Learn To Play

Learn To Play

This is a guest piece written by Kip Robisch. 

When I was eight years old, a friend of our family sat me behind his gold sparkle Slingerland drum set and said, “There you go.”

Since then, I have found through drumming not just a metronome but a compass—a righting agent for my life that has provided me with a range of feeling from meditative relaxation to physical exhaustion. I learned coordination and independence, studied drumming styles from five continents, and spent thousands of hours figuring out complex combinations. After his time as the drummer for the Grateful Dead, Mickey Hart created a solo career and wrote two books on the physical and spiritual value of drumming, its healing power, its energy, and the complicated musicality that has emerged over time from the world’s oldest musical instrument.

According to both the National Association of State Boards of Education and the Education Fund, you are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement if you study the arts. If you study music you do better in math—the subject with which our technology and sweatshop addicted nation is currently obsessed. The Morrison Institute for Public Policy provides statistics that schools with music and art programs have lower discipline problems and pay dividends, including financial ones, for the added funding they require.

Meanwhile, federal funding for the arts runs about $250 million per year, while funding for the National Science Foundation alone is more than $5 billion. From 2005 to 2010, nationwide access to music training in school dropped by about 50%.

You are part of a school that not only offers but encourages that you study art and music. Do it. Learn to play an instrument beyond the piano lessons you took at age seven. Learn to draw or paint or sculpt. Sing.

No one associated with education has ever believed that mathematics was a bad idea or a waste of time, because it isn’t. You should take science classes and understand that fact and reason are more redeemable than guess work. But without the time I’ve spent behind a drum set or sitting at an African drum, my physical, intellectual, and spiritual being would be critically lacking. I have a list of life experiences that have come from a culture of drummers all over the world who know what it means both to study and to play.

There’s no sure-fire job, no safe path. You’re more likely to have a six-figure salary waiting for you out of college if you learn to design helicopters than if you want to be a classical composer, but that’s not a guarantee. And if there’s a classical composer inside you, then you should have the chance to be that composer and have a happy life, maybe at $40k a year, maybe with a day job that pays the bills until you can get to some staff paper and write.

In your lifetime, try to make something beautiful other than a baby. And if that’s not your skill set, then spend some time appreciating and practicing the art in your life that you might be thinking is just something that babies do before they “grow up.” Your life is not limited by math, it’s expanded by it. It’s not proscribed by science, it’s enriched. And so with art. A civil engineer can tell you how to build a bridge. A musician can give you a reason to cross it.

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