Everything is mental. Your progress is for a great deal dependent upon your mind, mental state, thoughts and beliefs. In order to maximize the outcome of your musical development, it helps to be positive and adopt a mindset geared towards progress and towards learning without pressure.
- Not Keeping Your Focus
It’s hard to get anything done if your mind is constantly diverted away from what you are working on. Shut down your phone if you have to, refrain from checking your Facebook, and force your attention to stay focused on what you are working on. In doing so, you will get much more done in much lesser amount of time. One of the things that help is to imprint in your mind how important the exercise is that you are focusing on. It is easier to keep your attention on a task when that task feels like something that is very important for your future. Another thing that helps is seeing things in the right perspective. If you see where the task you are working on fits in, into the bigger picture of what your goals are, you are probably going to feel more driven to get that task done. Chop big projects up into smaller tasks. It is easier to keep your attention on smaller tasks. Learning guitar is a big project. Have short drills that you can do in 10-15 minutes. By the time your focus is about to waver, you are already on to the next exercise.
- Practicing Inefficiently
The smarter you practice, the better your progress is going to be. A primary example of inefficient practice: trying to conquer something you can’t play well yet, at a speed that is way beyond what you are capable off. That is a huge time waster. Slower is faster. The more slowly you practice something, the faster you are going to master it. Another example of inefficient practice habits: doing the same drills for too long at a time. It is much better to practice something 3 times in a day for 10 minutes at a time, than practicing it for half an hour. Limit your practice time to 15-minute sessions for most guitar exercises. Sigh-reading and technique exercises can be worked on in longer stretches. Practicing rhythm and technique without a metronome is another example of inefficient practice. Your rhythm playing and technique are much more efficiently trained with a metronome. That steady pulse/beat is necessary to guide you in training your time feel and your technical abilities. Without a metronome: you are merely wasting precious time and talent.
- Not Having Clear Goals or Direction
If you’re not sure that the direction you are moving to, is where you really want to go to: are you still progressing? This is a valid question when you consider that life passes by very quickly, and that there is an endless array of topics to learn when it comes to guitar and music. Following questions are helpful in defining what you want to learn. Why do you play guitar? What kind of guitarist are you hoping to become? What is your favorite style of music? What do you love playing the most? Who are your favorite guitar players? How do you see yourself as a guitarist 2,3,5,10 years from now. The answers to these questions will reveal your direction. Once that has been established: you can set your goals to get you forward in that direction. Someone who wants to become a jazz guitarist is going to have a very different learning experience with very different goals than someone who wants to become a killer shred metal player. Someone who wants to learn classical is going to have very different goals and exercises than someone who merely wants to learn how to strum songs. Someone who is hoping to write songs and become a good songwriter is going to have different goals and training than someone who wants to improve his music reading or who wants to start up a cover band. Know what you want to learn: then research how to get there, so you can set goals to move you forward on your journey.
- The “I’m a Perfectionist” Trap
This is a tremendous mental obstacle for many people, that does a lot of damage to their progress. First off: striving for perfection is useless because there is no such thing. “Perfection” is in the eye of the beholder. It is subjective. Moreover: that frame of mind puts so much pressure onto the person who claims and beliefs he’s a perfectionist, that the unnecessary strain he causes hampers his progress. After all: it’s hard to move forward when you’re terrified you might make a mistake on your next move. I’ve got news for you: nobody cares about perfection. By the same token: nobody likes being around someone who is so hard on himself. People just want to have fun and listen to some good music, and they much rather prefer to spend that time with someone who is relaxed and self-loving. Lastly: there is also the danger of the “I’m a perfectionist” statement to turn into an excuse you use to justify your lack of practice, progress and focus. That really will get you stuck in your progress. “Oh well… It’s hard for me to get myself to practice enough because I get so bugged by all these mistake I am making… which is hard to deal with for a perfectionist”. Ah excuses: Don’t use them… pick up your guitar and have fun with it!
- Excuses and Negative Beliefs
Let’s elaborate a bit more on excuses. Excuses are born out of negative beliefs about yourself. Nothing good has ever come out of anything “negative”. Beliefs such as, “I learn differently,” “My hands are too big/small,” “I’ve never been good at theory,” “This is hard,” “I can’t do this,” “My mind works differently,” “I should have started younger,” and “I have a problem playing this” will get you absolutely nowhere because they keep you captured and enslaved. Those are merely stories you tell yourself, not reality. “Excuses” are what you get when you turn those stories into reasons that you try to come up with to explain why you could not achieve your goal, or find enough time to practice, or get something done. Excuses drag down your inner power, and weaken your results, strength and progress. Why would you even get started practicing that 1 song that has a bit of a stretch in one of the chords, if “your hands are too small anyway” (which hands never are, unless you really make yourself believe so)? If you catch yourself holding on to a belief that will decapitate your progress, start changing these negative thoughts into positive ones such as. You’re never too old, your hands are definitely not too small or too large, you have enough brain to learn anything in any possible way, and you can do this. And nothing is ever “hard”, but everything can be “challenging”. Replace the negative words with positive ones in your language. Nothing is ever “a problem”, but always merely “a situation”.
- Not Pushing Hard Enough
Pushing yourself to go above and beyond your comfort zone is going to skyrocket your progress. You are capable of much more than you think you are. The longer you stay in your comfort zone, the more you are missing out on making amazing discoveries on your musical journey. Nobody ever learned or progressed to higher states of being and abilities by staying in his comfort zone. Constantly expose yourself to adventures and experiences where you have to find your way and resolve hairy situations you never encountered before. The cool feeling of achievement that kicks in is priceless. It surely beats having an easy life, where everything comes natural to you, and where you already know now how your life is going to look like 10-20 years from now. Take lessons, dare to go down, dare to make mistakes, book shows on very tight deadlines, jam with people who are much better, play a style you suck at and book a show in 3 days where you have to play that style, start a tribute band covering the music of a guitarist who is beyond your capabilities, etc.
Self-study is a complete waste of talent. Even if your goals are modest: it pays off to achieve these goals in a more efficient way and in much shorter time. A teacher who does this for a living, will inspire you more deeply, hold you accountable, save you lots of time and hassle trying to figure things out, save you a lot of time not having to unlearn things over time, and provide you with the resources to learn what you would like to learn. Time and time again: students who previously were self-taught and decided to start taking lessons: acknowledge to their first teacher that they are having so much more fun because they learn so much more and so much more quickly. Even only trying to find the resources: can waste so much of your time. There is so much information out there online about guitar: having to sort through it could almost become a day job. Not to mention the fact that you are still not sure then how accurate the information is. Everybody and his grandma posts stuff on the Internet. The time you spend trying to find the information and exercises you are looking for: could be time well spent actually practicing your guitar, which is where the progress lies.
- Being Flaky
Skipping lessons, showing up late, procrastinating, watching TV while you could be learning: all of those are discipline issues. If it is hard for you to get yourself to practice guitar and be diligent: then maybe guitar is simply not your thing. Things you really like doing; you naturally will want to do all the time without any pressure. If it feels like “work”, then it is not your thing. If you do really like playing guitar, and you want to get a lot better at it, but you still have a hard time being diligent or punctual: then it is time to address those is traits in your personality, because you will at some point feel a decline in your love for guitar. Part of what makes guitar so much fun, is learning new things and seeing yourself getting better at it. You don’t quite have that happening if you don’t spent enough time with your guitar on a regular basis.
- Over Analyzing
I always liked the “analysis-paralysis” idea. A great deal of time can be wasted over over-analyzing things. Especially people who are more left brained (engineers, scientists, accountants…) tend to fall in that category. It never ceased to amaze me how very intelligent people, contradictory to what you would expect, more often than not tend to be the ones who struggle the hardest with guitar. If you are a more left brained oriented person, then guitar will be great for you as it will lead to a more balanced brain usage. “Over analysis” is not exclusive to logical and analysis minded people though. Relinquish the need for control (which is what over-analyzing is all about, it contains the word “anal” after all), and simply start strumming and having fun without wondering why or how things are working. Trust that the inner workings will reveal themselves over time, as they always do. Guitar and music are as much about “feel”, “motion”, “flow” and “intuition”. Play, the rest will figure itself out.
- Buying a Cheap Guitar
Though having an expensive guitar is not necessarily going to help your progress if you don’t practice enough, having a poorly made guitar is not going to motivate you to practice either. After all: the cheaper the guitar, the poorer the craftsmanship, the harder the instrument typically is to play. You do not need a top-of-the-line guitar to become a good guitarist, but it surely helps to have an instrument that works with you, not against you. When your guitar is harder to play due to poorer craftsmanship: you might become demotivated. You might start thinking guitar is hard, or not for you. Before you start putting yourself down, take some time out to visit a guitar store and try out the things you are struggling with on a more top-end of the line guitar. You might be surprised to find out that you are a much better guitarist than you think you are, on a better-built instrument. If money is an issue: try eBay or Craigslist and buy a used guitar. Learning guitar is much more fun on a great guitar that suits you well.