Ever find yourself at a loss for motivation to make time for guitar (or anything music-related)? Or feel like finding the time for practice just seems impossible for any number of reasons – work schedule, kids, family/friend events, kids’ sporting/recreational events, too tired at the end of the day, too tired for early mornings, etc.? The list can go on and on as well as the stress of everyday life! If you’re like me at all, neglecting your time with your music can leave you feeling an emptiness that only grows the longer you let that neglect continue.

Following a traumatic point in my life that turned everything upside down, my guitar playing took a major hit. I still played but it was becoming less and less. At some point, I found myself only playing in walk-by moments. Walk by one of my guitars, pick it up to half-heartedly play an old familiar riff for about five minutes, wishing I would find the motivation to do more, knowing I could and should do more, but inevitably putting the guitar back down. That lack of motivation was eating away at me like a mental cancer.

I needed balance and it did not make sense trying to balance one element of my life when, on the whole, nothing in my life was in balance. I was just getting by. Many of us hit a rough patch in our lives, for whatever reason. It can be all right to take a break temporarily, it’s even healthy to do so when planned for a particular purpose. Sometimes we just need to be able to decompress and vacations and/or time off are just not enough. I knew that this was a completely different situation for me and, personally, it was carrying on far too long to be healthy.

One of the first steps to help me was changing my way of thinking. I was not very confident in myself, so I had to start coaching myself back into a positive way of thinking and living. Another helpful step was to finally put more stability into my life by mapping out a daily/weekly checklist. Something simple to start out, to allow myself small achievements. And not just for my guitar time, but my daily life. I learned that I was overwhelmed for far too long, was feeling like a failure and unconsciously slipping into shutdown mode.

In terms of my guitar mindset, a VERY helpful solution for me was to find some good guitar resources to tap into, start learning things I had not learned before. At that time, my guitar theory was almost non-existent. I wanted more knowledge and understanding of keys, scales, techniques, etc. I began searching for guitar websites and YouTube videos that would be useful to getting me started. It is not easy looking for the information you need by piecing things together with YouTube videos and random websites. I realized this and persevered long enough to narrow down to reliable sources – one such source being TomHess.net.

Part of the problem with trying to learn from multiple sources is instead of building a solid foundation, you build confusion. One source highly recommends style/technique XYZ while the other highly recommends not using that style at all. Each source has their own way of teaching and presenting information. You need to find the one right person or website, start a program or lessons with that entity, and invest your time there.

…At that time, my guitar theory was almost non-existent…

Once I’d found the right source, my spark was fully rekindled. Before I knew it, I was creating my own music again, creating my own guitar exercises, licks and riffs. The creative ideas, at first just a trickle of return as I began to absorb the material, quite suddenly began to flow with abandon. The creative well spring that I thought had dried up in me, had been spilling over waiting for me all along!

Other very helpful and very important elements to my musical renaissance, surrounding myself with the right people who have the right attitude. Sometimes we don’t realize just how toxic keeping certain people around us can be. The same can be said for a bad work environment. Most adults spend more time at work than anywhere else. A bad work environment can be especially crippling to a person’s overall mental and emotional health and destroy your whole outlook on life. Unfortunately, changing your work environment is not always a viable option, but if you are in a bad work environment, speak to someone you can trust about it, perhaps your boss or human resources. Talking to someone to address the issue could be all it takes. Otherwise, finding something better may be the best option for you. But only you can ultimately make that decision.

A bad work environment can be especially crippling…and destroy your whole outlook on life.

Then there is the self-assessment aspect to consider. Earlier in this article I mentioned creating a short checklist of easy tasks to achieve for yourself. As you achieve completing these tasks you begin to build up your self-esteem. Over time you may consider adding more to the list. You’ll eventually look forward to new ways you can use this checklist method to face all your tasks of every day and every week.

In terms of guitar, I tell my students they should set goals short and long term. Start with a broad goal, work backwards narrowing down and creating checkpoints. Whatever your ultimate goal is, write it down. Post it where you will see it every day as a reminder, a motivator. Then start making mini goals or checkpoints to reach that ultimate goal.

Develop a practice schedule and allow that practice schedule to evolve. Your skills improve so your practice schedule must be organic. By organizing your practice, you’re already declaring to yourself that you are serious! Each week shoot for a small, attainable goal. This goal must always be at the core of each practice of each week.

If you reach a checkpoint goal early, move on to the next checkpoint. If you don’t reach your goal, continue on each week working toward that goal. Some weeks you will reach your goals easily and some may take much more time and effort. If you find yourself spending much more time than expected on a particular checkpoint, this may be the best time to reevaluate and create further checkpoints. Each week, ask yourself:

  • Where did I struggle most last week?
  • What came easiest?
  • Is the struggle physical, mental… both?

Be honest with yourself but not overly critical. Enjoy the process of learning your instrument. Document your journey with a journal or short videos. You may discover a pattern in how you learn or how weak points develop. Even if you have experience playing another instrument, chances are, you may approach learning to play the guitar differently.

Develop a practice schedule and allow it to evolve…

All in all, these are some of the methods I’ve used to help keep me active but not overwhelmed. I actively keep an eye out for techniques I’d like to learn or improve, explore other genres of music, and stay actively involved with other musicians as sustenance to keep me from falling back into that stagnant state of being unmotivated. Hopefully, some of my experiences and ideas from this article will similarly help you.

Kurt Echols is an American singer and musician. He specializes in guitar and is the Owner and CEO of Axtreme Guitar (Axtreme-Guitar.com), where he trains people to play guitar in his local area of Mansfield, Massachusetts. He has been playing guitar since 1994 and started teaching people to play in 1997. Kurt also performs locally, records original compositions and records with other musicians in the US.

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