Press On: Why Making Music Matters… Even When It Seems Like It Doesn’t

Damn, I almost tumbled into a terrible valley a little while back. Somewhere over the course of the day, I lost sight of work ethic, though that’s putting it a little lightly…

I have this propensity, from time to time, to think too hard about the biggest questions (vast spans of time and space, inevitability, etc.) and without getting nihilistic here, it gets a bit dark up there in my brainpiece (I save that kind of writing for another place – occasionally). Applied to drumming though, it’s an ugly path to wander down.

You stop thinking about the long road of learning, the joy of growth, and get caught up in A) discouraged feelings of “not good enough,” and B) some sense that it doesn’t mean anything, that it’s an empty pursuit.

These are dangerous thoughts.

Fortunately, these bouts of negativity don’t last too terribly long these days. I’ve kind of developed a way of thinking myself back out of them – in very much the same way I think myself into them in the first place… And if you’ve wandered into this treacherous mental territory, I want to help you do the same.

First, the real dig of this frame of mind is that it doesn’t go anywhere.

Backing into a mental corner doesn’t leave any room for action, it doesn’t provide for any solutions or steps to take to improve the situation – and if there isn’t anything to be done about it, that makes it, well, useless to stew on.

It’s defeatist thinking to the core, tossing your arms up in a huff because of a clouded attempt at self-evaluation (which we can never do very accurately anyway), and then letting that momentary frustration lead you down the rabbit hole of doubting the whole construct (that is, drumming and/or making music in general).

This kind of thinking can affect any pursuit, of course –  and if we really deconstruct something hard enough, we can find all kinds of foolhardy reasons why it doesn’t matter – but it seems particularly common in the creative realm, especially as opportunities to make any dough at it continue to dwindle (or so it seems).

But regardless of the “what” of the matter, there’s got to be a boundary of reading too far in to it. We absolutely should contemplate why we do what we choose to do, but analyzing it into the ground doesn’t help in matters of growth, and it especially doesn’t help in matters of art.

Chipping away at the importance of your own work will never help. In fact, it does precisely the opposite – this kind of doubt is paralyzing.

If all you can think about is how a potential audience might react, you’ll second guess and micromanage every single decision you make. You’ll edit and revise until you’ve stripped away any pieces of your personality that you added in the first place.

If you doubt your music’s validity, you’ll write and perform it timidly. Plenty of us are guilty of it from time to time… but unchecked, it seems like a road to ruin – to NOT playing, and ultimately being disappointed for it.

The point is this: when things get ugly, it’s worth sticking it out.

(here’s a lil something to help keep on keeping on)

At the VERY least, it’s something to do. It’s a universe of minutia – things to learn, little bits to assemble together, a bounty of detail to focus on and attempt to master.

Everybody’s gotta have a hobby.

And music making, even if it is little more than a hobby, is one that you can (and should) share with others. It’s a method of collaboration and communication.

It’s a medium of entertainment, sure, and that’s a wonderful thing – that’s the factor that allows people to make a living with their voices and instruments, that provides us with an avenue to showcase our crafts (and to connect with listeners.. and make ‘em dance). But close up, it’s about expression and personal style. When you come together with others in a musical context, it presents the opportunity to meld those styles and create something greater than the sum of its parts.

When you get to share that collaboration with others, with an audience, it’s another layer still. We know this as listeners and fans. The more I make music, the more I enjoy watching and listening to others. I notice more, I learn more… I think more.

We know that musical tastes and experiences can bring people together, what it feels like to be emotionally moved by a performance, that music can stir memories, elicit feelings, even function as therapy. It has been studied and dissected and reinvented and reapplied in countless ways, over hundreds and hundreds of years… Hearing music – and thereby, making music – is a fundamental piece of human culture…

But even outside of all of that academic and philosophical shit, music – at the bone – feels visceral to listen to, and visceral to play. It feels arcane. It’s in our DNA.

If that doesn’t make it worth pursuing, what is?

In the introduction of Groove Alchemy, Stanton Moore says, “A good groove can make a whole room full of people suddenly want to move. This is a very powerful thing to witness, and even more powerful when you are actually involved…”

That’s a pretty fine reason to believe in any kind of music making – it moves people, and here in drum-land, it’s our first priority: the pulse, the tempo, the pendulum that gives life to groove.

If you find yourself in doubt, take a moment to pause and reflect on the community you’re a part of, the power you possess, the lifelong journey you’ve embarked on.

When things get tough, and they certainly will, remember all the joyous parts of music making. When you feel like a hack or burdened by imposter syndrome, think about where you were as a player just a few short years ago. Think about progress and where you want to be tomorrow.

Above all, don’t give up. Ever.



Full disclosure: I wrote most of this post a little while back, but hesitated to publish it because I didn’t want to be negative, or even start on a negative note… But I think it’s a message worth sharing. Let me know if you’ve gone through something similar.

Featured image art by Tim De Groot (found online).


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