Learning an instrument is as much a mental game as getting your fingers in the right place. If you don´t know what to expect and handle on the mental level, it can mean that your guitar playing adventure will be a rather short one.
I have compiled 4 obstacles that each guitarist will have to face and conquer:
Obstacle 1: Underestimation
Beginners often start guitar lessons and expect to play the original guitar parts of their heroes after a few months, not realizing that it took their hero many years of dedicated effort to reach that level. They radically underestimate the amount of time, energy and focus it takes to learn an instrument and thus get frustrated quickly when it turns out to take longer than expected. I see this with new students all the time and wonder – who would join a boxing club and immediately want to sign up for a tournament??? Nobody. It makes no sense. What does it help you if everything you play sounds like garbage, because you´re in such a hurry?
Take the time to learn it right and the rewards will come.
Be clear, that learning an instrument requires change on many levels and to play something requires many small puzzle pieces to be in place, before it sounds good.
- Your body has to adapt to new movements
- Your brain needs rebuild itself and create new pathways
- You have to develop cognitive skills like reading music and understanding basic musical concepts
- You have to develop a feel for time and how to play correctly to a metronome
As you see, this is a lot of change at the same time, so be patient with yourself during the process. Whatever your expectations are when starting out, I´d simply 10x them. Not to de-motivate yourself, but to avoid placing unrealistic expectations on yourself and then start doubting yourself after a few lessons.
Obstacle 2: Comparison
I often hear that comparing oneself to others is generally bad – I don´t think it has to be. It´s about using comparison to your advantage and avoiding the harmful version of it.
I distinguish two types of comparison:
Constructive comparison. This could be:
- Compare yourself with yourself. Track your progress and evaluate how you have progressed your skills compared to last month. Put in the time and effort and try to get better each month than the previous. You need to measure this in as many ways as you can and track your progress in detail (Practice journal, video, audio) to make a valid evaluation.
- Compare yourself with a friend who started at the same time and turn it into a challenge, helping and inspiring each other, always trying to outperform each other in a fun and motivating way.
- Compare yourself to the imagined version of your guitar hero when he was at your stage. This is impossible in real-life, because you will not have any data to do this, but you can visualize him in the theatre of your own mind and use that as a motivational tool. What would make him practice this much? How would he have structured his day and scheduled his practicing? What would motivate him and cause him to be on fire? Imagine how he would have handled challenges. You can even have an imaginary conversation with your hero and ask him about his challenges (Don´t do this out loud or you will end up in a place where the jackets have funny sleeves).
- Comparison gets destructive when you compare apples to oranges. If a beginner is frustrated that he cannot play like Buckethead, it´s because the comparison makes no sense. Buckethead has put in a lifetime of dedicated, focused effort and the beginner just a few weeks or months – so this is not a fair comparison and can only lead to frustration. This seems to be obvious, yet it can happen very easily if you don´t carefully watch what your mind is doing.
Obstacle 3: Not enjoying the journey
If you are constantly focused on the future result, never enjoying your practice and the things you can play right now, you are seriously hurting yourself, because you will create a mindset that assumes it can only ever be happy in the future. Guess what happens when you get there? Exactly! Your happiness is still in the future and however far you come, it´s always further ahead, always just out of reach.
What to do? We need a combination of the urge to achieve AND the ability to appreciate and celebrate what we already have achieved. If you enjoy what you have achieved without the urge to do more and get better, you get complacent, stagnate, repeat the same licks over and ultimately go backwards. If, on the other hand, you´re always rushing to the next thing immediately, you train yourself to never enjoy what you have achieved through your effort and this is detrimental for your progress, because this joy serves as fuel to continue your journey.
See it from this perspective: Isn´t it awesome that the journey never ends and that the guitar can bring you enjoyment for as long as you live? Try that with a videogame.
So, a great approach is to be happy where you are and always eager for more!
Obstacle 4: Integrating guitar playing into your life
For most of my guitar students it´s a big challenge to integrate guitar playing and their regular practice routine into their life.
A common mistake I often see people make when their life gets busy, is wanting to take a break from lessons or their practice until their circumstances in life quiet down. This, of course, never happens and they wait forever for the perfect time to get back into guitar, taking their dreams and music to their grave.
Unless you abandon everything and live in a shack in the woods, life never quiets down. You most likely have relationships with others, a job, some household chores etc. and we´re even not counting the unforeseen events that always come up in life. Accept that and realize that guitar needs to have a permanent place in your life without waiting for the ideal scenario – this is the art.
If learning the guitar is truly important to you, you will make room for it by dropping unnecessary things like an extra hour of TV, checking Facebook for the tenth time that day or meeting the friend that you have long since outgrown. The only question is: How important is guitar really to you? Are you willing to sacrifice something else to make room for it? Your choice will be the answer.
About the author:
Derk Stiepelmann is a professional musician and guitar instructor living in Dortmund, Germany. If you are looking for guitar lessons in Dortmund, you can contact him here: http://www.gitarrenunterricht-dortmund.com/