Just read a great book, “First, Learn to Practice” by Tom Heany ($5 for Kindle version on Amazon). It’s a quick, easy read, but it really resonated with me and made me think about my guitar practice in new ways. One of the book’s big ideas is this: “ If you don’t enjoy your practicing, change it until you do.”
So my question for discussion is this:
What have you done to make your practicing enjoyable?
Honestly it depends what floats your boat. Achieving a goal is great, make sure you have small steps on your goals and can track progress.
Otherwise let rip a bit and have some fun and be creative?
What makes my practice enjoyable is the feeling of progress. That comes in many ways, and I won’t bore you with it all, but going through Justin’s courses and feeling like I’ve really nailed things down before moving on is a large part of it. If I do that, then other things fall into place.
For me, the answer has evolved a bit.
When I first started playing, I was following the beginners course and doing all of the exercises within it as part of my practice. In the lessons, Justin would always say to make time in your routine for fun stuff and playing songs. Learning songs was what kept me motivated to learn, because as I could play more, I wanted to learn more.
Now, my practice is pretty much exclusively focused on learning songs. If there is a technique I need to work on to play a song, I focus on it until I can do it. I’ve started regularly playing with other people and we are always working on songs, so my practice time is focused on what I need to do to learn a particular song. Since being able to play songs I love has always been part of my goal, this keeps me motivated. Plus, playing with others is a lot of fun
I keep my practice about making music. I enjoy making music. (And making music is why we learn to play guitar in the first place.)
At the beginner level, I find the best way to make your practice about music is to learn songs.
I’m inspiration driven when it comes to playing guitar. Usually it’s an interesting chord progression that makes me pick up my guitar. Songs and backing tracks can be the gateway drug to interesting progressions. The lines are blurry between practice and playing something that I would want to record. Both practice and playing need some level of inspiration, otherwise I don’t see the point.
I have to feel like my practice is part of a structured program. That it’s arranged in a way that is teaching a specific element like maybe to introduce a concept, or meant to achieve a specific thing like maybe to build up a muscle or some kind of dexterity. If it is, then I feel like going to guitar school every night is fun. If practice doesn’t feel like it is working towards a coarse goal (teaching a concept/technique/riff/lick/song) or isn’t part of a larger program (indicative that I am making progress in a system) then I just cannot do it.
I hope that once I get these module techniques down and I’ve got some skill of some kind, then I can practice songs and improvise and explore creatively.
Lots of little things, but an overarching one is to make practice musical, whether its a technique, scales, chord changes, arpeggios whatever. Not only more enjoyable, but the learning is accelerated.
To make it enjoyable, I pick up the guitar.
Probably the only thing that deters my enjoyment is setting goals that are too hard. So I try to not do that.
The enjoyable bit is definitely playing songs so I’ll practice anything new and potentially difficult first and finish with at least one song that I know I can play so that tends to be the thing that I remember rather than any frustration from the first part of the session.
The early stages are the hardest to enjoy because while you’re learning your first few chords there’s only so much you can do with them. I think Justin’s songs app is helpful here, because even if you’re just doing simple down strums, alternating between A and D, if you’re playing along to something you can at least feel sort of musical!
This! Same for me.
First: I never needed to force motivation to practice until now. Alone, seeing my guitars in their stands makes me happy and I can hardly resist to pick them up . During the day it’s hard to stay focused on the work that has to be done before I allow myself practice time.
If I get stuck and I don’t progress on a certain skill or song, I adapt my routine to something else and come back after a few days. My practice routine isn’t set in stone so there’s always something attracive to learn or try out. I’m thankful that we have well structured pathways at least through Grades 1-3, that helps a lot not to get lost.
Second: I think it helps a lot to have realistic goals and expectations and to review them from time to time. Acepting weaknesses is part of the game and gives me challenges during my way. Some of them I can improve with practice discipline, some of them maybe not, so be it.
There is always something to learn or improve!
Shane @sclay makes a very good point about making practice musical.
It can be easy to play something as written, but am I playing it musically? I like to play around with accents and dynamics and how I pick or strum and try to get the right time feel to try to bring the music out. When I find something that sounds better it makes practice more enjoyable and I feel I’m getting somewhere.
I’m like you in this respect. Playing songs is inherently rewarding, of course, but my perfectionism gets in the way of my feeling like I’ve “accomplished” something when I play a song and inevitably make a few mistakes. On the other hand, working through my practice sheet and checking off the boxes every morning, knowing that it’s working toward a larger goal - that triggers the old dopamine release!
Yes! For 18 months it’s been tough! I can tell in other forums when someone is much more advanced beginner when they’re stuck doing some riff or lead solo. I can barely get the chord linking exercise to sound good and that’s only two flippin notes in row!
Good observations all around. Learning something new is enjoyable. Marking lessons off your list as complete is too. Watching skilled guitar players and understanding what they are doing - fun. But the biggest thrill is the warm feeling you get when you sit back and say to yourself, "Whoa! I just played Imagine on my guitar!
I have to be honest. I enjoy every aspect of my guitar journey. So for me it’s pretty easy to keep motivated. So much to learn and practice, I can easily just keep going. Generally I practice anywhere from 30-90 mins depending on practice session I am doing. This is just practice…then on to songs, alot of playing songs. Min 1 hour playing songs no longer than 3 hours(usually). Depends on my practice routine, the longer the routine, the longer I play songs. I consider it my reward for practicing straight. It works for me.
I also practice my strumming and making it feel good before I play a song for 5 mins. Nice and slow and really concentrate on relaxing, accents and rhythm.
In an earlier part of my adult life, I started learning violin. I was diligent and enjoyed practicing daily, but not talented. Did make progress in spite of myself and took weekly lessons. Teacher encouraged me to play chamber music and I also joined the Atlanta Community Orchestra. People there all played in orchestras since childhood. I felt constant pressure to learn new symphonic pieces every couple weeks and all my lesson/practice time was spent on this. It became too much like a job that I was failing at. Although I’m sure I made progress during that time, I didn’t enjoy it.
I now just like practicing guitar as one skill just leads to another. I have no goals other than following the process which is completely enjoyable. Have been asked a couple times to play with others, but have declined. Plenty of backing tracks on YouTube instead. Have had more than enough competition and pressure in the past.
One aspect, especially for those of us with a few extra years, is we come at it with our own determination and decision. I may never be a great player, but I am doing this because I want this in my life, I want to be doing this with my time and I have finally come to a place where I actually took the step to get on it.
For me, a big part of it is that I am not learning guitar because of some imagined future ability. I am playing guitar because I want this process, this journey in my life.
The importance of that is that I am not discouraged that I can’t play a certain thing/level/speed now. That I haven’t achieved the same level as someone else. I am going where I am going in my way and my pace and this is a whole experience, not a directive to achieve anything specific.
I play songs and then hone in on specific exercises that help me play those songs and am slowly learning how to identify basic skill lessons or exercises that will improve the playing I am trying to do. Nothing is really a chore, because it all is what I want to do and have decided to do.
Often with a cup of tea in the morning, and sometimes also a cup of tea in the afternoon … and not worrying about how quickly/or slowly I learn something
And definitely keep reading the stories here, it keeps the whole guitar thing extra fun
That kind of sums it up for me, too. But darn it, I still want to sound like John Prine!