Steps toward Minimalism

“I’m always just looking to get back to the joy of playing music and keeping it simple as much as I can.”

                                                                        -Chris Stapleton

Minimalism is the practice of pairing down one’s belongings to remove obstacles and complications between one’s goals and one’s self. Minimalism is the tool that creates room for creativity and joy to fill. In the musical world, it is easy to get distracted by the newest, best, or prettiest gear. The music industry is wonderful at creating products to solve problems you didn’t know you had yet and creating more and more barriers between your music and the music of the professionals. This doesn’t need to inhibit our creativity.

When I was young, I would go to Guitar Center to just look at the guitars and see what I could afford with the twenty-five dollars I had received from mowing lawns. I would spend hours debating between various accessories, rarely even playing the guitars because I was shy about sharing my music with the store notorious for obnoxious loud and incoherent playing.

In a recent trip to a music store, where I was selling old equipment, I wondered the store waiting to be told the amount they could give me for the hundreds of dollars worth of gear. I looked and looked for anything I may be missing, anything I wanted, anything to fill in the gaps in what my setup needed. I found nothing. I couldn’t find a single item worth buying. I had a small amp, I had my acoustic-electric, I had extra strings, and I had my looper. I didn’t need anything else. I had a strange feeling. This was the first time I had gone to this store without a hungry look in my eyes. The first time I left feeling fully prepared to create. There was nothing between me and the music any more. I had the gear I wanted, and funnily enough, I’d had this gear for years. I had this gear while I was spending thousands of dollars and countless hours looking longingly into the catalogs and online wish lists of instruments I didn’t even play.

Minimalism helped me realize that I was already ready to make music and I didn’t need everything I thought. The difference between a professional musician and me wasn’t the next drum set, it wasn’t the fame, wasn’t the record deal. It was the mindset of a loser and a winner. In music, there are no winners or losers, there are only musicians and wannabe musicians. And the best part is that the difference is entirely how you spend your time. If you spend you time writing, preforming, practicing, listening, and jamming, you are a musician, it is that simple. You don’t anyone’s approval. You don’t need permission. You just need drive and a bit of time. Minimalism can give you time, and musicianship will give you the drive.

When was the last time you spent all day playing? Mine was a few times in college as well as when I was fourteen. I stayed home to learn the entirely Wolfmother album. I listened to every song around ten times. I looked up various versions of the tab, and the day flew past. The music wasn’t my own, the playing wasn’t perfect, but it was the only thing I cared about.

Minimalism helped me get back to this state of pure excitement. Minimalism showed me how badly I was lying when I said I was a musician. I wasn’t a musician, I just had a very elaborate and expensive plan to become one. The simplicity of looking at the music and not at the gear has lead me to travel the country with my guitar, to create hours of songs, and to feel the joy I craved when I started some fifteen years ago.

Here are the steps to realizing the keys to success in music comes from simplicity and practice. These four steps should be used at all times in order to make full use of your abilities and time. Practice makes perfect, but these steps are their to help guide.

  1. Create Don’t Crave

This is easier said then done in the beginning. It is easier to look at the limitations of your gear then to address that you haven’t unlocked its potential yet. You probably have not mastered your instrument, if you have, you’d be practicing, knowing that this is an impossible task. The only piece missing in the equation of musician is your time and effort. Music is hard, don’t act like you are only missing money.

  1. Accept your Failures

We’ve all failed at some things in the past but doesn’t mean that you wasted time. You put effort into a gig and the sound not coming out right. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t gig, it means you need to gig more. You now know what to fix and you know that next time it’ll be a bit better. We all trip, get back up and remember that the point isn’t to be perfect, it is to strive toward perfection.

  1. Simplify

You’re system for creation may be far too complicated. From the lyrics you’re writing to the elaborate system of pullies that you use for your drums. Removing these barriers between yourself and playing will lead to much more creation.

  1. Eliminate the Waste

If a snake doesn’t shed its skin, it dies. Same with a musician. Musicians need to remove their past self and look inward for the inner truth. The gear of a previous version of yourself is taking up time and space that could be used for creating something worthwhile. All you need for music is one instrument/one voice/one computer. You don’t need bells and whistles unless that it your primary instrument.

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