You know, sometimes it’s just really hard to stay excited about playing guitar. Everyone will eventually go through peaks and valleys with remaining motivated (at times you may even start to question why you ever picked up a piece of wood with thin steel wires on it, to begin with), but the trick is to know what to do to break out of those down periods where you just don’t want to play.
This is an area that is probably one of the biggest challenges that a beginning guitarist will have. Guitar playing – whether we want to admit it or not – is not something you can just pick up and be an expert at. Coming up against roadblocks (even something as learning to play a particular chord, scale, or lick) can be hard enough for some to lose interest altogether. That’s sad because that’s when that new guitar you bought just ends up gathering dust in the corner or gets stuck in its’ case under the bed.
Then there are those that break through those hard times at the start and realize what a gift it is to be able to play. Even then the downtimes will come. They come for different reasons for different people but the end result is the same – a lack of motivation and desire to keep pushing and doing the best you can to BE the best you can.
So how can you break out of a rut?
Learning to play guitar is – in and of itself – a challenge. I think it would be a fair statement to say that those guitar players who get to the intermediate and advanced levels do so by continually challenging themselves. When you find yourself “just not feeling it” it may be time to mix things up a bit and give yourself something new to work towards. Challenges are a must to keeping the guitar playing fresh and exciting!
Learn a new song
I’ve played guitar for many, MANY years – but I’m not going to tell you how many because I don’t want to give away my age. Something as simple as learning a new song can be more than enough to get things jumpstarted for you again.
This one hits home as it was something that very recently took me out of the pits. In my case, I finally got back together with a band I had played with years ago. There wasn’t a really good reason why we quit…sometimes life just gets in the way, you know? During our time apart, I played a little here and there but the fire in my belly was just gone. I sometimes went long periods without even picking up a guitar, and when I did it wasn’t long before it was back in the case. Anyways, we had a list of songs that we had played for SO long that they were just stale. We knew them like clockwork but it was just, well, BORING. We started working on several new songs and – BOOM – I felt like I hadn’t felt in YEARS. I couldn’t wait to practice and get these new songs nailed down. Truthfully, most of them weren’t technically challenging at all but that’s not the point – I was finally working on something NEW.
Learn to play a song you already know in the “right” way!
Back in the day, there was (gasp…the horror of it all) no such thing as guitar tablature. For those of us that don’t read music, learning to play a song was done by ear. At some point, as my playing got better I realized that the way that I was playing some songs was wrong. Sometimes the fingerings I used were wrong, the chords were wrong…and let’s not even get into what happened when I found out that some
of the Led Zeppelin songs I had played for years were actually played in a different tuning. Wanting to learn how to do something the “right” way can drive you back to where you belong.
Take on a new theory topic
We all hit plateaus where we think that we are “good enough”. But – sometimes “good enough” can = “boring”. Why not take a look at learning a new theory topic that can expand what you can do? For example: open and barre chords just not getting it for you anymore? It may be time to start exploring inversions. Tired of soloing in pentatonic scales? Crack the code on modes. Developing a better, functional understanding of a new theory topic is not only challenging but will make your playing more diverse as well.
Take on a new technique
Each genre of music has unique characteristics that make them what they are – look at mastering some new tricks and skills. Are you a rock guitar god? Learn to tap, use pinch harmonics, develop legato phrasing, etc. If an acoustic guitar is your thing then learning new fingerpicking styles or getting into alternate tunings might be the ticket. Country guitar? That’s easy – nothin’ like learnin’ a little chicken pickin’!
Explore a new type of music
Expanding your musical horizons may be one of the biggest motivating tactics that you could use. A great example would be Paul Simon. After years of living in the folk-rock and mainstream pop worlds he completely reinvented himself by becoming immersed in world music (such as the South African styles that were the core for the album “Graceland”). It reinvigorated him and took his entire career in a new direction. Different music styles can bring all kinds of new challenges – new chording styles, harmonic structures, timing, techniques…it could be like learning the instrument from the beginning all over again!
Get a new piece of gear
Remember when I mentioned getting back with my old band? Well, part of that was getting tired of listening to my drummer tell me (for YEARS, I might add) that my old equipment wasn’t up to snuff and that my tone could be better. I finally caved in and bought not only a new amp but an excellent effects unit that really kicked things up a TON of notches. Not only is my tone leap years better than it was, but I was also like a kid at Christmas going through and learning how to tweak everything in.
Let’s just say that my wife was getting pretty sick of calling me from work and having the conversation go like this:
HER: What’s up?
HER: What are you doing?
HER: Again? Didn’t you spend hours doing that yesterday?
The bottom line – challenge yourself. Find ways to get your drive and interest of playing back where it needs to be; you may be surprised with how easy it is to get motivated…and STAY motivated.