4 things my non-musician dad taught me about music

A father's influence on an artist doesn't require sharing the same profession

I'm Allen, author of God and Gigs. I'm passionate about helping everyday artists excel in everyday life, by helping them strengthen their faith, improve their careers and deepen their relationships. You're invited to join this community of faith-focused creatives, musicians and artists by signing up for my newsletter at godandgigs.com/signup.

“Dad, you’re out of tune.”

I never had the guts to say these words out loud, but I was tempted when I heard my dad whistling. He has a funny habit of whistling along to tunes that he has never heard, totally missing the melody, and then claiming that the songwriter / singer has it wrong. It used to bother me to death. Now, I don’t mind so much.

My father has supported my music career from the very beginning. But I think he’d be the first to admit he’s not a musician in any sense of the word. That doesn’t mean, however, that he hasn’t had a profound influence on how I live out my chosen profession.

Here’s 4 things my non-musician dad taught me about music.

You don’t have to be a musician to be good at music.

While my dad might whistle out of tune, he has no problem holding down a note. He’ll even take a solo with the Men’s Chorus at my hometown church now and again. I’m sure, as my mom and I taught music professionally, that he often laughed at our attempts to get choirs to sing correctly and instrumentalists to play the right notes. He never struggled with finding a bass line or finding a harmony. This reminds me that music isn’t all about showcasing my training or relying on my knowledge. I just need to be good at what I do and let my talent speak for itself.

Music should tell a story

My dad loves singer/songwriters. I can still see all the album covers under our armoire in the living room – covers of James Taylor, Neil Diamond, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Lionel Richie, Harold Melvin, Earth Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder and many others. Each time I took out one of his records and played it (yes, we still played records back then), I would be entranced by the stories these singers told. I can still sing all the words to Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle.” My father’s understanding that music should tell a story awakens in me every time I play a solo or compose a melody. I have learned that whether vocal or instrumental, music should touch emotions and take you on a journey. And it’s all because my dad exposed me to real songs and thoughtful songwriting.

Discipline is the key to mastery

While my dad may not have practiced an instrument, he did teach me how to practice. Having graduated at the top of his class from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dentistry, he earned a reputation as the best dentist in our hometown through long hours of study, an immense amount of patience and his meticulous attention to detail. Nothing seems to get past him. I know it was that same dogged approach to getting things right that soaked into my musical preparation. If my father could spend hours at the office making sure things were correct, I certainly could sit at a piano for hours and make sure that my technique and memorization were solid. I’m grateful for that example of discipline leading to mastery.

Smile when you miss a note

At my high school graduation, my father presented me with a little book of wise sayings. Of course, being the detailed person he is, he edited and added some of his own. I remember well the phrase labeled number 501 1/2 – “Smile when you miss a note, there’s always another one coming.” He would often chastise me when I obsessed over the mistakes I made during performances, and reminded me to say “Thank You” when people complimented my playing, instead of deflecting and responding with an account of my errors. He was making it clear that I should not spend so much energy fretting about the past. Instead of getting caught up in what I did wrong, I should be enjoying the moment and living in the present. My dad’s attitude has always been positive, forward thinking, and focused on the good in any situation. It has taken a while, but slowly his attitude has permeated my approach to music. Now, when I slip off a scale or bang out a bad rhythm, I smile, laugh a bit, and look forward to the next note.

My dad has never analyzed a symphony or recorded tracks in a studio. But because of his influence, I can say, in a way, he does so every time I do. Without his guidance, I would have not become the musician I am today.

For that, I’ll gladly allow him to whistle anyway he wants.

Share your thoughts:Was your father , mother or guardian an artist? If not, what major creative lessons did you learn from them? If they were artists by trade, do you think you had an advantage? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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