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  • Writer's pictureSarah Donkin

When Your Guitar Gets Lonely

A guitar in the corner of a room.
My lonely guitar in a corner.

I’ve got another confession to make (I’m your fool): over the past semester, I haven’t been playing music on my own nearly as much as I want to. For a long time, my guitar was my go-to when I had a spare moment. My songwriting notebook was almost never closed. I would hum melodies under my breath in class and write down the solfege so I could remember them later.

Lately, I have still been doing some songwriting and playing some guitar. But this past semester in particular, I wasn’t playing as often. I had a few moments where I realized I hadn’t picked up my guitar in over a week. I noticed at one point that the calluses on my left fingers were starting to soften, just a little bit, which led to a mild existential crisis.

There was a good reason for it. As I finished my final semester of college (yep, I graduated y’all), worked on my job search, and kept up with internships, jobs, relationships, and commuting 45 minutes one way to school three times a week (or more), music simply couldn’t be as big a part of my life for a little while.

So how do you cope when one of your passions falls by the wayside? I have always struggled because I have a hard time settling on one hobby or interest. I love weightlifting, writing, singing, playing guitar, and cooking. Most of these things are not easy to multitask - at least, not with each other.

One of the things that helped me the most was reminding myself that the situation was temporary. Now that I have a job lined up, I am not pouring hours of my free time into searching for and applying for jobs, going on interviews, and questioning my life choices. Now that I have graduated, I don’t need to spend free time on homework and studying. While my eight-to-five belongs to my job, I get to decide how I want to spend my free time. And naturally, some of that free time belongs to music.

Another important thing to remember is that a little is better than nothing. When I started to notice my calluses fading, there was a part of me that was ashamed. That shame made me feel like it wasn’t worth picking up my guitar when I did have the time - almost like I didn’t deserve to still consider myself a musician if I couldn’t put as much time in.

However, by fighting through those feelings of guilt, I was able to take fifteen minutes here, twenty minutes there, and occasionally longer. This helped me to not fall completely out of practice, and even write a few more songs over the last few months. It also helped me remember why I enjoy making music, and that it’s okay to play music for myself and not specifically with an audience in mind sometimes.

I also tried to keep in mind that I was still participating in music and creativity, even when I didn’t have a lot of time for my solo music. This included singing in choir and for my voice lessons, and writing poems, stories, and other semi-creative pieces for classes or for myself.

I was also still humming melodies and scratching out the solfege, thinking of lyric ideas and typing them out in my phone, and occasionally writing full songs. Basically, I was doing better than I felt like I was doing.

A lot of creative people work in several different mediums or genres, and there is nothing wrong with having one medium take the backseat for a little bit while another one becomes the main focus, whether by necessity or choice. It was much easier for me to take a little time between classes to write on my laptop or in a notebook than to haul my guitar around and try to find a place to play during short breaks on campus.

It’s not always easy for musicians who work or study full-time in a different field. We have to balance family, friends, work, household responsibilities, other hobbies, and music.

However, that’s the case for anyone with hobbies that can easily take up a lot of time. Recognizing that it’s okay to take time off for other things, or to have a limited amount of time per week to spend on a creative hobby, is essential to having a balanced and happy life as a creative person.

As I enter a new stage of life, I know that it won’t always be easy to keep up with my music. But I’m planning to do what I can and remember why I play music: because I love it. It isn’t a chore or a requirement. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s a way for me to express myself creatively.

Even if I can’t practice everyday, I can still take time here and there to make some noise and write some songs. I can’t wait to see what kinds of song ideas I get from the new experiences I’m going to have.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a guitar that needs tuning. This evening, that takes priority.

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