Absolutely one of the biggest problems that a student is bound to encounter when learning to master an instrument is dealing with the discouraging feelings that invariably crop up from time to time. Oftentimes we feel frustrated by our lack of progress, our inability to reach long term goals, extraneous life stresses, and general feelings of disenchantment with the hard work that it takes to make real progress. There is no denying that mastering any skill can often feel like long and tedious journey, however by using the proper techniques, you can lessen struggle, discouragement, and even the time required to meet your goals. The following is a list of nine helpful tips that will be sure to help you overcome some of the most common struggles that everyone experiences at some point in time.
Accept the Work Required, Be Realistic.
Accepting the work that is required to attain a new skill is an extremely important step towards reaching any goal. Make a realistic model of the amount of effort that is required to reach a goal. Giving yourself a clearer perspective of what is required will be vital in being able to gauge how you are progressing and how you should feel about that progress. Sometimes a big goal can take years of consistent effort to reach. You need to prepare your mind for these facts. Accepting that you may be grinding away at a big goal for a year or more is very important if you start having feelings that you aren’t very good at something after only a few weeks or months of practice. Acknowledging the "big picture" will also provide room for you to recognize and celebrate smaller accomplishments along the way, as opposed to getting stressed about the interim.
Let’s face it, it is easy for your practice routine to slip when you are not practicing each day. Consistent daily practice is by far the best way to reach a goal and to monitor your own progress as a guitarist. Once you’ve made practice a part of your daily routine, it will be as easy as remembering to brush your teeth. Keep it efficient and keep it focused.
Record Your Progress
Along with practicing daily, recording your progress is absolutely essential in seeing the results of your hard work, as well as the encouraging feeling that you are accomplishing something. As you improve your guitar playing, you are always pushing the boundary of what feels difficult to you. By consistently challenging the bounds of what feels comfortable, you may feel like you are always struggling and risk not noticing how much better you’ve actually gotten. Write down the tempo that you are able to play a piece at and the date you practiced it. Regularly record audio and video. Every few months look back at your recordings and practice log and see for yourself how much you’ve improved! I guarantee it will be a pleasant surprise every time.
Plateaus and Slight Digression are Normal
When striving towards certain goals you will undoubtedly encounter several plateaus in your progress. Oftentimes big progress comes in bursts as if by magic. You just wake up one day and suddenly are able to perform astoundingly better. Also, it is not uncommon to wake up the next day and be slightly worse at something. This is perfectly normal, do not let it discourage you. When you find yourself stuck at a plateau just keep at it and you will eventually hit the next burst in ability. Likewise, when you find you’ve digressed, keep at it, and you will have another burst again soon.
Mix Up Your Practice
Often when a student is stuck on achieving a specific goal it is easy for them to become fixated on this and practice it more than is necessary. If you find yourself in this place, try something new. Diversify your practice routine in order to include some new elements. By working on something new, you force your brain to focus on improving a new area. This improvement will usually help fix the original issue you were having. In addition, diversifying your practice will make you a more well-rounded, better player.
Set Smaller Short Term Goals
This one may be fairly obvious. But when you have a big goal that will take months or years to reach, break that goal into smaller goals that you can attain sooner. For example, if you want to play a solo at 700 Notes Per Minute, and you can currently only play at 500 Notes Per Minute, break down the gap into smaller goals that you can reach within a few weeks or months. Reaching those smaller goals will keep you focused on improvement. This strategy will also keep you motivated and give you something to feel good about.
When you reach smaller goals, make sure to do something nice for yourself. If your goal is to practice everyday, give yourself something to practice towards. The rewards can be as simple as taking a break to watch a movie, hanging out with friends, ice cream, or with larger goals even buying yourself some new gear or a new instrument. The key here is to reward yourself AFTER you have made the progress. If you prioritize your day so the “fun” stuff comes before guitar practice, it becomes much easier to shove practice aside, and with that, your goals.
Do NOT Compare Yourself to Others
Comparing ourselves against others seems like a very natural occurrence. It is very easy to feel discouraged by your lack of progress when you see a peer or a younger person doing something that you wish you could do. I don’t know a single player who has never struggled with this at one point or another. This is very dangerous thinking! Everyone has to work hard to become a good guitar player. If another player is amazing, celebrate their hard work and use it as inspiration for yourself. There are thousands of superficial reasons that we might feel inadequate when compared to another player, and each one of them is completely useless. It is never too late to become a master guitar player so keep your eyes on your own improvement, your goals, and enjoying your playing.
Realize You Are Not Alone
Reach out to other guitar players and talk through your discouragement when needed. Every single person who has developed their playing to a high level has been through the same struggles you are probably facing. Become part of a guitar community online, find a community guitar class or a competent teacher who cares about your goals and will talk through your motivational issues with you.
About the author: Geoffrey Cleaver is a professional guitarist and music producer from Portland Oregon. He has gigged with several professional bands and is currently releasing music internationally with the Asnazzy Productions record label. Visit his website at http://portland-guitar.com for more information.