Zach Spindler-Krage: Music has a way of teaching life's lessons

Lighten up, face challenges and enjoy the ride -- it's a good philosophy for learning cello or living life.

Zach Spindler-Krage, Post Bulletin Teen Columnists February 2020. (Ken Klotzbach/
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When you first begin learning an instrument, the process is straightforward. It’s not easy, but there is always direction.

First, you learn to read the notes. Then, you learn to play the notes. Finally, you learn to play the notes in a way that captivates the audience. While in this process, the motivation comes from the constant progression. You hear yourself getting better every day, and there is great satisfaction in finally being able to play a piece of music that you weren’t able to play the day before.

However, there comes a time when the progress slows, and you no longer hear yourself improving. It's hard to tell if you genuinely aren’t getting any better or if it’s a misperception, but either way, the motivation to practice quickly evaporates. The same idea can be applied to any activity: When you aren’t seeing results, it’s hard to stay consistent.

I have been playing cello for 12 years now, and I have experienced hindrances every step of the way. There are days when I love to practice, and there are days when I don’t even want to pick up my cello. There are days when I can hear myself improving, and there are days when I make the same mistakes I did two years ago. Despite the inconsistency and frustration, there is one unwavering certainty: I always learn something.

For the majority of my 12 years of lessons, I learned specifically about music. How to prepare for an audition. How to perform with an accompanist. How to succeed in an orchestra. There will always be more for me to learn about music and playing cello, but the past few years of cello lessons have taught me less about music and more about life.


“Loosen and listen.” Tension is a musician’s worst enemy, ignoring yourself is a close second. The same can be said about life — both literally and figuratively. Letting things come naturally is often more effective than forcing them to happen. I have applied this advice to test taking, public speaking, and athletics. Sometimes being in control requires letting go.

“Walk straight into the fire.” When you come to a difficult passage of music, the best option is often to try it bravely and clean up the mess after. There isn’t time for hesitation or second guessing. Life plants the same types of hurdles that music does, and the key is to jump over them, not walk timidly around the side. Walking into the fire may leave you burned, but it is better for you to meet the fire than for the fire to meet you. Confidence is half the battle when overcoming a challenge.

“Appreciate what you’re doing well while fixing the things that need work.” Instead of being overcritical or pessimistic, take time to enjoy the music. Remember why you’re playing in the first place: It isn’t to be perfect, it is to create something that is enjoyable for people to listen to. Life has plenty of mistakes that need fixing. Once a mistake is fixed, though, take a moment to revel in the feeling before transitioning to the next mistake. Music will never be flawless, and neither will life, but the minor flaws shouldn’t distract from the overall beauty.

When I think about my cello playing, I don’t always hear myself making progress. However, I have come to realize that I may be focusing on the wrong type of progress. My musical abilities don’t improve as quickly as they once did, but I’m learning more now than I did then. The longer I take lessons, the more I realize that they are not just music lessons, they are life lessons.

Zach Spindler-Krage will be a senior at Mayo High School. Send comments on teen columns to Jeff Pieters,

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