When I first started playing guitar, it was purely for fun.
I thought the guitar was the coolest sounding thing I had ever heard.
I was 7 years old at the time, and eventually strumming a few chords for fun turned into taking guitar lessons from an older kid who lived down the street.
Along with those lessons, something changed with how I thought about playing guitar. I got well intentioned advice from my guitar teacher and family members about how long and how often I should practice.
“If you’re going to take guitar lessons, you have to practice at least 30 minutes every day.”
This advice led to a few different things: a dedicated practice time each day, an organized list of things I needed to do every time I practiced, and a sudden dislike for playing my guitar.
What happened with me (and with a lot of students I’ve worked with since) was that playing guitar had become like homework.
It went from something I enjoyed doing to something I had do do every day before I could do something else I thought was fun.
Even though playing my guitar was something I really enjoyed doing, a simple change in my thought process turned it into a chore to be avoided.
Because of this, I became really bad about practicing my guitar for a while.
I would put off practicing for my guitar lessons as long as I could, because I no longer thought of it as something that was fun.
Eventually, I actually quit playing guitar completely.
The structured, timed practice sessions made playing guitar feel like homework, and took all of the fun out of it for me.
After I had quit playing guitar for a while, something changed for me. Guitar seemed like fun again.
I decided to play guitar again with the condition that I would only play when I wanted to.
No more to do lists, no more egg timers set at 30 minute intervals.
(For the record, I do use timers now - but only as a reminder of when to stop playing my guitar so I an get my actual work done on time)
I dug my guitar out of the closet, and found a song that seemed like fun to play.
I was finally playing for fun again, and actually enjoyed the time spent on my guitar.
Eventually I got involved playing guitar in the jazz band at my middle school. I found out there was a band class that I could actually play my guitar in, and I was hooked!
Learning to play this new style of music gave me a new challenge: there were chords I needed to know how to play for jazz guitar that I had never seen before.
I was also supposed to learn how to do things I had never heard of like scales, and play written melodies that used notes I had never gotten to in the method books I had been learning from.
This might seem like it would be overwhelming at first glance, but each new chord, scale, or melody I needed to learn became like a puzzle I actually wanted to solve.
Eventually I started taking guitar lessons with an amazing teacher in my hometown.
In our lessons he showed me how to develop skills on the guitar that would make it easier for me to play in jazz band.
These weren’t shortcuts, they were the real skills that professional guitar players use every day.
It took me some time because I was really learning how to play the guitar, not just the songs in jazz band - but as I got better, the songs in jazz band got easier to play.
At this point, playing guitar was fun again.
Whether I was working on an exercise for my next guitar lesson or learning a new part of a song for jazz band, practicing guitar was fun for me.
My middle school band director ran a semi-professional jazz band in the area, and invited me to join as my guitar playing improved.
I was only in 8th grade but I was playing in 2 hour rehearsals every Monday night, and performing at weddings and private parties a couple of times a month.
Suddenly I was playing guitar all the time - well beyond the 30 minute requirement that had led to me quitting a few years earlier.
The difference was that it didn’t feel like homework anymore - everything I played, I played for fun.
The biggest thing that changed for me was how I thought about playing my guitar.
Some well intentioned advice can quickly turn something that is and should be fun into a chore that you just can’t find the time for.
I talk to many students and parents about this, because I know first hand how much better they can get if they keep things fun.
The truth is, some of the best guitar players I’ve ever met aren’t focused on how long they practice for.
These people just love playing guitar, and spend a lot of time playing it because of that.
Here are a couple of things I share with my own guitar students in lessons that can help keep your guitar practice fun, and help you make progress without going into the homework zone:
Find Music You Want To Play
Learning to play guitar is a lot more fun when you’re playing music that you actually want to be working on.
Keep a list of songs you want to play.
Don’t worry about if you think it will be too hard, or too easy, or anything like that.
If you’re taking guitar lessons, your teacher should be able to help you adapt a song you want to play so that you can play it and learn from it.
Make some time to play a little bit of something that is fun for you each time you pick up your guitar.
Even if it’s not something you’re working on in guitar lessons, it’s important to play for fun - that’s probably why you got started with guitar in the first place, right?
Develop Your Fundamental Guitar Skills
Fundamental guitar skills are things like chords, strumming, picking, scales, and technique exercises that make it easier for you to play what you want on the guitar.
You don’t need a long routine or anything like that, just try to spend a little bit of your time on something that challenges you in your guitar playing.
This could be a new skill, a tricky chord change, or a spot in your new song that you’re getting stuck at.
Just pick one thing and work on it for a little bit when you’re playing.
The better your guitar skills get, the easier it will get for you to play your favorite songs, and learn new songs - even if they’re harder than what you can already play.
Play With Other People If You Can
Sometimes playing with other people is just more fun than practicing by yourself.
One of the big reasons I started playing guitar as much as I did was that I was playing in a couple of jazz bands.
You don’t have to join a band or learn a new style of music to play with other people.
You could find a friend who plays guitar, or ask your guitar teacher to help you find someone you can play with.
Your guitar playing will improve just by playing with someone else, and you’ll have an extra reason to pick up your guitar throughout the week.
Every time I’ve sat down with someone to play guitars, I’ve felt better afterwards - even if I didn’t really want to play at the time.
Things To Think About
These are some of the things that helped me take guitar practice from feeling like a chore to being something fun that I look forward to every day.
Whatever your reasons for learning to play guitar, try to keep it fun.
Your time playing your guitar can be homework, or it can be something you can’t wait to do when you get home.
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