The other day, I was discussing with a colleague at work about the importance of having students start out with quality instruments when learning to play music. If an instrument is faulty in any way, the student will inevitably be frustrated in trying to produce notes and may even give up on playing. My colleague and I both agreed that sometimes it’s hard to tell, even in our own playing, whether difficulties arise from the way we play, or whether something has gone wrong with the instrument. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve become frustrated in trying to adjust my embouchure or voicing on a particular passage in music, and discovered only after I’ve taken my instrument in for an overhaul do I realize that the problem was due to a screw loose or a misaligned pad. In short, it wasn’t me, it was a mechanical problem.
I’m so quick to blame myself for faults that I often don’t consider that it may be something from without that’s contributing to them. Another case in point: the medication I had been taking for several years caused me to gain weight, develop problems with low blood sugar, and give me periodic mood swings. I did my best to exercise regularly, change my diet, and be more mindful of how I react to situations. On advice from my doctor, I recently changed my medication, and despite initial side effects that eventually subsided (you were right, my friends– they did go away), without doing anything differently from my usual routine, I’ve lost the extra weight, the problems with my blood sugar, and the mood swings. I’ve also think much more clearly now– I had no idea how much of a fog I’ve been in all this time.
It’s not to say, of course, that there aren’t always things I could be working on to improve myself that come from within. But sometimes, the problems are not where I think they are.