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Why do we play?

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Noble Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 794
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I was hanging out with my vocal quartet today before we got serious about actually practicing some songs. I learned that the three other members all took piano lessons for years and, as adults, two of them used to play for their respective churches. Not one of them still plays. There were all kinds of excuses. Too busy. There were better players, so I gave up. My piano was no good. And on and on.

I, on the other hand, never had a piano in the house when I was a kid. I bought my first guitar with my own money when I was 13. I only took about one year of guitar lessons and managed to get those because I got my parents to agree to pay half the cost while I paid the other half. I'm in my mid-50s and I have never completely stopped playing guitar for more than a couple of months.

All four of us are retired, so it's not a question of time. I know several other people who once were heavily involved in playing musical instruments and now play nothing. A very good friend that I grew up with was a music major in college. She played piano and also played guitar a lot better than I did. She sings in a choir, but doesn't play an instrument anymore.

It's obviously not a question of talent, but of motivation. I just thought I'd throw out this question: what makes one person stick with playing an instrument while another lets it gather dust?


Illustrious Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 6348

I started when I was fifteen and never stopped playing. there were a few short sabbaticals, but I have always played my guitar(s). the first time I could actually play something I realized guitar was a way towards creative expression and fulfillment.
and besides it sounded cool, felt cool, and looked cool.
at my age now acting that cool isn't cool. I still play as a creative outlet. it has lately replaced my desire to draw and paint
(I am a visual artist by trade). screw my gallery I'm turning up my amp.

I think another reason why I have kept up best friends play guitar. whenever we see one another we jam.
lastly, I want to think that my guitar and my artwork is my prime deal. working at something else, which I always have done, is a means to make money to support my prime deal.

playing this length of time has given me more excitement and fueled more interest,
because my ability is catching up to the stuff I hear in my head.
the surprises keep coming.

Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 5342


We play because we have to - there is something inside and it has to come out. Whether we play only at lessons, charity shows, residencies at the local pub, or pitch up and play stadium tours doesn't matter; we're all working to let something out.

Why do people stop playing - I bet the most common reason is someone said "You're never going to be any good" and it stuck. Later, everybody will make excuses like "I wasn't any good anyway" or "it was too hard." The worst excuse is "I just couldn't get along with it." Sausage-fingered Mick, one of my students from a few years ago with fingers like a pound of Walls' Pork n Beef, never stopped playing and he really did have to work very hard to get anything at all out of his guitar.

A :-)

"Be good at what you can do" - Fingerbanger"
I have always felt that it is better to do what is beautiful than what is 'right'" - Eliot Fisk
Wedding music and guitar lessons in Essex. Listen at:

Noble Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 1497

I also play because I have to.

I am professional musician, but being a musician is not what I do, it is what I am.

As long as I can remember, my favorite toys were the ones that made music.

In Junior High school I joined the school band, first on drums, then on saxophone.

I got in this little rock and roll band, we were terrible, but so was everybody else back then. So I played a school dance, having a great time playing music with by pals, that cute girl who didn't know I existed in English class was "making eyes" at me, and at the end of the night they actually paid me money!!!!!

I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I tried a few day gigs, always while playing on the weekends, but they didn't work for me. Being in a weekend band meant playing with lesser caliber musicians and juggling schedules between the day gig and the music gig. When the conflict eventually happened, music won.

After graduation I got in a road band. Since then I've played inmost US states, many different countries (from the US to the People's Republic of China), on cruise ships, on CBS, NBC, ABC & MTV television, night clubs (the good, bad and ugly), yacht/country clubs, and even in concert either backing up or warming up for the headliner acts.

I don't know what I would do if I couldn't play music.

Insights and incites by Notes

Bob "Notes" Norton

Owner, Norton Music Add-on Styles for Band-in-a-Box and Microsoft SongSmith

The Sophisticats >^. .^< >^. .^<

Famed Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 4459

It's hard for me to comment on this since I've been only playing for about 6 years so I don't know what the long term future holds.

Although I've always liked music and played for a shorttime in Jr High I never really put playing high on the list, maybe because to my untrained eyes and ears it would be too hard or take to much time to be decent so I never really tried.

My first love has always been sports and pretty much any physical competitive activity. I tend to be very competitive in what ever I am doing (kind of works against you with music though)and was never one for playing golf just for the joys of being on a golf course, for me it's only fun if I play well. I do not like just going through the motions.

Now with sports it's a little different but I have found myself burnt out playing so much. with sports there is a bit of a finite end that you don't really deal with much with music so it might be a bad analogy.

I think it just comes down to your personal preference. Some people wil always play no matter what talent level they achieve like Alan said it's just something they need to get out yet others who may be far better musicians will just put it down and never pick it up again. Life changes, priorities change and sometimes music gets pushed to the back like many other things.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!

Famed Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 2241

Well, I did stop for several years while at uni and just after...

But I was highly stressed (combo of work, moving around a lot, and commuting back and forth between Oxford and other southern areas, and Liverpool to care for my Pops), and wasn't sure my guitar would be safe in the chaos and lax secuirty. Partly inspired by getting my moderate but good quality pedal collection and crappy lil practice amp nicked. Sure the Strat would have gone too, had it not been with me at the time. :evil:

Anyways, I play because I love it. I play because when I hear a cool riff or lick, my hands start moving, and the brain switches on. I have some terrible habits, like naming songs used on adverts (even when they've removed the vox), or stopping mid-sentence because I've just heard something amazing in a piece of background music. I play because I want to get better, and because from an early age I got the "bug". I put a John Lee Hooker record on, and the sound blew my head right back. Up until then, music was pretty much the stuff I heard in the charts, or music used in films, or stuff like that. It suddenly dawned on me that this powerful, sparse, dark, growly thing could be music too, and it didn't take much for my young self to then wonder what the limits of music were. I had a question I just had to solve.

Still trying to solve that one. Figure I'll still be trying when I'm in a wooden box, no matter how much work I put in, or how good I get.

Ra Er Ga.

Ninjazz have SuperChops.

Noble Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 1247

I think it's a mix of talent, drive, ambition, priorities....
maybe some other things.

I mean; Why do some people get great grades without ever studying and don't seem to like school at all,
while others struggle to maintain a good GPA and seem bound and determined to get a college education?

Some more talented people at music may not want to do it.
It can be just that simple.
Maybe they can understand aspects of it in a more technical way, maybe they seem to be blessed with more graceful
fingers.... sometimes those people just can't find it in their souls though.

Others have a burning desire that darn near consumes them.
Music is a way of life for them.

John Lee Hooker is a great example: "It's in him, and it got to come out..... so, let that boy Boogie-Woogie"!
Not one to let the old 'I don't have a good enough instument' excuse get in his way, his first 'guitar' was some old
strips of rubber inner-tube stretched across and nailed to a barn door, or something!

Some people just have something to say, and they'll figure out a way to say it regardless of limitations....
while others don't.
Sometimes, those very limitations spur them on, sometimes they frustrate and subdue their desire.

Or maybe they found that playing guitar or piano or whatever made them enjoy music less.
I have a very critical ear for the tonality of guitars.... When I hear guitar based music, I tear it apart.
I listen for tones and production techniques and seperate everything so much that I rarely hear the song like it was meant to be enjoyed.

Maybe not surprisingly, the music I enjoy listening to the most is Saxaphone Jazz;
Because I don't know a thing about saxaphones!
Production-wise, those old sax songs seem to be played in a room live with a condenser mic hanging in the middle.
It's impossible for me to pick them apart.... Bliss 8)

At any rate, who's to say why anybody does or doesn't do anything :wink:
From nurture to nature.... God's will, to it being in the stars:
It is what it is.

The answer is:
Just follow your heart, and you cant go wrong :D


"The man who has begun to live more seriously within
begins to live more simply without"
-Ernest Hemingway

"A genuine individual is an outright nuisance in a factory"
-Orson Welles

Noble Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 1704

Why do I play? Because it's better than eating a bullet. :lol:
I took off many years without playing my guitar and it is the one big regret that I do have. However, since I have picked up the guitar again, it makes for a tremendous outlet and stress reliever.

I think Alan Green put it best. ...We play because we have to...{snipage}
I could not agree more.

Teamwork- A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction.

Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 4921

I'm with Alan and Notes (and thousands of others). It's not a choice.

About 35 years ago I broke the index finger on my fretting hand. The doctor wanted to tape two fingers to the splint for more support - I talked him into using a longer splint and taping the back end to my wrist. Why? So I could still play guitar (albeit without my first finger... which was actually really good for developing my pinky more!)

I play pretty much before anything else. I get up, have some coffee, and pick up a guitar. I get to the music school and spend a bit of time on piano. Sometimes I'll pick up my flute or bass... those don't get a daily workout, but its often enough so I don't forget how :)

Like Notes, I get paid to do this; I don't do anything besides music to pay my bills. But like Notes, that's because I did it for free - and loved it so much I couldn't do anything else.

I dunno why I play. I dunno why my feet stick to the ground either (neither do physicists - they're still just guessing). As far as I''m concerned, they're both rules of nature I can't help but follow.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL

Famed Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 2241

I also found that I will perservere more with a music problem than with other things. One reason why I left politics. I was damn good at it, but I had no enthusiasm foe pulling long hours. Music, otoh, I'll pull long hours for, no questions asked and no stress.

I play because I can't not play. It's a bit like asking why there aren't any round squares.

Ra Er Ga.

Ninjazz have SuperChops.

Estimable Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 174

Why do I play? Because it's better than eating a bullet. :lol:
I took off many years without playing my guitar and it is the one big regret that I do have. However, since I have picked up the guitar again, it makes for a tremendous outlet and stress reliever.

It's only somewhat a joke about the bullet isn't it?

I find playing to be a stress reliever as well. I also had a multi-decade layoff in playing but came back for stress relief.

Guitar, unlike drinking (the most traditional stress relief), has benefit to the player and his family.
If I'd spent all those hours drinking instead of playing.... well...... nobody wants to see YouTube videos of a high-time drunk. But my guitar vids are popular with friends and family.

(indeterminate, er, intermediate fingerstyle acoustic)

Famed Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 3454

It's obviously not a question of talent, but of motivation. I just thought I'd throw out this question: what makes one person stick with playing an instrument while another lets it gather dust?

I believe that a major factor was that nobody was listening any more (if they ever were). Music is a way of communicating and there's only so much time you can spend talking to yourself (although I'm a regular practitioner of that, in all its forms too.... :wink: )

In my experience, piano is one of the most abandoned of all instruments. I know dozens of people like your friends. There are probably many reasons why people stop, but I think that two stand out for piano. One is that it's a big static instrument, so if you want anybody to play along with, or an audience to share what you play, then they mostly have to come to you. You can't just pick it up like a guitar and play it wherever you like. In a home, they're also typically placed against a wall, so you spend your time with your back to everybody.

The second is the sheer weight of tradition associated with the instrument. The seemingly endless ladder of difficulty to climb, and the tediously old fashioned way that it often seems to be taught. I recently asked a friend of mine how the piano lessons were going for her two small daughters. She told me that one of them would cry each week at the THOUGHT of having to go to a piano lesson that day! That's an utter disgrace, and the teacher (a woman with many decades of teaching experience) should be taken out the back and shot. I sometimes spend time at a piano forum and half the people there are mad. Far too many hours stuck in lonely rooms dreaming of playing Chopin and LIszt and never being satisfied with where they are right now. Few seem able to just uncritically get stuck in, enjoy themselves, and go for it like kids do on guitars. Instead they endlessly fret and fuss about the next stage, and the next... stuck in some kind of permanent but self imposed struggle zone. It's sad sight.

I didn't take up guitar until I was nearly 60 and the first year or so was a real challenge. Not just because of the difficulty of getting old hands to respond, but all those years of the inner voice saying "playing music isn't for you..." to overcome. But once I realised that it wasn't a competition or a race, and that I could make a musical contribution by something as simple as tapping a hand or foot to a beat, or playing just two or three chords, or a very small range of notes, then it became the endlessly expanding and developing pleasure that it is now.

I also found friends to play with locally, and a plentiful supply of interesting and generous hearted people on forums such as this one. Music has now become like another language or another limb. It has grown from an interesting and absorbing hobby into an indispensable part of daily life. :D :note1: :note2: :note1:



Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 10264

I play because I love music. Always have done. I used to get told a lot as a kid, "gawd, you've got a vivid imagination!" - as if that were a BAD thing. I'm one of those people who'd rather read a book than watch a film; in my mind's eye, I can visualise the characters, they come alive in my head. I grew up listening to plays on the radio, too; again, more mentally stimulating than the TV.

Music's always been the best stimulant for me though - it can lift me up, bring me down, bring back memories; whenever I hear Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World," for example, I can see my dad sitting at the kitchen table of a Sunday tea-time listening to the charts with me - that particular programme was always the highlight of the week! A million songs, a million memories.

I always wanted a guitar as a kid, from hearing the Beatles when I was about six years old - took me over ten years to finally convince my mum I NEEDED one! Soon as I got one, I started writing my own songs - I've played, and written songs, on and off ever since. It's my creative outlet - it's the only thing I've ever done that's filled some deep need in my soul. Writing songs is my way of communicating those feelings that are sometimes hard to get out; playing them is my way of expressing those feelings.

I'm not one of the lucky ones who makes a living from playing music; probably my biggest regret in life is that I didn't put the hard work in when I was younger.

I play because I want to play - I play because I HAVE to play. It doesn't matter how down I'm feeling - I can pick up a guitar and suddenly the world's a slightly nicer place.

:D :D :D


"Sometimes the beauty of music can help us all find strength to deal with all the curves life can throw us." (D. Hodge.)

Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 5038

I like to create. I've designed products for a living, artwork occasionally and instruments plus musical equipment for fun and use. making music is one of the most immediately accessible creative processes. and it's the one I can count upon to provide both instant and long lasting gratification.

it's fun.

-=tension & release=-

Famed Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 2717

Being new to the process of creating music . . . heck, even being able to duplicate already created music . . . I was struck by something Arjen pointed out in one of his posts . . . that music is wired into our brains. Well, he didn't say it that way . . . certain chord or note progressions sound pleasing whereas others don't . . . is what he said.
Now, why would that be so? How can stuff like that be encoded in DNA?
Maybe music transcends “this mortal existence”.
Maybe we connect at a level beyond . . . and will take what we learn here . . . with us.
Maybe I've had one too many beers with my submarine sandwich.

It's the rock that gives the stream its music . . . and the stream that gives the rock its roll.

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