Being a motivated musician is not easy. Just picking up an instrument doesn’t mean that you’re going to be able to play and sound even remotely good. Often, it takes a good bit of time before anything you do on a new instrument sounds even remotely musical. This is why it’s so important for you to have a high level of motivation throughout the whole process, whether you’re learning your first chords all the way to getting your improvisation sounding great. Here’s some musician motivation for you: a few ways that you can use to make sure you never get demotivated to the point of giving up!
While this list is written from the perspective of a guitarist, it can be applied to just about any instrument.
Odds are that if you pick up the guitar in the hopes of sounding just like Jimi Hendrix in a week’s time, it won’t be long before you get frustrated to the point of smashing your guitar against a wall. Practicing an instrument can turn from a soothing activity to something the infuriates a person when their approach is wrong.
One of the ways that people approach practice incorrectly is by never really setting any goals. If goals are ever set, they tend to be super unrealistic.
If you’re an absolute newbie, a good goal to start with would be to learn how to properly play three chords by the end of a week. Then maybe you could learn another three chords the next week, and maybe the week after that you might aim to play a simple tune.
If you’re more on the intermediate side of things, then perhaps you might want to dedicate an entire week to solely memorising a scale. Next week, you can practice soloing in it, (without expecting to sound like B.B. King right off the bat), but only remaining in one key. The next week, you can try soloing using the scale in different keys.
Having simple and realistic goals like this can help you remain motivated when you achieve them and keep you from having to dedicate a daunting amount of time to your instrument every single day. It’s very easy to achieve the goals listed above if you just practice for 15 minutes each day.
It’s true that some people are gifted at playing musical instruments. They seem to pull off difficult chord progressions without breaking a sweat and play the most technical solos without even looking at their instruments. It’s important to remember that everyone is different and that the only person you should be focusing on is yourself.
I personally fell into the comparison trap myself many times. I spent an insanely long amount of time practicing barre chords while my friends where playing music I couldn’t even imagine myself playing, and it discouraged me quite a bit. When I realised that the only person whose skill level I should care about is myself, I worked my butt off to play barre chords and beyond. I’m playing things I only thought I’d be able to play in my wildest dreams.
You are the average of the three people you spend the most of your time with. It’s important to stay away from toxic, negative people who always put you down and belittle your progress. It can be a little bit difficult to spot people like this, so here are a few examples of things that they say:
It’s easy to mistake remarks like this for leg-pulling and teasing, but if you hear things like this on a regular basis, it’s time for you to cut some people out of your life. No need to make a dramatic scene where you tell them you’re done with them; just politely refuse their offers to hang out with you, and they’ll eventually leave you alone.
Instead, it’s a lot better for you to spend time with people who are positive and want to see you succeed. Being around positive people helps you to think more positively as well. It can be very difficult to transition from an environment of negativity to an environment of positivity, especially when you have become accustomed to toxicity. Trust me when I say that the effort is worth it, not just for your future success as a musician but for your overall mental health as well.
Wanting to play your instrument can be quite difficult to motivate yourself to do if you’re not playing music that interests you. YouTube guitarist Ben Eller has an interesting video on this topic.
Find artists that you adore. Learn their songs. Learn how to make the sounds that you love to hear. There’s no feeling quite like being able to play your favourite songs (and if possible, learn them by ear!).
If you find that the music by your favourite artists is a little bit too difficult for you to play right now, it might be worth doing some research on what their influences are. Musicians tend to build upon the music that they like to make their own songs, so oftentimes, their music ends up being more complicated than that of their influences. Maybe led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven solo is a bit too difficult for you right now, so why not cut your teeth with a little bit of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf?
It’s important to have people to look up to. When you have an ideal that you strive towards, you will have the motivation to get far, much further than you would if you didn’t. You don’t need to pick someone as technically gifted as Alan Holdsworth to strive towards. They just have to make music that you like. You could strive to be like Kurt Cobain. You could strive to be like Steve Jones. You could strive to be like Taylor Swift (who is honestly an underrated guitarist).
When you feel like it’s time for you to give up, think about the countless hours of practice that these people spent to get to where they are with the guitar. Remember that you can get there too if you practice enough.
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Edward Eyer took the photograph featured at the top of this article. See more of his work here.