When I was a kid I played the trumpet in the school band. I wasn’t half bad…I generally sat in the 1st or 2nd section. But for the first 3 years that I played the trumpet, I was harboring a humiliating secret: I couldn’t read music. I was a musical illiterate.
The trumpet is a simple instrument to play. You have 3 keys to press, you put your lips together, and you blow with different levels of force. It’s perfect for someone who doesn’t know the difference between a C and an E.
Each note on the page corresponds to a key combination and the necessary amount of air pressure can be determined by the sound that comes out. That’s all good and fine until the conductor says, “Hey John Paul (that’s what I went by back then). Can you play a C for us?”
Most of the time when he was asking for people to play notes, I was conveniently tying my shoelaces or hiding behind my music stand. It would be really embarrassing to be called on to play a note and not know how to play it. In junior high, the first and foremost priority of every kid is to avoid embarrassment at all costs!
On the rare occasion that I did get called to play a note in front of the whole band, I just picked one and blew. “No. I said a C (or D-flat or C-sharp)” was the usual response from the conductor to my crap-shoot of a note selection. “Mark (or Greg or Michelle), play a C for us.” And I was off the hook. Shew. Survived to live another day.
My secret musical illiteracy remained firmly intact all the way into high school. I’d grown quite accustomed to the underlying stress of the situation and thought I’d be able to get by without ever learning the names of the notes.
Then, one day, the conductor made an announcement. “We’re going to start studying music theory and the tests will account for a part of your grade.”
“OH NO!” I thought to myself. “Tests?! What am I going to do?! How can I expect to pass a test about music without knowing how to read it?!”
After years of anxiety, fear of humiliation, and avoidance of ridicule…I had to learn how to read music!
That night, I went home determined to teach myself, and in 5 minutes, I learned how to read music. FIVE MINUTES!
Turns out, it’s really not that hard. There are only 7 letters plus flats and sharps. I suffered through years of stress, and for what?! Because I was afraid to learn something new? Afraid to fail? Afraid of the unknown?
Who knows what goes through a teenager’s head. I certainly don’t know what was going through mine back then, but there’s a very important lesson to be learned here whether you’re still growing up or starting to grow old. A lesson that applies to any age and in any situation…. Sometimes the fear of the unknown is worse than doing what it takes to make it known.
If you’ve been putting something off in your life because you can’t predict the outcome or you’re not sure how to proceed, it’s time for you to stop hiding from the conductor. Stand up and own up to your gap in understanding. Then teach yourself or ask someone to help you map the uncharted territory.
Be patient and give yourself some time. It might take you longer than 5 minutes to cross your gap. But I promise the stress caused from learning is far more rewarding than the stress caused from hiding.
“JP…Can you play a C for us?”
“You bet I can!”
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Here’s a tool you can use to help you conquer uncharted territory. Take a few minutes to answer the questions and see if your perspective changes.