Musicians Know How To Play The Long Game

Musicians know how to play the long game.

Their deep pursuit of perfection and bringing beautiful things into the world puts them on the relentless path of trying to attain the unattainable.

Their hero’s journey is one of many ups and downs and it often takes years to settle into a creative path that is sustainable and also brings them joy.

I attribute most of my long-game tendencies to being a classical musician. The hours (and hours) of time I spent perfecting my craft on the bassoon gave me the incredible life skills of persistence and long-term goal setting.

There is nothing more humbling (and gratifying) than spending ten weeks on six measures of music in order to perfectly execute a passage at 144 beats per minute when I could only perfectly execute the same passage at 120 beats per minute at the beginning of the process.

To most, the change from 120 to 144 beats per minute is imperceptible. However, to a practicing musician who is striving to attain a job in an orchestra, playing the long game by honing in on short segments of music for long periods of time is the only way to find success.

The delayed gratification that comes from working on something over a long period of time is a superpower that highly trained musicians are lucky to have.

Musicians inherently understand the time it takes to create something beautiful so they are willing to stick with their plan over a long period of time and see it through to the end.

The most successful musicians I know are individuals who can successfully take those long-game lessons they learned in the studio and apply them to the arc of their career.

Here are five ways the long game approach is good for more than perfecting the Marriage of Figaro on the bassoon:

  1. Dedication to the process. Being a musician involves hours of dedicated time to a well-thought-out process. Whether it’s building a following one raving fan at a time or launching an annual music festival in your hometown, playing the long game has the potential to have an incredible payoff if you are dedicated to a consistent, focused process, and comfortable with the ups and downs that come with reaching your goal over time.

  2. Greater job satisfaction: When you apply the long-game approach to your career, you are more likely to choose roles that align with your values and interests. This can lead to a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment in your work. It also gives you perspective on why you are working on a particular aspect of your job. I have found that many of the most menial tasks I was given over the years that seemed in no way to be connected to my career goals are actually things that continue to serve me deeply today.

  3. Improved career growth: Bassoonists have to worry about reeds. Any serious bassoonist in college probably spends ten hours a week just on reeds because they know that the investment of time earlier in their career will save them hours of time later in life. When you take a long-game approach, you are more likely to invest in your skills and education. This can lead to better career growth opportunities and advancement over time.

  4. Increased resilience: Musicians prepare for months in order to stand on stage behind a screen and perform for two minutes at an audition. There is no choice but to take a long-game approach when it comes to winning a job in an orchestra. If you take that same approach in your career it means you will be less likely to be derailed by setbacks or failures. Try to view every setback as an opportunity for growth and learning, and use them to move forward.

  5. Expanded network: The people I got to know while in the process of building my career as a musician became life-long friends. The bond that I felt with people going through the same journey as me was deep and I’m still in touch with many of the people I got to know in college. When you take a long-term approach, you are more likely to build strong relationships with colleagues, mentors, and other professionals in your field. This can lead to new opportunities and insights throughout your career.

If you are a musician, you are built different. Use your superpower of playing the long game in the studio to your advantage when building your career.

Photo Credit: Diego Jimenez

Like what you read here? Join my newsletter below to receive weekly tips just like this, designed to help creatives like you navigate the most important decisions in your life and career.  

Published by

Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

One thought on “Musicians Know How To Play The Long Game

Leave a Reply