How to Master Motivation in Your Classical Guitar Practice

It feels good when we’re excited by our music. When we’re enthusiastic and eager to pick up the guitar, practice comes easy.

We welcome obstacles and see them as fun little challenges. We bring energy, curiosity and joy to every note.

But what about those days when we don’t have the motivation to practice? What then?

Table of Contents

Motivation is a Feeling

Motivation is wonderful. When we’re motivated, we’re pulled toward guitar practice as if by a magnet.

But that’s not always the case.

Motivation is a feeling. It can come and go. It would be great if it were always there, but it’s not. Some days, especially when we haven’t played recently, we feel the opposite. On these days, sitting down to the guitar takes an active force of will.

Feelings are Fickle

Feelings can be manipulated. Our motivation can be undermined by something as trivial as hunger.

Other people can influence our feelings, and distract us from practicing.

If we wait on a certain feeling before taking action, we’re handing over control to a fickle, volatile force.

Instead, to have constant improvement on guitar, we have to sit down to a regular practice. We have to be consistent and reliable. We have to first learn something, then ingrain it, then train it. And that takes the ”D“ word…..

Discipline is a Choice

“Discipline” sounds so stodgy. It brings images of suffering and sacrifice. It conjures the image of a field cow standing resolute in the rain.

But in reality, discipline is the willingness to make a choice.

To show discipline means we do what we’ve committed ourselves to, whether we feel like it or not.

Luckily, we don’t need discipline forever. It’s not a hill we climb for eternity. After a while, what used to take discipline becomes a habit.

Motivation Eliminates the Need for Discipline

When we’re motivated, we don’t need discipline. When we’re eager and ready, we don’t need will.

The days we feel motivated are like flat spots or downhill stretches in the road. We coast. We glide forward without effort. These days are a gift.

But if we want to keep going when the road starts to incline again, we must be willing to put our foot back on the gas.

100% is Easy. 99% is Hard.

Many people have pointed out this notion that 100% is easy, but 99% is hard.

This is because with 99%, there’s a decision.

With 100%, we have no decision to make. We just do it. Like brushing our teeth, or going to work, or putting on shoes before leaving home. We don’t question it. We don’t pout about it. We just do it.

When it comes to guitar practice, the easiest way to form a daily habit is to remove the choice. We set a time and a place that works, and we don’t question it (or at least not at practice time).

Habits Create Momentum. And Momentum Feels Good.

After we’ve exercised discipline for a while and shown up regularly for guitar practice, we create the practice habit.

Instead of needing discipline or motivation, it becomes “just what we do”.

The upside of the practice habit is the we see regular improvement.

And we see improvement, we become motivated. It feels good to see improvement, and we want more. So we continue to show up and practice.

We gain momentum, and we learn faster and better. We see more improvement, and the cycle feeds itself.

Momentum creates motivation.

Momentum creates motivation. A consistent guitar practice pulls us forward and feels good.

Having the habit doesn’t mean that every single day will feel good. But over the long term, it reduces the need for discipline and increases motivation. And that leads to more good feelings.

To Make Habits Stick, Create a Low Bar to Success.

So the initial purpose of discipline is to create the habit. After we have the habit, we still need occasional discipline to keep it going. But not as much as when we’re “out of the habit”.

To get habits to stick, to become habitual, it helps to set a low bar to success.

Our brain chemistry likes it when we succeed. We can become addicted to that success (in a beneficial way) and stay motivated to continue.

One of the ways to ensure that every day registers as a success is to set low criteria.

Create Simple Equations

Instead of:

“Success = 2 hours of focused practice,”

…we can form easier equations:

“Success = 3 minutes of focused practice”.

Instead of:

“Success = Play all scales 50 times each,”

we can decide:

“Success = Play one scale one time, with focus and attention on how the notes connect.”

We’ll likely exceed these goals, and so much the better.

Some days, we don’t have much time, don’t feel good, or we’re distracted.  We can still show up for a few minutes and clock a win.

We’ll likely exceed these goals, and so much the better.

Over time, these daily wins add up and help us feel good about our progress.

Each time we claim a day of success, we strengthen our habits. When we deem a day a failure, we weaken our resolve and undermine our progress.

Motivation is a Bonus, Not Required or Expected

Again, motivation feels good. We increase our chances of feeling motivated when we succeed. When we see improvement and experience breakthroughs, we’re encouraged to do more.

But motivation is not required for practice. We don’t need to “feel like practicing” to practice.

All we need to form a rewarding and long-standing guitar habit is to make the commitment and stand by it.

When we commit to a schedule and we stick to it, we win.  This could be a commitment such as practicing X days per week, or to never missing more than two days in a row of practice.

And as a delightful bonus, the less we depend on motivation, the more of it we get. The more we’re willing to sit down and focus regardless of feelings, the more we improve and progress. And that’s motivating!

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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