Like many of you, I started out with a passion for guitar which meant I just couldn't put it down. Screaming Randy Rhoads' solos repeated constantly in the back of my mind, leaving little room for everyday living. That Fender Strat became an extension of me and when it was in my hand I could barely hear the outside world.
However, there came a time when I hit a wall; I stopped improving, became despondent with my playing and as a result couldn't find the enthusiasm to put in the practice. I was disillusioned with the music industry and only five years on did I come out the other side and rediscover my love for rock 'n' roll.
As a 30-year-old married man with a child, I'm no longer looking for any kind of fame or rock 'n' roll lifestyle, but one thing I'd like to do is pass on the things I've learned about how to become a better guitarist and they're not always what you might think.
Become the Master
It's thought that to master anything can take about 10,000 hours and so with this in mind, you'd better get practicing. But what about those days when you wake up feeling like a zombie and simply haven't got the will power to pick up the guitar and put in the hours? What happens when that feeling becomes the norm and motivation is permanently lacking?
Whether it's playing the guitar, tennis, learning a new language or running a business, the basic principals are always the same; keep your body and mind in shape and the rest will happen naturally.
Everyone knows that physical exercise is the number one cure for lazyitis and can help turn your life around if you want it to. If you don't already know, exercising significantly improves your mood by increasing serotonin levels in your brain - this makes you want to get stuff done, including learning that solo that you could never quite be bothered to make a start on! Starting tomorrow, wake up an hour earlier and do 30 minutes running or weight training, then see how much you can achieve in one day. The positive effects increase over a period of time and I promise you'll start to see a big change in your attitude to positive and constructive guitar practice.
Doing exercise, both cardio and weights, also makes you look better which is not only a nice little by-product but also gives you more confidence in yourself. Confidence is absolutely vital when playing the guitar, when you're up on that stage you've got to know you're going to nail it.
Give Up the Caffeine
Caffeine is a drug, it gives you a minor lift but then half an hour later you feel like the only thing to get that buzz back is another coffee or energy drink. Just like any drug, you can't maintain the positive effects they have, the buzz that coffee originally gave you now just gets you back to a level and without it you're left feeling that familiar lack of energy that you've become so used to. Withdrawal from caffeine can also leave you feeling anxious and depressed, which in turn can affect your concentration. Regular consumption during the day can lead to insomnia, resulting in a lack of sleep which is likely then to affect your mood, leaving you with little desire to practice that guitar.
I used to be a total coffee-fiend, espressos were my little morning treat but come 3pm I barely had the concentration to finish the working day. If you decide to stop, you'll crave it for a week or two and possibly suffer headaches for a few days, but after that you'll be glad you no longer need it.
Change Your Diet
It's widely known that sugary food and takeaways (or takeout for our US readers) leave you feeling bloated but not everyone is aware that there are other foods which can have a negative affect on your overall mood and productivity
White stuff - not just sugar but white bread, white pasta, white rice and other types of simple carbs - drain your energy without you even realising. Unlike brown bread, brown pasta and brown rice, white carbs are refined to the point of having almost no beneficial nutrients. In other words, your body quickly turns those carbs into sugar, resulting in a spike in your insulin levels and zapping your energy only 10 minutes later. Wholegrain foods such as brown rice and pasta contain complex carbs that break down over a longer period of time, slowly releasing energy and leaving you full of life throughout the day. That's just got to improve your overall outlook and make you get your sh-t together.
Cut Down on the Alcohol
It's a big one and possibly the hardest of them all. Alcohol is the quickest route to temporary happiness, making it extremely addictive. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that if you drink a few too many beers, the following day is pretty much a write-off. For me, it's not just about having a hangover, it leaves a dip in my mood that takes two or three days to recover from and so I try to avoid it whenever possible, saving it for jolly boy's outings and other special occasions. As a musician, avoiding drink is like a McDonald's employee avoiding fatty foods - harder than it sounds. It takes a ton of will power but if the desire is there, you're going to succeed and the benefits will be worth it.
Just like caffeine, alcohol has a major affect on the central nervous system making you dehydrated and dashing to the gents every half an hour. If you're also a singer, this means your vocal folds are going to get worn out quicker as they need as much moisture as possible to keep them lubricated and working smoothly. That's something to bear in mind next time your voice disappears after 20 minutes of singing.
You're probably starting to wonder how on earth this is connected to playing the guitar but to come back to my original point, if you're lacking in good ol' fashioned get-up-and-go, it's more than likely down to your lifestyle and diet. So why not try making a few changes and see if things improve? Instead of an hours practice, you might find yourself doing three or four, which by my maths means that in a year's time you'll improve three or four times faster than you would do otherwise. Sound a little drastic? Start with the daily exercise and take it from there, you might be surprised at what you can achieve in life with a bit of clean rock 'n' roll living.