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Learning Guitar: Staying Motivated and Rocking On

Learning Guitar: Staying Motivated and Rocking On

Motivation is key throughout your instrument playing journey...

When you're learning guitar, the first few weeks after you begin are very exciting. You have a great new instrument, and you are taking the first steps towards emulating your idols. The problem is that once those first flushes of excitement have subsided, you realise that you still have quite a long way to go. In fact, it can feel like a mini mountain to climb…

Don't lose heart!

Don’t get too despondent, though. Firstly, if you can drive a car, or pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time (if you’re not old enough to drive) then you have the raw skills to be able to learn how to play - it just takes some patience, practise, and perseverance.

There are some things that can help to keep motivation levels high, however…

1. Find yourself a good teacher

Sure, there are ways of learning guitar without a teacher and many of the greats got by without one. However, we would always seriously recommend finding someone who can guide you on the right path. For starters, progress will always be quicker with the experience, knowledge and guidance of a good teacher.

Think of it like this: they can save you from making the mistakes everyone makes, making your path towards your goal more direct (and quicker). Crucially, a teacher structures the learning process, giving you small goals to aim for steadily, without overwhelming.

One very useful thing that a teacher can do is identify and correct poor technique before it becomes embedded. Whether it's a coordination issue between hands, posture-related tension, or finding ways to break out of a rut, a teacher can readily help you whether you're face-to-face or communicating via video chat.

Finding a guitar teacher

Find a teacher local to you via the Registry of Guitar Tutors at London College of Music. Their database allows you to search based on your Post Code, Town, or Surname if you happen to know a teacher's name, as well as allowing you to filter based on the type of guitar you wish to learn.

Online Guitar Courses

If you can't find a teacher in your local area then there are plenty of online resources available, which offer both free and subscription-based services.

  1. Fender Play
  2. Orange Amps Online Lessons
  3. Guitar Tricks
  4. JamPlay
  5. Justin Guitar
  6. TrueFire

2. Set your goals - and track them too!

As we touched upon in the paragraph above, ff you have a teacher then they are really good at offering guidance with regard goal-setting. Having clearly marked out checkpoints along your learning journey is key to knowing whether you're making any progress at all.

Short-team goals offer quick wins that give you a sense of achievement and the feeling that you're making progress. These could be learning licks from your favourite songs, switching between chord shapes of varying difficulty, learning scales and modes until they're firmly embedded in your brain, or working out how to clean your guitar properly.

Long-term goals are a different kettle of fish but equally as important. Do you want to get up to a certain standard before playing with others, do you want to learn a song all the way through - including that really tricky solo that seems impossible at the moment -, do you want to eventually start a band and hit the local circuit? Having aspirations will help you (and your teacher) know how to break your learning journey into digestible chunks (short-term goals) that you can chip away at on the way.

There is an oft-referenced pearl of wisdom when it comes to going setting goals that is trotted out by influencers and the like that goes something like:

"Most people overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a month. We overestimate what we can do in a year, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade."

Matthew Kelly "The Long View"

Therefore, be realistic and, also, be kind to yourself. Rome wasn't built in a day and even legendary players had their off days. Spending 15 minutes every day tackling something is better than going at it in a 3-hour long slog once a week. Little and often the key to many of life's successes.

3. Make it easy to practise

By this, we mean that you should minimise the hurdles in your way to practising. If your guitar is sitting in its case and/or your gear is tucked away then you've got to pull it out, set everything up, and grab your laptop/music book/sheet music before you even set about practising. Seems like a load of effort just typing this out never mind doing it.

If you've got the space to do so then keep your guitar on a stand, keep your set-up ready to go at any time, have it somewhere that you pass by often and where it will be seen. You'll be far more likely to to actually pick it up and play it if there's less effort involved.

Also, with the idea of little and often in mind, try to establish a routine with regard to practise. Maybe try setting aside a little time in the morning or evening - make sure that it is the same time each day if you can -, and get used to picking up your instrument and playing a couple of chops, scales, whatever. Establish the habit of picking up your guitar and playing. Once that routine is established then build up the time you spend doing it, i.e. couple of minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes...30 minutes, etc. This is the "Tiny Habits" concept conceived by American Social Scientist BJ Fogg, for those who are interested.

4. Listen back to your practice session

This can be difficult - as in difficult to swallow because truth is pain -, but it is undoubtedly one of the most useful things you can do when learning. When you practice as a beginner, you are often too focused on the act of playing to closely listen to your performance in detail, and being able to review this makes it far more straightforward to hear where any issues are.

This could be as simple as using a smartphone, if there's one that doesn't come with some form of audio recording software then I am yet to hear of it. For capturing ideas, recording practise sessions, etc. you've probably got what you need in your pocket already.

However, for those who want better results with regard to audio quality, there some excellent handheld recorders with high-quality built-in microphones that will record CD-quality audio in stereo. These are very easy to operate, and recordings can be easily transferred to a computer for sharing with others. Hey, boring people with your music is one of the best bits about being a musician :-D

Recorders can be found in our online store here.

5. Get a metronome

It’s not the most exciting thing you’ll ever buy, but a metronome is undoubtedly one of the most useful. For the uninitiated, this is a device that clicks at a set rhythmic tempo, so that a musician can use this to set their playing speed.

For the beginner, this means that tempo can be slowed right down, to make things easier to play, but then steadily increased when the piece is accomplished at lower tempos. It’s a bit like ‘raising the bar’ gradually for an athlete. Ensuring that you have a benchmark to progress from gives you a nice boost. They aren't simply about getting faster and faster either. There are many technical aspects that you can develop with regard to timing - just ask a drummer.

Again, there are free smartphone and web-based apps that you can use so you've got absolutely no excuse not to have one. For those who'd rather keep away from app- or web-based metronomes then we've got a selection for you to choose from in our online store.

6. Take care of your instrument

A good, well looked after guitar will make you want to play it. A badly set-up guitar, with strings like rusty cheese wire that is covered in filth will not. It is well worth making sure that your instrument is well looked after, as a result.

Strings are relatively inexpensive, but strumming a chord on a guitar with a fresh set is one of life’s little pleasures (and one that only guitarists get to appreciate). Plus, like many things in life, there’s a sense of satisfaction from getting your guitar looking and sounding great.

You can find a selection of guitar strings and maintenance products at the Dawsons Music website.

7. Listen to lots of great music

It was (most likely) listening to music, or going to gigs that inspired you to pick up the guitar, so when you feel de-motivated, remind yourself why you started to learn: dig out some recordings of your heroes, and listen to them. Go to some gigs, and keep your enthusiasm alive. Remember that they were in your position at some point, and they had to go through these first, difficult steps. It was only through determination and passion that they ended up where they are, so stick with it.

And don't just stick to one genre. As much as you might only like to play one form of music, try to diversify your palette as you never know who, what, and why something might influence you.

8. Set your sights on loftier ambitions

I don't move heading to the roof like The Beatles, I mean that once you've got the better of a particular technique, once you've got the entire catalogue of your favourite band dialled in so keenly that you can play it better than them, and once you've exhausted the patience of your family members and friends with your skills, start giving yourself the credit to move onto the next step.

This might not be the opinion of everyone but to me you're only as good as your ability to play with others. However much you think your posters and/or soft toys love your skills, they're not really giving you honest feedback, are they? Plus, the buzz you get from playing with others is something else.

9. Find others to jam with

Hand on heart, it doesn't matter how old you are, there is such a buzz when you play with someone and get that instant "connection". It's not quite the same as falling in love but it's pretty close to reaching that "soulmate" term everybody chucks about. When you find someone who you can make or play music with then cherish them because they're rarer than hen's teeth.

Sure, you can play with any and every musician, but trust us, actually 'liking' some of them is hard graft - that's why if you want to be a session player then you've not only got to be highly competent but have the patience of a saint.

Ah, who am I kidding? Some of the most volatile personal relationships have produced some of the best bands and music ever. I guess the difference between love and hate really is razor-thin.

Fundamentally though, you'll always learn from others whether it is from a positive or negative aspect. Drummers are great for letting you if your timing sucks, bassists will absolutely drill you when it comes to music theory, and singers...are singers. Even if they have only ever picked up a guitar to learn Wonderwall to impress a girl in secondary school, you can bet your sweet licks that they'll school you on how to play the guitar. Consider that a heads-up.

10. Get out and perform

The near paralysing feeling of not knowing whether you're going to be sick or otherwise never leaves you, no matter how many times you perform live. Sure, you know your tunes inside out in the practice room but on the stage, anything goes.

Your gear could fail, you could be sick - or again, worse -, someone could say something mean and make you cry, one of your band members could think they're on a significantly bigger stage and knock you out with their acrobatic skills or instrument gymnastics could get through all that, you could sail through with flying colours and come out the other side looking like an absolute legend.

The adrenaline kicks in and before you know it muscle memory has taken over, you're doing stuff on the guitar that you didn't think possible, people are cheering your name, people are losing their minds with ecstasy (not the drug, the euphoric rush that can be the live music experience) -you're nailing the gig.

OK, so it's a cold Monday night in the middle of Winter at a pub in [insert your local village/town/city here] but you're doing it. You got out of the bedroom, you found some like-minded folk, you put yourself out there to be judged for better or worse, and you're doing it. You've done what many have done before, but what most haven't.

We salute you, weekend warrior!

In conclusion

You never hear anyone saying that they regret learning to play, but thousands regretting that they didn’t. Stay focused and you’ll get there, and it will be worth every moment that you’ve invested into it - trust me ;-)

When you pick up the guitar or any other instrument you're going to plateau, it happens to all of us. But if you fall in love with it then you'll never want to give it up and you'll eventually push past though points where you want to quit.

You might put your instrument down for days, weeks, months, years, but you'll come back to it. You might move country, get married, have kids, decades might pass, but you'll come back to it.

If the love and passion are there then the desire to play never leaves you - it's just that sometimes life gets in the way. You're not alone in that though, it happens to all of us. Just remember why you started in the first place: the artist or band, the song or the gig, the boy or the girl who like said artist or band (many a person has picked up an instrument just to impress someone, trust me!).

When you learn an instrument you've got a friend for life. Just remember to check in on them once in a while.