No one ever said learning to play the guitar would be easy. Well, ok, maybe someone did, but they lied! Learning to play any musical instrument, especially if it’s your first, is about as easy as learning a foreign language. Within the first day, you’ll probably be able to say, “Que pasa, amigo,” (the musical equivalent of this would be playing an open E string) but to communicate fluently will most likely take years of study and practice. Having a good teacher who understands how to help motivate and keep you interested is always a plus, but there are plenty of things you can do on your own to break out of a slump if you find yourself getting lazy or frustrated.
The first thing I’d like you to do is pick up your guitar. No, seriously, pick up your guitar. Once it’s in your hands you’ll play something, even if it’s only one chord. I guarantee it! If your goal is to try and practice at least a little bit every day, have your instrument handy instead of leaving it packed away in its case in the back of your closet. Leave it set up and tuned on a guitar stand where it’s visible and ready to play. Have your exercises, lessons, amp, effects and other accessories in plain sight where you’ll be tempted to just grab the guitar and play for five or ten minutes without having to go on a scavenger hunt for a pick. Out of sight, out of mind. If you keep your guitar within reach, you probably won’t neglect it nearly as much. When the mood strikes, you’ll be able to express your creativity without killing the moment by spending half an hour setting up, tuning and plugging in.
Don’t let frustration be your enemy. Frustration might cause a few people to try even harder and practice longer, but for most people it’s just depressing and distracting. If you’ve been working hard on that exercise or new technique and you can’t quite get it perfected, you might be getting ahead of yourself. Personally, I had this problem myself when I was learning. I’d only been playing for a year or so and I was trying to learn songs that I wasn’t prepared to play yet. You can always break something down, play it slowly and gradually speed it up with a metronome, but if you’re attempting something that’s way out of your league you could easily try to play too many notes too fast before you’re physically capable. For beginners, this usually means you’ll memorize something and play it at the right tempo, but sloppier than a chili cheese dog. If you find this happening to you often, find some satisfying pieces to learn that you can play well. They’ll sound great and you’ll look and feel like a star! The harder stuff can wait a while. If you’re still interested in that crazy Hendrix lead in two years, you’ll be amazed how easy it is to learn if you attempt it once you’re actually prepared.
Another important thing that can help bring your confidence back up and motivate you to stay on track is to get positive feedback. Play for your friends and family and jam with other musicians who can give you some tips and new ideas. If you only practice on your own and never show anyone your progress, the personal enjoyment might not be enough for you. If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? If you pull off a blazing ten minute riff extravaganza in your basement, is your dog howling the only evidence that it actually happened? Don’t feel like you’re boring people or showing off if you ask them to “check this solo out that I just learned.” It’s not exactly the same as showing home movies (yawn). Playing guitar is cool! Watching people play guitar is cool too! Record yourself and put it on the internet, post it on YouTube. Be proud of your hard work. When you strap on your guitar and start playing, you’re a superhero! People will see you in a whole different way. This could lead to many dates, new friends, gigs and free drinks. Other musicians will recognize this common bond too, and you’ll join a whole new community that will accept you like a brother or sister
Are you getting motivated yet? Man, you guys are tough! Ok, try this then: do something completely different. The cost of this can range from free to thousands of dollars. The more expensive route is to buy a new guitar. This should NOT be an option for beginners. I strongly believe beginners shouldn’t buy a new guitar until they’re well on their way, playing full songs, jamming with other people, and have a solid background. The only exception is if the guitar you started learning on refuses to stay in tune and is made out of plastic. Another option is to buy a different type of guitar: acoustic, seven string, fretless bass, one with a whammy bar. Your new guitar will feel a lot like a new car; you’ll want to drive it all the time. You can also buy a new amp, crank it to eleven and lure the police to your house. How about some less expensive, equally motivating gear? New effects are great. Or get a decent software program and some drum loops and start writing your own songs. This is easier than it sounds with today’s technology, and some of the best songs ever written use only three or four chords so even a beginner can write and record a great song on their own. But what if your budget doesn’t allow for any of the above? Buy a capo or a slide for around ten dollars and experiment (this will keep you busy for hours, even days). Even if you just slap a brand new, fresh set of strings on your guitar or bass, that bright punchy tone can motivate you to play for hours. There are also plenty of completely free options to try that will open new creative windows for you. Experiment with some new tunings like Drop D tuning, Open E, A or G tuning, and combine different tunings with capos and slides. Try a new technique like a different bending style, two handed tapping or hybrid picking to name a few. Many of these techniques and tunings will be featured in lessons throughout Jam Pages, complete with step by step instructions, backing tracks, tips and tricks from world famous players and instructors.
Motivation is the key to success in almost every area of life, and learning, practicing and progressing on a musical instrument is no exception. Always switch things up, try new ideas and techniques, and learn songs and solos that are within your range to keep things fresh and pump new life into your practice routine. And don’t forget the first and most important step: Pick Up Your Guitar!