To some people, self-discipline is a term that carries unpleasant connotations. It may mean “forcing” yourself to do something you hate to do. It may also mean suppressing feelings or ideas, because they are not acceptable to someone else. To me, self-discipline is generally the result of doing something because you love to do it. For example, if you have an important audition with a really hot band, exhibiting the self-discipline required for getting out of bed on time will be no problem. You will probably be awake before the alarm goes off, because you want to be there on time.
Drummers sometimes say things like: “I hate to practice. I just don’t have the self-discipline to do it every day.” What this attitude suggests to me is that drummers who feel this way most likely never had the benefit of an imaginative teacher. Imaginative teachers present practice ideas that are both fun and challenging. When something is fun to do, the self-discipline part becomes easy. If it isn’t for you, don’t be too quick to blame yourself. If you are taking lessons and the practice ideas being presented are dull, boring, and irrelevant, check with some other students. Find out what they are practicing. Maybe you need a teacher who is more creative and more in tune with what your needs are. It never hurts to do a little research.
Self-discipline also relates to equipment. Is your equipment in good shape? Are the pedals well oiled? Are your drums clean? Do you have good cases? If you are using electronic equipment, it has to be maintained; there is nothing more frustrating on a concert than an electronic failure. One worn cord that should have been repaired or replaced can render a good piece of gear useless.
Self-discipline cannot be developed by deliberately doing things you hate to do. However, by realizing that something truly is necessary, you can minimize much of the resistance and agony in the situation. For example, you do have to have a driver’s license, and in order to get it, you do have to take the test. Most of us don’t enjoy the procedure, but we realize that it is necessary.
Self-discipline is the cornerstone of responsibility. We all know people who are always late, always unprepared, always borrowing money, and always forgetting appointments. “Always” is a strong word, but when you think about it, it is always the same people who are late or who have overslept. If the group you are in is to be successful, everyone will have to show up at rehearsals on time. This must be understood, because although playing clubs and concerts is fun, if the rehearsals are not productive, then most likely there will be fewer gigs and fewer concerts.
If you hope to be a successful musician, people must be able to count on you. They must view you as a responsible professional. If you get a reputation for being “unreliable,” you can forget about studio work: Too much money is at stake. Producers will hire someone they know they can count on. Remember, there are a lot of great players who are responsible.
The idea is to make self-discipline work for you, instead of struggling against the idea of it. For example, make a list of the things you would like to accomplish in the music business. Next, make a list of the things you will most likely have to do in order to achieve your goals. Then, make a list of things that you can start working on right away. If you choose what it is you want to do and you decide how to go about it, then self-discipline is no problem. Almost all of us will work just a little harder to do things our own way.
Update your lists from time to time. Music changes, your needs change, trends change—everything changes. This is the reason for keeping your goals up to date. Discipline involves thinking and planning. It requires making the effort to think about what you do before you do it.
A list does one other valuable thing. It makes what you are planning to do “visible.” You can look at the things you have to do and number them in order of importance. If you try to keep all of it in your head, you most likely won’t remember everything. For example, if you go for your first drum lesson with a new teacher, make a list of questions you would like to ask. In this way, you are organized, and you won’t have to be disturbed later because you “forgot” to ask something.
I have heard it said about music that: “The rules free you. They do not restrict you.” I believe this is true in the sense that, if you know the “rules” of music, you have unlimited choices. Your options are wide and varied. If you don’t know the rules, then your choices are more limited. It’s up to you to decide how free you want to be.
Self-discipline also involves being organized. It’s the ability to keep your checkbook in order so that you don’t bounce checks. It means remembering to buy gas so that you don’t run out on the way to the club. It means making a list of things you have to do that day. It means making a list of tunes, or a list of managers or record companies to contact. It means remember- ing to buy drumsticks and drumheads. In other words, “organization” takes the “drudgery” out of self-discipline. Through self-discipline, you become “self-organized.”
In business, I have learned that discipline and organization are everything. The same is true for any top band on tour. I always carry a pad and pen in my briefcase, because I have to remember appointments, names, phone numbers, and addresses. On tour, the band has airline tickets, hotel reservations, sound checks, equipment checks, and interviews to deal with. None of this can happen without discipline and organization. (If you are studying music in college, take a few business courses as well. They will show you ways to become organized.)
Self-discipline is the by-product of doing something you want to do or something you understand you must do. Organization is the result of self-discipline. Confidence is the result of organization. A relaxed attitude is the result of confidence, and fun is the result of a relaxed attitude. Have fun!