Never mind the subject line - progress can't be measured in years, at least where music is concerned. You can't cleanly divide the lines between December and January and call it anything of worth. It's an ongoing process that has to stand up to the larger curve of our existence. In other words - Happy New Year, yeah-yeah-yeah, get on with it.
Many folks approach me and say that I must be blessed or gifted or something. That's very nice of them. In my head and heart, I know it's a constant struggle to stay on the @#$%^ horse. And even then, we didn't learn to ride until late in life. That's the "royal we" there.
Sure, I was playing clarinet in elementary school, for what it's worth (nearly nothing, except the death of my cello-playing dreams. What I get for being born to a woodwind-playing father. But I kid. Ha-hah.)
And sure, I continued to play clarinet all through junior high school and then, finally, high school, where the dreaded stake finally was driven through the impetus and skidded to a bloody stop before I could claim my diploma. The week after graduation, I was suddenly a bassist.
How do you like me now, papa? I liked strings from the get-go. You can't fight city hall or some shit.
In any case - it took some evolution. First bass guitar, then dalliance with guitar. Much keyboard mushing before the mountain dulcimer came along and said 'howdy' two years after I narrowly escaped the five-year plan. Though I would come to relish my wind-blowing tendencies later in life - it was such a relief to pluck, pick, strum and bend my way into a whole other existence after formal music education.
But seriously, it wasn't until much later in life that the strings made any sense to me. It was never taught, there were no tutors or coaches, and I was in my 30's before I could find my way around a stringed instrument knowing the notes, chords, scales and whatnot.
So, what seems like natural ability is actually something fought for, scraped for and seemingly out of reach if it wasn't for the stubborn and perpetual motion that made me cry "don't care! will do! won't quit!"
That, in itself, is part of what anyone who seeks to succeed in music needs - a determination to make it work. Like hypnotism, it only works if the hypnotized is willing. And if you're a musician who wants to be a better musician, you'll only get there if you believe that it is possible.
There is no easy road, unless you're a genius of some sort. You must fight for every gain and struggle for every bit. Like anything else in life, what you want takes effort. But if what you want is what you love, then the effort is not a big deal whatsoever.
What was this year about, anyway?
For me, it was the continuing effort to "stay on the horse." Despite what some of you might think, if I don't keep practicing what I know, it will soon dissipate and become yesterday's memories. It's not instilled in my fingers or the core of my being like some folks who have performed and played all their lives. Though I had an early start - I didn't connect with the music until very late in life, which means a) I'm a late-bloomer and b) it gets harder all the time to maintain even what I've fought so long to obtain. Keep that in mind as you traipse down the path.
So, what might the new year hold? The same old concoction, my dear friends. Keep practicing the basics; your scales, your chords, your inversions, your techniques. Listen to music that you're not familiar with, experiment with time signatures that are strange and foreign. Get out of your comfort zone and try something that you've never tried before. I guarantee that it will all amount to something wonderful as long as you keep it up, revisit it often and take it all as seriously as you possibly can - with the right amount of levity, of course. If it's not fun, it's not really music, is it?