Author: Campbell, Bruce

Why Play Music

Occasionally, while schlepping a double bass up a flight of stairs after a three hour drive, I ask myself why Iím doing this. Iím sure many a 10-year-old asked the same question while practicing piano lessons on a sunny day while friends are outside enjoying the sun. I must have asked this, struggling to learn to play guitar while my fingers were small and tender. There are times when the risk/reward ratio makes no sense.

But then, Iíll remember what itís like to be at a jam session with friendly pickers and just reveling in the joy of creating music with those people. Iíll remember the quiet satisfaction I get in slowly mastering a difficult lick after hours of practice. And without thinking about it, I get contemplative peace when absent mindedly pluck a guitar or mandolin with no set purpose.

So, these are the reasons we play music.

The sense of satisfaction over mastering an intricate set of small motor maneuvers, and then, imbuing those motions with the lilt and feeling the song requires. Thereare not many better mind/spirit/body confluences than that.

Thereís the camaraderie of playing music with friends. This is possibly the most precious aspect, for it has paid off countless times in decades of playing music. The joy is irrespective of musical ability. I know Iíve had fun doing this from the moment I picked up an instrument, and I know it couldnít have sounded good to anyone but the folks in the jam circle. Of course I want to improve continuously, and of course I like playing better rather than worse, butís itís fun been regardless of where my skill level lay.

Thereís a ďshow offĒ aspect. I was born a ham, and always loved being the center of attention, so growing up in the midst of the British Invasion, playing in a band was obvious. I insist Iíve matured over the years. I switched from years of being the flashy lead guitar hero to the relative obscurity of the bluegrass penalty box (bass), but I do like it when I get to sing a song or two, just as Ringo must have loved his turn at the mic.

Recently I was reminded of another reason to play music, and I had nearly forgotten how important this is: when you play music, you affect people. You affect them in interesting and sometimes miraculous ways. In a profound example, I have played at convalescent homes and witnessed folks who seemed to be beyond the ability to communicate or walk, rise and sing when the music touched them.

Watch little kids when they listen to music Ė especially live music, and their reaction is heartfelt, immediate and complete devoid of self-conscious thought. They laugh, they clap, they smile and they dance Ė what better reason to play music is there?

Posted:  10/31/2012

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email