Courtesy of Hugh McIntyre...
There are few instruments that are known to be as rough, as difficult to get going on, and as frustrating as learning to play the guitar. If you’re going to try to learn the guitar, you need to know what to do to survive the long hours it takes just to get started...
Guitar training has chewed up and spit out millions of people over the years, so if you’re going to be one of the few who actually makes it, and learns to play, there are some tips you need to keep in mind in order to prevent yourself from going crazy frustrated and giving up.
1. Stay positive
Obviously, one of the best ways to keep from getting depressed and going crazy is to stay positive, but that’s so difficult to do sometimes. There's disappointment waiting around every corner, and as I mentioned, learning the guitar is so hard make work for you that feeling blue is bound to happen.
It’s okay to get down from time to time, but if you let all the technique, scales and theory destroy your happiness, it could end up hurting you more than helping, and it’s nearly-impossible to rebound from that.Which is likely why so many people quit and give up the guitar before they cross those initial hurdles.
It might sound silly, but wake up every morning and remind yourself how lucky you are to be learning about making music and to be investing your time in learning such a cool instrument. That might be the opposite of what you’re feeling, but realizing that there are hordes of people out there who likely wish they could be playing guitar puts things into perspective. I’ve had to do the same thing many times as a writer working in the music industry, and it's been effective.
As a musician, you should always be listening, and I mean that in more than just one way. Always have your ears open for what other musicians are doing, for new talent and for inspiration, as well as for what people say. Take note of what those who have been practicing the guitar for longer than you are saying and doing.
Feel free to work in questions when you’re speaking with those who have been in the game for a long time. What gets them to keep it up? How do they deal with the frustration and the long hours of practice? What excites them, and how have they made it through the hurdles of learning the instrument so far?
People love passing down wisdom and the secrets to their success, and you can learn a lot if you just listen.
3. Work on the Guitar every day
If you're looking to only put in a few hours between Monday and Sunday, you’re in the wrong head-space, and learning guitar will be very difficult for you.
While many guitar students get in 3 or 4 days, great players rarely miss a day away from the instrument. If you want to become really good, and highly successful at guitar, you need to practice it every day, no matter what.
I’m not saying you need to go into a room and spend 2 hrs a day, 7-days a week, but it’s not advisable to leave the guitar for days, or worse not pick it up for a month. Whether you're actually working on something new, rehearsing songs, or just fooling around, be musical every single day.
Do something interesting with the guitar every single day of the week. You'll need to be like this for a few years to get the foundation.
4. Try new things
While making music is a creative endeavor, that doesn’t mean that things don’t sometimes get stale and slightly boring. Playing the same tunes over and over can be exhausting, and even new music that fits in with the same genre you’ve been selling for a while can be tiring.
An guitarist... a musical artist needs to switch things up and do something different every once in awhile to keep from losing his or her edge.
If playing the guitar starts feeling monotonous and repetitive, do something completely different! Try learning a song that's not what people are used to, do more theory, learn to read music, or maybe even switch musical genres.
I wouldn’t suggest making a drastic shift for good, as it'll alienate you from your most interested styles, but there’s nothing wrong with trying something new just for the sake of trying it.If you like rock, try country. If you only play folk, try reggae. Learning new styles goes a long way in keeping yourself motivated.
5. Keep thinking big
While you may still be playing Twinkle Twinkle, or Happy Birthday to You, great things could lie ahead. Everybody had to start somewhere, and there's always room for some great new breakthroughs in your music.
Having the ability to play Stairway to Heaven might seem like it’s an impossible dream, but working towards those big goals never hurts. Even if you don’t ever play like Eddie Van Halen, the hustle you will feel when you hope that you will get there could help you learn styles and techniques in guitar music that you never would have if you assumed you could possible play.
Keep in mind the sappy adage of shooting for the moon, because even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. It’s corny, but there’s a reason you’ve heard it a million times in your life.
6. Don't compare yourself to others
It might be tough to avoid looking at better players and wondering why you aren’t where they are, but that kind of thinking can kill your drive and momentum a lot faster than you’ll imagine.
Stop comparing yourself to others and focus on being the best you possible be. It simply does no good at all to try and compare where you are now to where somebody else is.
If you continue to make strides in your playing, and if you continue to work incredibly hard to build your way up the ranks as a guitarist, only good things can happen. When you only focus on yourself, you'll notice more.
You are who you are, and you're at where you're at. Over time you'll improve and with practice you're going to get better each day! It's just that simple.
Hugh McIntyre is a freelance pop music journalist in NYC by way of Boston. He has written for Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, and MTV, as well as various magazines and blogs around the world.
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