Motivation to practice the guitar on a regular basis for a long period of time, or lack of it, is the main reason mediocre guitar players remain mediocre (or quit) and great guitar players become great.
Persistent motivation far outweighs any “natural talent” one may have.
People gifted with an innate ability to learn more quickly than others (or learn one specific thing, such as music, quicker than others) do exist.
This does not mean though, that all of them have used their gifts wisely and mastered music.
It doesn’t mean either, that all, or most, great guitar players and musicians were born with such gifts.
What all great guitar players do have in common though, is putting in thousands of hours of focused practice. And you need a lot of motivation and persistence to sustain that.
This goes beyond just “will power”.
There are times when you will need to use your willpower but you can’t depend on it all the time.
In order to sustain practicing guitar for a long period of time you will also need to learn how to get yourself on fire to practice, and enjoy the process.
And you don’t need a lot of willpower to do something you enjoy.
Through these 7 steps I will take you through a process to help you gain the ability to practice the guitar and have fun at the same time on a regular basis.
1. Accept you can’t be equally motivated every single day.
The perfect is the enemy of the good.
The process you’ll be going through in this lesson will help you get motivated to practice and have fun, but this will not happen if you obsess too much that you’re not succeeding in having fun.
There will be days when you’re going to be less motivated than other days. There will be days when you’re barely motivated at all. And that’s OK.
What the next steps will show you is how to boost your motivation on a regular basis, but it’s good to accept that there will be days when, either because you’re tired, upset, or whatever other reason, you won’t feel like practicing.
On such days just practice a little. Five minutes of focused practice during such days will make a big difference to your long term progress.
That said, if you follow the next steps, these days should be few and far between.
2. The power of certainty
Though I still practice everyday, and am still miles away from some of my favorite guitar players, during the 25 years I’ve been practicing the guitar, I’m happy with the musical skills I have acquired. (You may want to listen to my guitar solos in this song and this song)
The reason I kept going at it, is that when I picked up the guitar at the age of 15 I had problems in my head.
I was very shy, fearful of life, and had a serious issue with anxiety.
I don’t have any of these issues today, but at 15 they were a serious problem.
And the way I dealt with it back then, was to mentally go to another place “where the grass is green and the girls are pretty“, a world of my own, rather the bleak reality I was living in.
That place was Heavy Metal.
Heavy Metal music and culture became my place of refuge, where problems didn’t exist.
When I listened Black Sabbath, Twisted Sister or Motley Cure, I went to this place, and didn’t want to come back from it.
I also realized that the only way to be in that place 24/7 was to stop being my heroes’ fan and become one of them.
Little did I know that practicing hard and becoming good on an instrument was only the first step towards building a career in music, let alone reach stardom.
I’m glad I didn’t know this and incorrectly believed that becoming a good guitarist was a guarantee of stardom.
I used to believe, with complete certainty, that if I’ll spend enough hours, no matter how much, practicing the guitar, one day I’ll be one of my heroes.
My music career goals have evolved since then. I no longer dream of getting recruited by Twisted Sister!
Nowadays I’m more than happy teaching 15 year olds how to play Twisted Sister, and watch them grow musically. As well as play in a local band.
The goal of being in “that place” most of the time, has been achieved.
And the reason this has happened, is the certainty I had at the age of 15 that I was going to become a Rock star. The fuel behind my fire to practice the guitar and learn music.
What does certainty have to do with motivation?
Uncertainty, insecurity and doubt are the biggest motivation killers.
If you practice the guitar so that “maybe” one day you’ll reach your musical goals, it’s very likely you’ll soon get discouraged and quit.
Why work so hard for something, for a long period of time, so that maybe, just maybe, you will reap the rewards?
Motivation is automatically much higher if you are completely certain that you will achieve your goals.
When you’re backed by the power of certainty, even on those days when you don’t feel motivated at all, there’s the desire for success pressing you to at least pick up your guitar for a few minutes and achieve a small result.
3. A Long term game with short term goals
Some beginner students coming for their first guitar lesson ask me “How long will I be coming for lessons?“
Such a question tells me there’s a mindset issue that needs to be dealt with.
That the student is thinking that learning the guitar is a course of 10 or 20 lessons, and bingo, you can play.
Before we proceed further, I will carefully explain to the student that as long as he keeps finding value in my lessons, and as long as I keep teaching, the answer to his question is – forever.
And that if a time ever comes that he doesn’t find enough value in my lessons, he should look for someone who could give him what he needs, because this journey is never ending.
That said, going to the other extreme and thinking the reward is light years away is also a motivation killer.
Apart from the ultimate dream you want to reach, the fuel behind your fire, you should also set short term goals and enjoy their rewards.
These short term goals should be aligned with your long term goals, but are in themselves a source of regular satisfaction. (Step 7 should give you an idea of what some short term goals can be)
4. Practice what you really need to reach them
Another motivation killer is spending time practicing things you don’t need, or need less of, instead of the ones that really need to be focused on.
The obvious reason why this kills motivation is that your progress will be slow. You’re neither seeing short term results, nor are you on the right path towards reaching your long term goals.
In these guitar exercises I take you through different areas of guitar playing to help you identify what your real needs are.
5. Measure your progress
The above step dealt with doing the right things (and in the right order) to reach your musical goals.
This step deals with measuring your progress because seeing tangible results of your efforts gives you an automatic motivation boost.
There are two easily accessible and useful tools to do this: The metronome and the camera.
Metronome: Whatever it is that you are playing, it is easier to play slower than fast. Once you’re able to play something correctly at a slow tempo (learn it without a metronome first, then switch it on to confirm you’re playing on time), start increasing the speed.
Seeing your ability to play something specific faster, as well as your general ability to play fast going up, and measuring it, will show you evidence that you actually are improving.
The camera: Record yourself regularly and write down the date. You’ll be surprised how much you can improve in just two months of regular focused practice.
Apart from increasing your motivation to practice the guitar, recording yourself, noticing mistakes and correcting them also helps speed up your learning process.
6. Focus your practicing
Spending your practice time mindlessly playing the same exercises or scales, or noodling aimlessly on the guitar hoping you’ll accidentally stumble on a good riff, will do very little towards achieving your musical goals.
Instead, have a specific purpose for every minute you spent practicing.
Don’t just grab the guitar and practice whatever comes to mind, but plan every practice session and expect a specific result from it, no matter how small.
In this lesson on focused guitar practice I go into more detail on this subject, giving you concrete examples to practice.
7. Apply everything
This is the secret to removing the “boredom” out of your practicing time.
And as an added bonus, it helps you learn the guitar much faster.
I’ll show you a concrete example of how to do this.
The way I learned the guitar, in the initial stages, nothing was applied.
Music theory was a subject of its own which we just learned from books.
Guitar techniques, like string bending, vibrato and legato, were also taught in isolation.
So was learning guitar scales, where we’re given a book full of scales to memorize.
This is dead boring. Memorizing the book of scales felt like grammar, not music.
I changed the way I practice entirely nowadays, which is also the way I teach the guitar.
In my mind (or in the students mind) I connect everything that can be connected.
Let’s take the examples above: Music theory, guitar technique and scales.
The first scale I give my students to learn is the minor pentatonic, in just one position.
After the student learns how to play that pattern, I explain the role of scales in music and in guitar playing. Then I give him a general idea of the different scales that exist and how they sound.
Thus, he can understand the reason why he’s learning to play that particular pattern up and down, and others that will be given to him in the future.
Then, we start applying the guitar techniques we would have been working on during other lessons, by improvising on the scale.
This way, learning music theory, scale patterns and guitar techniques are not 3 separate subjects, but a set of skills that achieve specific results – such as improvising music, no matter how simple your first improvisations are.
I will only give the student his second scale when he can come up with at least a very basic tune using the first.
This is much more fun than learning the whole book first. And more effective too.
Conclusion: Keep developing your guitar practicing mindset.
Have I convinced you that practicing the guitar the right way, and with the right mindset, will give you results, while uncertain mindless practicing will not?
In my book 5 Steps To An Ideal Guitar Practicing Mindset I take you through a more in depth process on developing a mindset that leads to results.
Practice a lot.
Keep repeating the above three suggestions for as longs as it takes, be certain that your musical dreams will come true, and they actually will!
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