The Gift of Playing a Musical Instrument

As the title says, I’m going to discuss the gift of playing a musical instrument. By a musical instrument I mean pretty much anything that can create musical notes from a moonshine jug to a xylophone, and of course the vocal chords. Basically, anything that can carry a tune.

The whole impetus of this article occurred just recently. I’ve been actively playing guitar since 1984. I was practicing a few days ago and when done, had a moment of gratuity. The sound of my last played note was emanating from my amp and I looked at it and the guitar I was playing, then looked at the guitars in stands around me and realized what a gift I’ve been given.

I consider myself “The World’s Okayest Guitarist.” I can play a lot of cover music, have written my own music, and play in an original classic metal band. I feel I can hold my own as a rhythm guitarist. Out of my musician friends, I consider myself average at best. I have so many friends who I feel have phenomenal talent, far superior to my own. However, I’m happy with what I can play, but am striving to be better. That’s where the gift come in.

One of my parlor tricks is using the tape recorder in my head. Most musicians I’ve encountered have this ability, but to the non-musician it’s an astounding trick. I can play a song in my head that I know really well, but have never really played on guitar at all and after some noodling around on the fretboard, figure the song out and start playing it.

My wife recently started to learn the bass guitar and this trick always gets her. She understands how I can do it now as she’s progressing with her playing, but it still frustrates her from time to time. One time I picked up her bass, started messing around, and began playing Pink Floyd’s iconic song “Money” after only a few minutes. I know she’ll get there, it just takes time.

One of the things I love to see when on stage is people playing air guitar. I’m VERY proficient with that instrument myself. However, this got me curious about actual statistics, so please bear with me.

According to the 2014 U.S. Census, there were 318.9 million people living in the U.S. Of those people, 27.8 million (8.72%) played a musical instrument based on a study by Statista for the year 2014. Further research found that this percentage was anyone who played an instrument: students; at home hobbyists; professionals; etc. The U.S. Department of Labor statistic site states that in 2016 there were 40,110 people in the U.S. who filed tax returns with their occupation being a musician of some kind. In other words, these people made a living as musicians.

Normally using stats from different years isn’t proper, but this is just to give us an idea as to what the numbers look like here in the U.S. So, if we use the numbers above, of the 8.72% of people who play a musical instrument, only 0.14% make a living as musicians. THAT number blew my mind. If people are interested, I MIGHT be persuaded to do a study comparing different musical era’s. That would be a lot of work. It just makes me wonder about how the music industry has changed over the decades.

I look at these numbers and think about my band, friends, and other people who get up on stage, play their hearts out, maybe get paid a little something, and then go back to their normal day jobs to fuel their gift. Because that’s what it truly is, a gift. Based on the numbers we’ve derived, we’re not playing music because we get paid, we do it because it’s what we love.

So, if you’re a person who plays a musical instrument no matter what level, remember, you are a rarity. Understand that when you play you are a part of a special group and if you play in a band, orchestra, or even a choral group, cherish those moments when you connect with other people as that’s what it’s really all about.


Google/U.S. Census (Population of people living in the U.S. in 2014)

Statistica (Number of people who play a musical instrument in the U.S. 2014)

U.S. Department of Labor (Amount of people making a living as musicians)

-Scott Duncan - MU Columnist

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