Playing Your Troubles Away

Fan­ta­sy and feel­ing lie deep­er than words… 
and both demand a more pro­found, more bio­log­i­cal expression, 
the prim­i­tive expres­sion of music.” 
(Mau­rice Sendak in “The Shape of Music”)

Tied up in knots — nots — er — words? Are sen­tences slith­er­ing past you and para­graphs para­chut­ing from your brain? If so, maybe it’s time to step away from the writ­ing task, or any chore that has you flum­moxed, and give your­self a break, isn’t it? But — what to do? Take a walk? Bake cook­ies? Call a friend?

Margo's guitarWhen my writ­ing work becomes mired in self-doubt (oh, yes, that hap­pens!) or just the pre­cise word choice con­tin­ues to take flight and van­ish, it’s time to pick up a gui­tar and my “fake book,” (a loose-leaf binder that con­tains not much sheet music, but plen­ty of song sheets with just chords and lyrics) and lose myself and my word-wor­ries in music. (Well, we could call it music; please remem­ber, you haven’t heard me play 😊.) Set­tling in to play an old favorite song is like meet­ing with a dear, famil­iar friend for a spe­cial con­ver­sa­tion. Of course, being a lit­tle rusty is always a chal­lenge, but per­se­ver­ance and per­sis­tence will win out, and the old mus­cle mem­o­ry will even­tu­al­ly kick in. Try­ing out a brand-new song is a chance to learn and exper­i­ment with chord changes and fum­ble around with pick­ing pat­terns. Even though play­ing music can often be a chal­lenge, it’s a dif­fer­ent sort of chal­lenge from what just tied us up in knots, so, it’s a great way to refresh and re-order our thoughts, no mat­ter what kind of an instru­ment we play. It’s like tak­ing a vaca­tion with­out hav­ing to book a flight and under­go all the has­sle of travel.

Margo's Fake Book

We all know about the sci­en­tif­ic research that doc­u­ments the ben­e­fits of play­ing an instru­ment — it makes our brains active in a total­ly dif­fer­ent way — staves off demen­tia — and fires up neur­al con­nec­tions that aren’t often used. It’s a mys­tery how it actu­al­ly works, but what hap­pens is that con­cen­trat­ing on pluck­ing or strum­ming the right strings and try­ing (under­line “try­ing”) to play the chords cor­rect­ly man­ages to evap­o­rate all my writ­ing quan­daries and troubles.

Margo's Fake Book

Los­ing our­selves in play­ing an instru­ment is a refresh­ing way to take a break from any kind of box we may have put our­selves in. Focus­ing on melodies and sounds some­how frees our minds to tran­scend the here and now and car­ries us into anoth­er dimen­sion. In our super­charged, hyper­ac­tive, and dig­i­tal­ized cul­ture, it may seem waste­ful, unpro­duc­tive, and even ridicu­lous to spend time play­ing music when we’ll prob­a­bly nev­er play on stage or per­form in front of any­one. (Do we have friends that are that patient and under­stand­ing with us?) The rewards of play­ing music are many and sur­pris­ing, how­ev­er, because new insights are dis­cov­ered, and viable solu­tions appear where there were only frus­trat­ing dead-ends, before. Our prob­lem-solv­ing time spent on the instru­ment has giv­en us flex­i­bil­i­ty to solve our “real-world” conun­drums in a new way.

We’re nev­er too old or too busy (we can take a risk and put aside that nev­er-end­ing “to-do” list!) to pick up an instru­ment — either one we’ve played before and have neglect­ed for years — or a new one — for a musi­cal break­through adven­ture. They say that music soothes the sav­age beast; for me, it soothes my fraz­zled brain. So, the next time you are tied up in knots, or nots, dust off that old flute or clar­inet, or tune up the key­board or gui­tar, play your trou­bles away, and soon you’ll be singing a new tune!

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