Frustrated with Guitar? How to Recalibrate and Move Forward

Like any long-term relationship, we move through many emotions in our guitar practice. We can be enamoured with guitar, and we can be frustrated with guitar. And all points between.

So what should we do when we get frustrated? How do we proceed when we’re not having fun? How do we move past disappointment and break through to new levels?

Learning Guitar is Challenging

First, we can acknowledge that learning and practicing classical guitar is enormously difficult. It takes more coordination and precision than most any other hobby.

And we also have to keep focus for extended periods of time. So the challenge is great in each moment, and we have to rise to each one after the next without pause.

This means that classical guitar demands acrobatic feats of both mental and physical prowess. No small task.

So it’s no surprise we sometimes become frustrated, discouraged or upset. But what do we do about it?

First Things First: Step Away

Before we address our own frustration and set to transform it, we must first take a moment to calm down.

If we are in an emotionally turbulent mood, little will help in that moment. The best course of action here is to put down the guitar and step away. We can go for a walk, have a snack, or do some housework. Anything to create distance and help us “cool down” and relax.

As Alan Watts once said, “Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.

Once calm, we can gain some perspective and move forward.

Frustration Means We’re Not Meeting Expectations

What leads to frustration? Where does frustration come from? How about disappointment or dissatisfaction?

Frustration comes from not meeting our expectations.

We assume something should be different than it is, and we become emotional when it isn’t as we predict.

We think something should be easier, or come faster. We think we should improve more quickly, or memorize more easily.

When this belief is in conflict with reality, we don’t like it. And this leads to frustration.

The Cure for Frustration: Manage Your Expectations

The sure-fire way to avoid frustration is to manage our expectations. Instead of assuming things should be easy, we can assume they will be difficult. We can expect our progress to take more time than we would estimate.

For example, say we decide to drive across China. If we expect it to be simple and easy, we’ll likely get a rude awakening and become upset.  Instead, we could expect the journey to be full of setbacks, surprises and obstacles. Then we can meet each test as it comes and enjoy the adventure.

On the guitar, we may ambitiously choose to play a piece beyond our current ability.  Or we may find one we thought would be a breeze is actually difficult.

Once we adjust our expectations, there is no reason to become frustrated.

Remember: Guitar is For Fun

For most of us, guitar is an optional pastime. We could stop practicing for a decade or more, and no one would come to the house and scold us. It’s for fun. It’s a hobby.

One of the beauties of guitar as a hobby is that it offers infinite challenge and opportunity for growth. We can never reach “the end”, or finish guitar. It’s marvels are truly boundless.

We naturally want to see improvement and meet goals. We’re competitive creatures, even with ourselves. But over-identifying with goals can lead to disappointment. In fact, we may miss “the point” altogether. Goals are useful and rewarding, but only when they offer positive motivation and direction.

The largest, most over-arching goal most of us share is to enjoy a life of music and discovery. We want rich and rewarding daily work. We want to grow and evolve.

If some belief or expectation is getting in the way of this, then it is undermining the whole affair.

As lifelong guitarists, we will face difficulties and trials, time and again. We will find that what we thought was right is wrong, and what we thought easy is not. We slip on the “banana peels” of our prior beliefs. It’s all part of the game.

When we accept reality, we can loosen up and embrace each twist and turn. We can avoid emotional pitfalls, and mind the gap.

Bonus tip

One of the best ways to deal with frustration or a lack of inspiration is to change your guitar strings.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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