Why I quit music (and why I’m going back)

It was a long time ago now that I bought a ukulele. I thought it was such a cool instrument, but I just couldn’t hack it. Despite being much smaller than a cumbersome guitar, it still felt too awkward to hold, let alone play. I couldn’t pluck properly, I had no guidance and it really, really hurt my fingers to use.

Then, we were thrown into a second lockdown in the UK, to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. What better time than then to finally pick it up and start playing? I wrote pretty extensively about what I learned from 7 months of music, in July 2021. Playing the ukulele, using the app Yousician (now rebranded Ukulele’), and turning the process into a game by levelling up and witnessing clear progress, made the whole process so much fun. It was really gratifying to know that I was getting better and better at this new hobby each and every time I picked it up. While my housemates might not have liked it, I loved it.

Funny story: around a month after that post was shared, I quit. Here’s why I quit music, and why I’m finally going back to it:

Why I quit

It was never intentional – quitting music – but I can’t deny that it happened. I was playing pretty much every single day when I got in from work, after receiving a notification at around 6pm as a reminder to play for 10 minutes. I even followed points made by James Clear, who suggested that your positive habits – ones that you wish to keep up – should be visible. That meant leaving the uke next to the chair in my reading nook, so that I’d feel up to playing whenever I sat down.

It was so, so easy to do. So why give it up?

It happened around August, when I jetted off on holiday. Obviously, the uke was missing from that adventure, which meant no playing for a week. I was absolutely fine with this, since I wouldn’t have had time to play even if it had followed me (holidays are far too busy for that!), but it did mean a week of skipped notifications.

Fine.

When we landed in London and drove home, I decided to focus on seeing friends and relatives, creating a blog backlog so that I wouldn’t fall behind once term began, and pretty much anything but the ukulele. By the time I’d remember to practise every night, it would be too late to play, since everyone else would already be in bed.

I’ll just practice tomorrow.

The trouble with habits? Tomorrow never comes. As September rolled around, my workload shot up, as it usually does when we begin a new term, and I was having to get used to coming home without feeling exhausted again. Once I’d got over the shock of having to work hard again, it was time to get back into the gym, and to continue learning Spanish. And to prepare healthy, filling meals. And to spend time with friends and family.

My priorities had shifted, and learning the ukulele was no longer one of them.

Why I’m going back

Good habits are called good habits for a reason – they can help us to lead healthy, happier lives. That’s one of the reasons that I advocate for being so productive – to get through commitments quickly and devote a good amount of time to doing what I love.

Does that mean that I should feel guilty for not picking up one of my favourite, most beloved activities?

Absolutely not. Feeling guilty for not doing something, despite knowing that something had to give, would be such an unhealthy way to live. If it took 7 months for me to go back to music, then clearly there was something preventing me from playing for those 7 months. Was it a mental block? A lack of desire to play? Or was I simply too busy to play? It doesn’t really matter what the reason was. The fact is: my happiness didn’t dwindle over these 7 months. In fact, I was probably happier for the fact that I was willingly prioritising certain habits over others, and not beating myself up for choosing not to play.

With all that in mind…why am I going back to music?

  1. I view playing the ukulele – challenging my brain by learning a new skill – as a good habit. It’s sometimes tough but, ultimately, quite satisfying when you know that you’re doing well. And everything that I said in my original post still stands: I’d much rather spend 10 minutes learning to play an instrument than doom scrolling social media.
  2. Non-negotiables are so important, which I wrote about recently. If you enjoy doing something, then don’t let your other commitments – like a full-time job – get in the way of them.
  3. It’s fun (and do you need more reason than that?)

Goals and ambitions

Maybe one of the reasons that I let this habit slip was because I never made any goals to do with playing the ukulele. It’s kind of hard to, if you’re not at school and working your way up through each grade, or learning with a professional tutor. Maybe having a concrete goal will help to keep this habit going.

In the short term, I’d like to complete each goal as it comes on the app that I’m using to learn. It’s a simple goal that could be completed relatively quickly, but writing about it, and telling the world, might just do the trick and convince me that this is now something that needs doing.

In the long term? That’s tricky; I’ve never thought that far ahead when it comes to this. But if I had to choose something, it might be nice to be good enough to play in front of a crowd one day, whether that’s paid or not.

As for the mid term? My goal here is to play as often as I can, without getting dishevelled about missing a day, or ruining any kind of playing streaks – like the ones that I’ve built with Duolingo.

Do you play an instrument? What are your music-playing goals?


While you’re here, you might also like…

Completing the DofE at age 25

I ranked the best productivity memes so you don’t have to

How to take Cornell Notes (up your study game)

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