Motivation is what keeps us going. But you have to set expectations and keep going to get results.
When I’ve received my first own guitar as a gift I already had some prior experience and knew a couple of chords. So my expectations were pretty high. A bit of practicing and I will be playing songs in no time. Well, not so as it turns. I expected “quick result” without a clear plan how to get there. That is a recipe for a (small) disaster. Ten years later I realised that I haven’t play even 8 hours on my guitar (actually two by then, I bought an electric as well hoping for a “silent” practice) and haven’t progressed any further. Why is that?
Well, thinking back I think it is a combination of unrealistic expectations, lack of structure and dedicated practice time. My “tipping point” moment was (as many other things in our life) when I was sick in bed with plenty of time to think and no ability to do anything physically. At certain point, when my eyes were not aching too much I looked up a couple of Youtube videos and the one with Tommy Emmanuel TEDx talk was a turning point to put myself against a (virtual) wall and make a decision on whether I still want to play or not. And if it is still the case – do it now or forget about the whole thing and stop bugging myself. So I went for “yes, I will do it”. But then something else happened as well.
Instead of “play like Tommy next month” I decided to approach this as a journey and enjoy each little step I could make. This changed the way I looked at it and let me enjoy literally every day I could get my hands on instrument and enjoy the music on the level I could play at that point. And what is more important, enjoy the small improvements I was making the more I played. This does not mean that I do not have a bigger goal, but I stopped frustrating myself because I wasn’t reaching my “super-goal” today. Enjoy what you already can and put effort into making it even better. I am very far from where I want to be (and that may shift even further once I am getting closer), but that does not stop me from enjoying the process and the journey I am taking.
It didn’t go that smooth and there were many distractions and GAS’ing (abbr. Gear Acquisition Syndrom) along the way, but I tried to keep practicing as much as I can. There are plenty of different way to do that from online videos and complete courses, websites and apps, books and (even) real-world teachers with the latter being often both perceived as overpriced and apparently underestimated.
What is important is that you keep to your practice schedule and keep it at least three times a week even if it is limited to, say, 15 minutes a day. In that way you keep your (muscle) memory in shape and keep progressing by little. Surprisingly, if you skip a week (for a good reason), it does not go away and as soon as you pick it up again. But you have to pick it up and keep going! Yes, you may not be playing like Steve Vai after a couple of month yet, but that is not the point. Those guys practice day-in and day-out (just like what you may do for your study or job), but hey, they do it for living! And I am not sure I want to be jealous. I do have job I love and family I want to be with, but there is time I want devote to guitar playing and I certainly do so.
There is yet another reason to play guitar. Besides the joy it gives (being able to play first “primitive” tune without a mistake was really a no-return point :)), it works very well for your otherwise stressed and full of “daily noise” mind. some people claim playing an instrument is equal to meditation and I certainly believe so. It distracts from the daily noise and relieves of the stress. That is it is important to enjoy playing “at this very moment” and not add stress of “I cannot play what I want” (yet). It will come, but it takes time. It does not help to think about it, but it certainly helps to practice bit by bit. That is also why (when you can play a little bit), try “breaking free” and just play for yourself (or others if you’re lucky :)). Try to improvise, “noodle”, whatever you call it. Being able to play or improvise gives a really good feeling (even if it does not sound that nice yet). I love doing that with some drum rhythms and a looper to put some backing track on my own. This teaches rhythm and let you think and feel “what works and what does not”. More on this in a separate post.
So to summarize: setting reasonable goals, enjoying small achievements, seeing practice as means to relax and enjoy the moment (meditate) will make your journey to mastering guitar much better experience. Take your time and enjoy the process! It is a life-long experience.