Musician Survival Guide

11 WAYS TO HELP MUSICIANS COPE WITH PANDEMIC LIFE

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It’s no secret: living with Covid is hard and exhausting. This is especially true for creative people. What gives us purpose in life suddenly evaporated. Life has become desolate. How are you supposed to mentally bounce back from that?

As a PhD music student, composer, percussionist, and educator, I was (and honestly, sometimes still am) in this boat. Within one day, my entire world changed. Suddenly it was hard to focus on research, write, or compose. Playing an instrument didn’t help me feel better. I lost touch with a lot of friends. Rehearsals that I had planned several months in advance vanished. Knowing when I would be able to see my students so that I can get on their nerves about their technique. Again – how do you bounce back from that?

I have compiled a list of things that have helped me over time. Adding things one by one from this list, when I felt I was ready, has helped me cope with lockdown living.

1. BREATHE AND MEDITATE

A lot of the time when people say ‘breathe’, they mean three deep breaths (in and out). If that works for you and you haven’t done that in a while, here is your reminder! If you’re like me and this method doesn’t consistently help you, then maybe a breathing gym would work for you!

What is a breathing gym, you might ask? It is an activity that is typically used by woodwind and brass players to help increase breath support when they are playing instruments.

“Ah come on Lindsey, I don’t play the clarinet so why are you suggesting this?”

One result of the breathing gym is steady and controlled breaths, AND it teaches you how to breathe even deeper (spoilers: it’s not by increasing the air in your chest or raising your shoulders). Also, it gets you moving! Here is a link to one (there are several you can choose to do or mix it up)!

After you breathe, it is important to at least attempt to clear your mind with some mediation. Don’t fancy ‘sitting around and doing nothing’ for 10 minutes because you have things you have to get done? THAT’S OKAY! You can meditate for as little as two minutes and it will still do wonders for your brain. You can search YouTube for some meditation music if that will help, or find yourself a nice, quiet spot. There’s no wrong way to meditate; if it works for you, that’s what’s important.

2. GO FOR WALKS

Especially when it’s raining. Staying inside all day is not healthy. It is important to get some fresh air, and – if it decides to grace us with its presence – some sun. So if we need sun, why go on a walk while it’s raining? A lot of the overcast, wet, chilly weather lends itself to napping, not doing much, and lacking motivation for some people. That sounds great for a day or two, but is unhealthy long term. Grab yourself some orange juice (or anything with vitamin D) and go for a stroll! Even if it’s just to the end of the street or around the block, this will do wonders for your brain and physical health.

3. LISTEN TO NEW MUSIC

This one is important for several reasons! This experience could be inspiring, exciting, or even eye-opening. You could listen to another local artist to support your local scene. Perhaps asking your friends/fellow musicians what their favourite song is right now. You could also completely switch genres and listen to something that you didn’t like previously or have never heard before! Have you ever listened to symphonic metal? Electronic swing? Contemporary classical music? Soca? Lowercase? Bluegrass? Even if you aren’t a huge fan of a genre, it could still be inspiring (or also give you ideas of what you don’t like or want to incorporate in your music). And the good news is, there are LOADS to choose from! Just Google a type of music that you would be interested in (or think doesn’t exist) and I’m sure you will be surprised!

Side note: If you need some suggestions on new genres, just email us and we can help you out!

4. SUPPORT OTHER LOCAL ARTISTS

Support is particularly important for everyone right now, whether you are a musician or not. Even if you aren’t able to support local artists financially, you can still show support by sharing their things across social media, attending live streams, leaving positive comments for them, and of course by telling them how much you enjoy their work and why – compliments go a long way. You could also join the Spotify Pre-Save Community on Facebook so that you can pre-save all of the new music of independent Irish artists!

If you are able to help financially, be sure to buy their merch and albums that have your favourite tracks, or ask them how you can donate.

5. GET INVOLVED IN SOMETHING, EVEN IF IT’S JUST BY TUNING IN TO A LIVE STREAM FOR 15 MINUTES

This can be a little bit broad and might require some searching, but try to get involved in something that you would enjoy that doesn’t have a massive commitment (this is so that if you miss it, you won’t be hard on yourself). Perhaps find a musician that does live streams every Wednesday at 7 pm or an artist who gives a weekly shoutout over the weekend. Maybe there is a group of musicians who want to put on a virtual festival and they need volunteers. This also doesn’t have to be music-related! If you’re a gamer, hop on Twitch to find a live stream of your favourite video game or YouTube tips on how to enable beast mode on something that has held you back (the Gigantamax Snorlax in Pokémon Shield are giving me a run for my money!). If none of this appeals to you, maybe there is a way to get involved in a group on Facebook – there is a group for everything! The possibilities of getting involved are endless.

6. LEARN SOMETHING NEW ABOUT MUSIC

A beautiful thing about music is its diversity. There are people from all walks of life that get involved in music in different ways and it is impossible to know and learn everything.

It is not difficult to learn something new about something we all are passionate about. An easy start is of course learning about the history of music. Though quite vast, it is easy to pinpoint something to research; for example, the history of accordions or the piano. If history isn’t your thing, that’s okay! You can still learn new things about music! Like….

– A new musical concept (Why do some chord progressions work better than others? What are triads? What are Picardy Thirds? What is a pitch class?)
– A new notation system (lead sheets, Nashville Number System, traditional sheet music, contemporary notation)
– A new scale or mode (To name a few: Pentatonic, Harmonic Minor, Arabic, Whole-Tone, and Raga)
– Extremes or fun facts about an instrument (How do you make a violin sound like a seagull? What does it sound like if you use an ebow on piano strings? What happens if you use a bow on a guitar?)
– Traditions or instruments of which you are not familiar (Konnakol, Native American music, a theremin, the cuíca, and the dulcimer, for example)

This section also has endless possibilities and can even end up being a form of inspiration.

7. WRITE NEW STUFF, ESPECIALLY IF IT’S CRAP

A very important aspect of being an artist is feeling the need to create. It’s understandable if you have lost motivation or don’t feel like the creative juices are flowing as often as they were before Covid. One thing that has helped me is to write a little something every week (like a short melody for 4-bar chord progression) – even if it’s total crap and it’s something that I will never use. If you are having trouble writing, check out Ana Duran’s article on how to combat writer’s block.

If you don’t want to commit to writing something down, even a small improvisation session could be useful for helping creative juices, or even just to keep notes under your fingers. If you need some inspiration, check out Dario Rodighiero’s YouTube channel (Dublin-based film composer, pianist, and improviser).

8. COLLABORATE WITH OTHER MUSICIANS AND SONGWRITERS

This can mean a lot of things! Perhaps you want to experiment with a new genre or are having trouble writing lyrics. Maybe you want to write something instrumental or experiment with instrumentation. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other musicians, songwriters, and composers to collaborate on a project! It can be inspirational, different, and motivational. Sometimes having someone around that has a similar goal to yours goes a long way in creating new content.

9. DO SOMETHING YOU WOULDN’T NORMALLY DO

There are many people who have viewed Covid as a reset button on life, and that includes trying new things. This could be simple things such as learning to draw, crochet, exercise, cook, or mixing up some new cocktails. You could also take a free online course in something that interests you, or volunteer your time in an area that you are passionate about (it doesn’t have to be music-related).

10. FIND (AND KEEP) THE BALANCE

This one takes some trial and error – so please be kind to yourself during this process. It is important to make time for yourself and things that you enjoy or make you happy – sometimes it can be hard finding that balance. If something becomes too much, it’s okay to admit that and take a step back. If you’re tired and want to try something new, it’s okay to admit that and take a step back. If something like social media or constantly checking your phone is draining you and you need a break…. It’s okay to admit that and take a step back. When I was trying to find my balance, I had to remind myself that in order to be my best self for others, I needed to take care of me first.

11. COMMUNICATE

And finally, don’t forget to communicate with people that you love at some point. This could be a partner, family, friends, co-workers, or just humans in general. Just by asking someone how they are doing could have a positive impact. If you’re feeling down and you communicate that with someone, they could either help or just listen – whatever you need. Sometimes, you could be that person for someone else. These are unusual times for everyone, and sometimes just hearing someone’s voice or face on a computer screen makes a huge difference.

It’s the little things that make lockdown life a little more tolerable, so don’t let them go by the wayside.

Written by Lindsey Vincent
23 November 2020

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