33 Days of Truth: Day 31
“Everybody should be able to make some music. That’s the cosmic dance.” – Maude
Songwriting has been one of the greatest discoveries of my life. At a time when I really needed a way to open up and express my heart, I found an outlet by putting emotions into words and into music. It was a total game changer.
For Day 31 of my 33 Days of Truth challenge, I want to share my personal journey of learning to play an instrument, finding my voice, and falling in love with making music.
Even though most of my family is musically inclined, I never have been. It wasn’t something I felt particularly drawn to doing, perhaps because I thought I just wasn’t that good at it. I was more of a paper and pencil artist. Music felt out of my element.
I did take music class briefly in elementary school , and learned to play the recorder (I could play a mean rendition of “Hot Cross Buns”). I then tried upgrading to flute but found it made me too lightheaded, and I lost interest.
Later, one of my brothers attempted to teach me to play guitar, but that lasted about a minute. I’m relatively small (5’2”) and it was awkward to get my arms around the instrument; plus the strings felt too hard on my fingers. I didn’t have any motivation to continue.
The one instrument I always did want to learn was piano. Mostly so that I could play music from the Titanic soundtrack. (Nerd alert!)
At university, I took a semester of piano and was able to read a little sheet music by the end of it and play a song or two. But without the means to continue practicing, the newly budding ability withered. I made excuses as to why I couldn’t keep it up. I was too busy (true enough), I didn’t have the money to buy a good piano (sadly, also true), and didn’t have the space in my tiny apartment (squish). Looking back, I can see how I simply didn’t want it enough.
It started to bug me that I did’t play anything, though. I would think of Maude from the movie Harold and Maude saying, “Everybody should be able to make some music. That’s the cosmic dance.” And I agreed with her. I just didn’t know what to play.
With big plans to move to the Hawaiian island of Maui, I decided I would learn the ukulele when I got there. When in Rome. But the idea was too exciting to wait for, and I wanted to get going on it sooner. So for my birthday before the move, I signed up for a beginner class and bought myself an ukulele. It was love at first strum.
Ukulele felt much simpler and more accessible than piano. And it was me size. Small, light, easily transportable. It didn’t come with the aura of expertise or a pressure to perform that surrounds big instruments like guitar or piano. It’s just a fun little thing to pick up and create sounds with.
It became much more than that to me. I had never known how powerful the feeling of creating music was. Of tuning myself to an instrument to generate melody. It was an incredible release for emotion. I could be upset, stressed out, frustrated, pick up my uke, and find relief channeling those feelings into music.
I learned the ukulele by playing other people’s songs, which was enjoyable for a while. Singing at the same time as playing became my favorite thing to do. There was something magical about making sound with my body in concert with the instrument.
Gradually however, I began to feel unsatisfied. I couldn’t sing or play any of it to the level as the original performers, and that lack of skill was really frustrating. It wasn’t inspiring me to improve. I got bored.
One random day, while listening to one of my favorite musical artists, a thought crossed my mind of how much I wished I could sing and make music like that. Suddenly another thought cut in, loud and clear, challenging me on my wistful desire. “Then do it!”
It stopped me in my tracks. Hey, why don’t I? Go full Shia LaBeouf and make it happen. (DO IT!) So what if I wasn’t born with golden vocal chords or an instrument in my hand? I still had a voice capable of creating sound, and I could play the ukulele a little bit. I didn’t have to do it for anybody but myself.
I had written poetry, but never a song before. I found myself curious and wondering. How did one go about writing a song? I reached out to my dad, who has written a career’s worth of music just as a hobby; we had a great conversation discussing his personal creative process.
It didn’t sound too hard. Come up with some lyrics, find a tune to match. Or make a melody, and find words that can go along with it. I could do that.
I wrote the equivalent of a poem, with a little chorus added, and that same day I picked up my ukulele to mess around with the few chords I knew. And just like that I had my first song. It was an absolute revelation.
It seemed to open the floodgates. Song after song came through. I became obsessed. I was like a music drug addict, sneaking off to hide in my car and get a fix; to work on my music in private. Emotions that had been craving an outlet found it through my own words and my music. Specifically, emotions around unrequited love. Songwriting became a way to work through a lot of heartache, and it was very healing.
Songwriting pretty much saved my heart from self annihilation. It rescued me from all my disappointed hopes and the hurt around love, giving me a creative outlet for feelings that would otherwise turn inward and try to take me out.
It helped to release me from years of pining for a married man, from the frustration of turning down affections of guy friends I did not reciprocate, and gave a means to express the things I dreamt could happen with new potential partners even though they didn’t.
Each song grew out of me and my experience, inspired by specific connections and yet each standing on its own, allowing me to stand free too. With it I got to take my power back and channel my love, through music.
It was amazing.
Eventually the journey evolved from purging my heart of the struggles around romantic love to celebrating the feelings of love for family, friends, and life itself.
Writing songs and playing has allowed me to open up and be more honest. Three chords and the truth. Through that I’ve discovered the beauty and profound gift of music, for myself and by sharing it with others.
I’ve joined the cosmic dance.