Ihave been playing guitar for ten years now, and over those years, my response has changed to thinking about the question of why I play. To start with, it was because I thought I might want to be a musician, like my Dad. Then as I went through my school years, my reasoning turned somewhat to being able to use ‘practicing for the school concert’ as a totally viable, if fabricated, excuse for missing assemblies.
After that I went through an extended phase of performing at open mic nights, with a couple of genuine gigs, and playing guitar and singing became a lot more central to my life and how I thought it was going to progress. In recent years, my motivations for playing guitar have changed again. I taught guitar to children from all around the world over this past summer, at a camp in America. One of my best students, a Spanish boy named Juan, told me that he played guitar because “It make me smile.”
[Playing music] has acted as a method for expressing my feelings in the same way as some people might write a journal, or see a therapist.
This resonated with me so very much, as my main motivation for playing guitar now and over the past few years, has been happiness. How cliché, music makes me happy, guitar is my life, etc. etc. But these clichés are undeniably true. As someone who has struggled with various mental health issues – and I won’t go into detail here – I can genuinely say that playing guitar and singing and making music has been one of my saviours. It’s a creative outlet for whenever I’m having an especially ‘bad’ day. It has helped me to overcome a lot of difficulties, it has acted as a method for expressing my feelings in the same way as some people might write a journal, or see a therapist.
Thinking about it this way also made my job as a guitar teacher much more poignant. I like to think that I have taught Juan, and many other children, a way to help cope with mental illness, which a significant percentage of them most likely will; in fact one in four people in the world will be affected by mental health issues at some point in their lives. One in four. I don’t want to work out exactly how many of my students are likely to suffer from mental illness with knowledge of that statistic, because I hope that they will all lead happy, healthy and fulfilled lives. I do also hope, however, that what I have taught them this summer will allow them to deal with such possibilities.
As a continuation of my summer, I would like to encourage anyone who has ever thought of learning to play an instrument, to do so. For no other reason than that it may well make you smile, as well as Juan and I.