing until I was over 40 and a tenant in my house heard me singing to my daughter and told me how lovely it was. I am now directing a play in my theatre group and sing to the kids all the time! Love it. And love the recording of you singing. Made me want to throw my arms around you in joy and love!
Oh Jessie – how wonderful to hear your story too!! Isn’t singing just such a delight. Who knew such a simple thing could be so fun – I love thinking about your singing with your theater group!!
Bravo,thanks for the inspiration on trying something new.Dalta dawn was a song I grew up with. You sound good, have fun.
Thanks Richard:) It’s a lovely little song isn’t it – also very easy to play for beginners. Though I’ve learned that most songs only use about three chords when playing on the guitar. Who knew!
Hi there, fellow Lisa,
Amy Johnson had referred to your blog post here and I had to check it out. I’m a musician too. You spoke to my soul. Even with years of training as a kid and as of late learning guitar past 6 years, I don’t always claim that I’m “musical” and I don’t always allow myself to just have fun. I put pressure and high expectations on myself. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and for also being brave to share your music. You inspire me so much! Thanks, lady!
P.S. I’d love to be in a group for “non-musicals.” I’d love to learn more!
HI fellow Lisa and fellow late guitar learner!
Lovely to meet you and thanks for your note:) Very inspiring. Go you! 6 years! XX Lisa
Hi Lisa, that was awesome. Love your voice, it’s beautiful. You are inspirational in every way. I enjoy reading your stories. Much love to you. Vicki
Hi Vicki, much love to you too! And thanks for saying hi! Lisa X
Hi Lisa! I was lead to your blog and this post from Dr. Amy Johnson’s e-newsletter, and I must say.. I have always had a secret dream of being a singer, but never tried it in fear of what people would think, or that I’d suck! I saw in the first comment on this post that you live in LA, and so do I! Are you starting the group for non-musicals?! I may be interested, if so…. 🙂
Hi Jacky! – oh you should definitely do it! It is amazing. And in those secret dreams lie magic things.
Re the non-musicals – Franco and i need to have a talk – we’ve had some interest, not a huge amount, but might be enough to run a wee course/group. Will be in touch! And thanks so much for connecting! Cool to hear from another LA’er too!
Lisa… can’t sing? Holy crap I am in tears right now. You have a beautiful voice. I know I can’t sing and there was a time in my life not long ago I was not ashamed of my voice. Now? Well… you know how that goes…I ,I, I want to dance and thank you! I am plugging my computer into the TV and learn from, You tube.
Hi Kathy – what a wonderful note to read!! Happy singing to you too!!
(I’m away at the moment and haven’t been able to easily reply, hence delay in responding – my apologies!)
I recently discovered your blog and I like it very much!
As a professional musician, classical pianist with 14 years of formal education, I must say you said more in this article than 90% of music schools and teachers propagate. That’s one of many reasons I’m not among them.
We are all musical, but the attitude of our parents at first,system next and then our own, as well as will to practice is what brings that talent to surface and makes it stronger.
Congratulations on your guitar skills:-)
Thanks so much for your note – I so enjoy hearing your perspective. I hadn’t realized those beliefs were so entrenched almost across the board!
Ha ha ha … I often tell people with great (mock) pride, “Yes, I learned guitar at 14, and today (I’m 47), I’m *almost* as good as I was that very first day!”
I LOVE this article (again!), thank you. It may even convince me to go and join a choir some friends of mine are in, and keep telling me I should come to!
Ooh a choir! How fun. I’ve recently begun to sow that little seed myself. I was at a church service the other day (a very rare thing) and I couldn’t believe how fun it was to try and read the music! I didn’t want the service to end. Thanks so much for your note!!! And best wishes enjoying your musicalness!
Your post(s) are awesome, honest, real and fun to read. I can relate so much to them!
Your voice sounded gentle and nice. So will you keep us posted with more music notes?
Thankful to have found you on the web.
Greetings from an American gal living in the Netherlands,
Thanks Malissa in the Netherlands! And yes I’ll keep you posted … once I’ve practice some more. Thanks for saying hi, nice to have you here:) Lisa XX
Como Baixar Musicas
Wow, awesome blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site
is great, as well as the content!
Thanks! I’ve been blogging for a couple of years now. And I absolutely completely love it and can’t recommend it enough! The trick is just to start really. And WordPress. WordPress is awesome. Thanks for saying hi!
You are so interesting! I don’t suppose I’ve read anything like that before.
So good to find another person with some genuine thoughts on this subject.
Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up. This site is one thing
that is required on the web, someone with a little originality!