How Humor Can Help Improve Your Playing

When it comes to music, it’s important to laugh.

Learning music is easy for some, difficult for others … but getting better at it requires tough sledding at times. That’s why it’s often helpful to remind ourselves: It’s better to laugh than cry.

There are actually many benefits to maintaining a sense of humor while honing your musical skills. Here are five of them.

1. IT HELPS YOU CREATE LASTING BONDS

Ever heard the term “inside joke”? It’s a rhetorical question, of course. But what the concept points to is the special kind of human connection that comes from sharing a deep, hearty laugh with others. When you joke with a fellow musician or songwriting partner, close bonds can be formed and cemented. That, in turn, is the stuff of long-lasting creative partnerships.

2. IT EASES THE TENSION

Working with another person can be difficult. That seems to be especially true for creative folks, and musicians in particular — whether in the rehearsal room, onstage, or during a recording session. The best way to take the edge off and return the focus to the music (instead of the personalities), is to insert some humor — a strategy that many of the best recording engineers and record producers turn to when things get fraught. You can almost always count on a good laugh to ease the tension!

3. IT CAN PROVIDE A WELCOME DISTRACTION

Picture this: You’re on tour, traveling from one city to the next in a whirlwind of bad hotels, bad food, abbreviated soundchecks and venues with problematic load-ins and iffy sound systems. Then when you finally make your way back home, you’re facing two weeks in a recording studio to track your newest album. In one sense, it’s living the dream. In another, it’s a seemingly endless list of tasks that all require great sums of energy and attention.

How does one cope? The best way to save a drained mind is to find a distraction.

Find a movie, watch a cartoon, picture your fourth grade teacher slipping on a banana peel, whatever you need. But let your mind wander, let it enjoy a spike of joy, a chortle, a guffaw at something — anything — that doesn’t have to do with your musical work schedule. Then, when your mind is refreshed, you can dive back into your passions and play your heart out.

4. IT KEEPS YOU FROM TAKING YOURSELF TOO SERIOUSLY

People who believe their own press releases are bound to eventually fall on their faces and learn the bitter truth: they’re actually no better than anyone else. So laugh at your self-seriousness now and get it over with! That way, you’ll be better equipped to deal with mistakes when you practice, perform or record — something that also helps both personal and musical growth.

In a similar vein, there’s another reason for turning to humor, which is especially important if you’re the front person in a band or find yourself regularly in front of a crowd: People need to see you laugh at yourself. Band leaders, take note: Let the other musicians see you make a fool of yourself occasionally. It will create trust, which only strengthens a unit.

5. IT GIVES YOU A WAY TO LEAVE YOUR COMFORT ZONE

That which is funny is usually a little bit weird or odd too. So often, musicians endeavor to be perfect to the point of rigidity. Using humor to counter this furrowed brow-mentality can be extremely helpful. For example, if you’re the keyboardist in your band, try writing a riff with a kazoo or ukulele instead. Or pick up a trombone just to hear the blurt of sound it can make.

Next time you sit down to write, pen a funny tune instead of your next break-up ballad. Perform a song that might put a smile on your face instead of the same macabre thrash-metal you’re so ready to play normally. Doing the opposite of what’s expected might just shake you out of your comfort zone and open up a world of new musical opportunities.

TRUST THE SCIENCE

Think these ideas are far-fetched? There’s scientific proof that they’re not. Laughter causes a physical reaction in the body that’s utterly beneficial on many different levels. It increases your oxygen intake, which stimulates your heart and lungs, and also triggers the release of endorphins in your brain, which can help to lower anxiety and stress. In addition, it activates the brain’s dopamine reward system, stimulating goal-oriented motivation and long-term memory, which means that humor can improve retention as you learn music theory and technique.

Laughter also helps your immune system’s functionality (great for sleep-deprived touring musicians), increasing mood and aiding personal satisfaction (perfect for the self-doubt that’s invariably going to creep in at times). Every musician — indeed, every creative artist — can benefit from a little laughter. No kidding!

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