Part I: Observations
The term "discipline" is tightly connected to the process of practice and development of any demanding skill - be it a sport, the art of calligraphy or playing a musical instrument.
As musicians, we face the dilemma of wanting to express ourselves through our music, but we often don't make the time to consistently sit down and practice. Any serious musician knows how hard it can be to keep up a consistent practice schedule - no matter what. Practicing scales, studying theory, writing songs and recording take after take... The time you are on stage with people cheering at you is nothing compared to the amount of time you spend alone with the instrument - and your own mind. It is therefore crucial to better understand our inner workings, to ensure that our mind is an ally and not an enemy that we fight each day - in addition to our musical challenges.
Let's start by attempting to understand what discipline is: It is obviously not physical like learning a new guitar technique but instead, it is a state of mind.
Here's my definition of the term discipline:
Discipline: The application of willpower to overcome inner resistance.
It's important to know that there is another component to discipline: resistance. Discipline and resistance go hand in hand and one is used to overcome the other.
Think about it this way: The amount of discipline you need is in direct proportion to the resistance inside you. If you had no resistance - no discipline would be needed. I bet you've already discovered this for yourself - there were days when practicing scale patterns for hours was fun and the time just flew by, right? Then, doing it again the next day, the same routine was torture. How can the same thing be heaven one day and hell the next? It's all in our state of mind. Let's examine some common mind games that can cause resistance...
Mental Projections About Practicing
Think of the times when you had a whole day off, all the time in the world and you wanted to get up early to practice. Instead, you slept in, had an extra cup of coffee and after checking your email, the weather in different countries and social networking sites, you get mad at yourself when you think about your plan to practice the entire day. Almost the whole day passes until you finally sit down and practice and then... It's fun! You really enjoy it after getting into it for a few minutes! So, what was your problem that day? The actual act of practicing? No.
Your problem was just a mental projection ABOUT practicing that influenced and determined your actions for that day and made you procrastinate! It's very important to distinguish between real and imagined difficulty to not be caught in a mental projection.
Thinking About The Whole Instead Of The Present Chunk
Another component that easily leads to paralyzation through overwhelm is to think about your entire practice schedule for the day. If you practice for multiple hours - just thinking of all the elements you want to tackle can easily weigh you down and cause severe resistance. Even worse is the thought of how many different musical elements there are to practice and how huge music really is! Again, nothing tangible has happened that has created that uncomfortable feeling within you - just some thoughts in your head.
We start to play guitar for various reasons and I can say that I started to play guitar, because I thought it was the coolest instrument in the world! I thought that it would impress people if I could learn to play and maybe even impress my crush.
It's easy to see that this reason has very little to do with musical expression itself - instead it was a simply a means to an end, it a was self-seeking reason. If you play guitar, because you have a subconscious belief that you are not worthy and by becoming a famous player, rockstar or whatever, you can finally attain worthiness - it means you are using music to fill an inner hole. Of course, if the belief is subconscious you wouldn't even know it - you'd simply act it out.
I'm not saying that this is bad in any way; it's just good to be aware of the reasons why we want to attain certain things and the difficulties those reasons might create for us, because such a mindset will make it impossible to love the practicing and you will most likely hate the process.
The process will be just an obstacle not allowing you to get to where you want to go. If you want to somehow "add value" to your self image - there are far easier ways to do this than music.
Bringing In Time
One thing that can help you maximize your focus during practice is to be aware of your mind's tendency to recall the past or daydream about the future. Recalling the past could be remembering how much practice time you've put in already, often paired with a disappointment that it didn't help you to progress as fast as you wanted...
The mind could also jump to the future and daydream about the skills you will have at some point. That's good for visualizing, but not ideal to get the most out of your practice time right now. Those mind movements are not bad and you shouldn't apply any force to "get rid of them" or to "control" them. It's just what the mind does.
Just don't get lost in the projections and bring your focus back to the one moment that will ever exist: NOW. You cannot do anything in the past nor in the future, but you can concentrate and strive for the best quality in what you do in this moment and do just that. One pick stroke. One chord change.
Exclusive Fixation On Results
One huge obstacle is our almost exclusive obsession with results. "You want me to practice without wanting results?" you might ask. No, of course not, but getting results should not be the only point of focus, because it will hinder us to enjoy the process itself. If the result is all that matters and you hate the journey, you will most likely not get very far.
Think about planning for a journey, asking yourself mentally: "Ok, I'll be going to Paris, New York, Tokyo and then I end up... Back home. So, why go in the first place if I end up where I am right now?"
Stupid, right? We are on the journey for the joy of the journey itself! Even if it could be completed, you'd start out on another journey! We cannot ever get it done! It's all for the joy of it!
This concludes Part I of this article - in Part II we'll proceed to experiment with different solutions.
About The Author: Derek Steep is a songwriter, composer, performer and recording artist. In addition to the study of various instruments, he has been immersed in different schools of eastern thought and brings this perspective to various aspects of musical practice. You can find his music, articles and blog at www.TheMimicryOfShadows.com.