Apparently I’m seen as quite a motivated individual, so I wanted to share the story of my 6 month struggle to be motivated to practice guitar. Here’s the result (explained further down)
Last year I was featured on the Sky Arts TV show Guitar Star (read about my experience here) I got back into a practice routine, and found myself butting my head against the same technical frustrations I’ve been having for half a decade. Fortunately, as a result of that show I was able to chat about these problems with the amazing Jon Gomm. Although he doesn’t habitually teach, he agreed to give me a lesson as a “favour to an old friend”.
It was an incredible lesson. Over the course of 3hrs, we solved many of the ongoing problems I’d been having with the mechanics of my playing for years! I now had a decent plan on how to progress and improve, practicing the right stuff! I was over the moon to have this amazing input!
After just a week’s further practice, I recorded a Youtube video of the piece called Sophie, that I’d played for Guitar Star – this time with no mistakes, first take. Two week’s later, I recorded another of my compositions with Balcony TV – again in one take, with better tone and much more reliable playing. It was working!
Then a strange thing happened… I simply stopped practicing.
I’d seen this happen to students before – they suddenly receive the key to improving their playing, and as a result they don’t practice. I wasn’t sure why this was happening to me, but I’ve been playing long enough to know that forcing myself to practice just doesn’t work. I’d have to find another way to re-kindle my sense of motivation.
I was starting to despair.
Then I saw one of my favorite drummers, Jojo Mayer, in concert. During the Q&A he made a comment to the effect of “you’ll perform with the attitude you practice with”. Suddenly it clicked – from Jon I’d learned how to physically upgrade the way I practiced, but before I could start, I’d also need to upgrade my mental attitude so it could nurture that practice, and that was still in process.
Since discovering I could finally improve rapidly, going to the guitar had thrown up so many emotions for me that I simply felt terrible. No wonder I didn’t want to practice! Anger at having wasted years practicing the wrong stuff was coming forward, as well as the culmination of all the futility I’d felt during that period. There was also fear of failure “What if I iron out my technical problems, only to find I’m just inherently a bad player?”
It seems strange even to me that I’d have these thoughts and feelings. If only I could go back to that experience of playing as a child, where my only interest was in the delight of making the sound, with no consideration of “who I am as a player”.
Rather than ignore them, I spent a further 3 months just allowing these feelings to come forward, only playing the guitar when I felt truly motivated, and stopping the minute I felt bad. Basically, I wasn’t willing to allow myself to practice unless I had an effortlessly positive mental attitude. Finally, in the last week, I have consistently woken up each morning feeling excited about practicing the guitar! Hurrah!
Letting this process be what it needed to be was a real challenge for me and I questioned myself a great deal. I could “play” and “perform” but not practice, so had to gig less. Although I’d arranged “The Soundmaker” by Rodrigo y Gabriela, especially for Guitar Star, but I haven’t been able to film it until now (video shown above).
It was hard to put my career plans on hold, just after the biggest TV exposure I’d ever had, but frankly, improving as a musician had to come first.
What I’ve learned is that motivation cannot be commanded, bottled or forced, but only nurtured, cultivated and allowed. Many claim not motivated people, but since school we’ve been forced to do everything in a prescribed way at a prescribed time, else we are “rebellious” or “lazy”. I can’t think of a better way to kill our natural sense of motivation.
The next time you don’t want to do something, stop and ask yourself truly why. The first thing that may come to mind might be a phrase like “because I’m lazy”, but ask yourself again for a deeper answer. It might be anything from “I don’t want to do the washing up because I don’t feel appreciated in this household.” to “I don’t want to do my tax return because I feel anxious about how much debt I’m in”. It may be that actually this is the wrong thing for you to be doing!
These feeling, when voiced may dissipate, or they may require action. The action needed could be disruptive to our lives, much like my discovery that I needed to take a 6month break from practicing. But ultimately, I believe it’s worth it to listen to these answers, because it’s the only way to be true to yourself.