Playing music has been the greatest creative tool and force in my life. It’s made my life better, my experiences richer, and my thinking skills sharper. On top of that, it has also introduced me to new friends, given me a new appreciation for my own Jewish heritage and culture, and has made me a stronger listener and presenter; my life is significantly better for it.
I’m naturally a huge music geek - always looking for a new tune or band, which motivates me into picking up the guitar, bass, and synthesizer. However, I don’t think you have to be a music maven to start playing an instrument, or to see the benefits of it in your life. As Fast Company writes in their article on the revolutionary thinking design firm IDEO’s promotion of jazz school, learning to think and play music with other musicians “can unlock innovation [much like design thinking], and music schools may become drivers of a new economy.”
Fast Company and IDEO are presenting a fascinating idea: learning music as a driver for innovation. I agree with the thinking behind their recommendation. Here’s why:
As a musician, you’ll gain a new creative channel, including learning to write your own songs. It's not so hard!. Songwriting is a creative release, and from a design perspective, it’s an iterative learning process. New songs are prototyped, tested, and refined, often with an audience, over time. No songs appear fully formed, and trial and error is highly promoted. As a musician, you’ll progress in your craft by writing and playing, hearing what works and what doesn’t. You’ll see how a cool riff or chord progression can take on a life of its own, and release more creative juices in your head.
You’ll become a better, more active listener. The more you listen for chord changes, pitch, and melody, the more you’ll start hearing the “jazz” in your everyday conversations; when to listen, when to speak, and how to modulate your conversations, moving thoughtfully from one topic to another. This skill is helpful in your personal life (your significant other will thank you!), and also in your professional role, where you’ll build stronger working relationships grounded in active listening.
You’ll learn how to play well with others. In a band setting, the lead player knows when to step forward, and supporting players know how to hold this player up. The musical decisions are made as a unit, and everyone has a chance to contribute at the right moments. You’ll learn how to build successful collaborations because you’ll be doing it constantly through the songs you learn to play together.
You’ll gain confidence by playing live. To paraphrase Aristotle (who played the lyre): you learn best by doing. If you are new to presenting in public, there is nothing like getting on stage and playing a live show. You’ll learn how to be comfortable in front of an audience, how to deal with the unexpected and pivot where needed and how to channel the adrenaline flowing in your system to work in your favor. These are skills and experiences that will stick with you. And who knows, you may even enjoy it.
You’ll learn more about yourself and your own cultural DNA. As you play more, you’ll look to branch out and discover influential artists and trends that open your mind to what is possible and how music has evolved. The Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, a project of Reboot, was established based on the belief that Jewish history sounds different when you know where to start listening. The Idelsohn Society has given a second life to influential Jewish American cultural trends and artists through releases like It's A Scream How Levine Does the Rhumba: The Latin-Jewish Musical Story 1940s-1980s and Black Sabbath: The Secret Musical History of Black-Jewish Relations, which have opened tens of thousands of music fans to these key and often forgotten trends and artists. Dust-to-Digital, Light in the Attic Records, and Numero Group (who released the amazing God God! Soul Messages from Dimona [Israel]) are also great archival record labels worth checking out.
I gained an even deeper appreciation for my own culture through record shopping and learning about the artists and trends that have emerged from the periphery. From Jewish punk rock icons (Richard Hell, The Ramones, Carrie Brownstein/Sleater-Kinney) to soul/funk burners (The Ghetto Brothers) to “bagels and bongos” jazz (Irving Fields) to Israeli psychedelic rock (The Churchills, Shmulik Kraus), there are rich, diverse, and really talented Jews making music in all genres. I gain a new pride and appreciation for Jewish identity and continuity related to music making, which influenced my own guitar playing and thoughts around what Jewish music could be.
So enough talk! Go to your nearest music shop, pick up an instrument that speaks to you (it doesn’t need to be expensive), and start making some noise. And let us know what you learn about yourself by doing it!
Dan Fast is the Manager of Special Projects for Reboot, responsible for the creation and launch of new products and projects to support Reboot’s next chapter of inventiveness. Dan built his experience in community development, strategic planning, and program design and management through his roles at Birthright Israel NEXT, UJA-Federation of New York, and Young Judaea. His passion for music and entrepreneurism led him to co-founding Mercado Sound, an educational travel startup that explores global cultures through the lens of music. Dan’s mixology skills have gotten him published on Serious Eats and comparisons to Tom Cruise in Cocktail.