The Guilt of a Restless Instrument

Have you ever put your instrument down for a long period of time and felt guilty when you looked at? I have too. In our ever-increasingly busy lives, it can be hard to regularly play your instrument if it’s not your job. I don’t make a living from playing my instruments, it’s just something I enjoy, but when I leave my instruments alone for a long period of time, I find myself avoiding eye contact with them.

Whenever I walk past them, tired and wanting to lay down, I feel a glare coming from, as if they’re speaking “why aren’t you playing me? You’re just sitting there!” And, yeah, some days all I can do is lay still at the end of the day. There’s nothing wrong with taking time off if that’s what you need, I know this. But, I find myself wondering why I feel such guilt over not participating in a pastime.

I suppose it’s the hard work I’ve put into learning to play the instrument. As a trombone player, your embouchure is something you spend time developing, but can be lost/weakened in a few days time. As a guitar/ukulele player, my calluses fade away if I don’t play. It makes returning feel like I’ve taken 5 steps back. How can we avoid this feeling of guilt? What can we do to turn that time away from a “tsk tsk” into something that fuels our playing?

I don’t have the answers to everything, but I can speak from my own experience. My first step is to look at myself and validate that I was busy, and that that’s okay. Some days we work harder, do more, are more stressed, or whatever the day’s ailment was. That’s totally okay; you shouldn’t feel bad. My second step is to get over myself, and pick the dang thing up. Maybe the first chord hurts my fingertips a bit, and the first note sounds a little more wobbly than usual, but that’s okay. If you’re playing for your personal pleasure, your guilt is with yourself. That’s why my next step is to take a deep breath and say “stop judging yourself. You’re playing, doesn’t matter what happens in between.” Music is a wonderful thing to have in your life, and we shouldn’t hold ourselves in a bad light from only getting to it sometimes. If you’re not relying on it for a living, that’s totally fine.

In short, don’t feel guilty if you haven’t picked up your instrument in a while; we’re only human. The best thing you can do for yourself is to, in that moment of guilt, pick up your instrument and play, whether it be for a few minutes or hours. Pick it up, and forget the guilt. Let yourself have fun with it, and remember that fun when you’re away–it’ll keep you coming back.