Learning the classical guitar is a journey that takes time. You will find yourself encountering obstacles, feeling challenged, questioning your abilities, questioning your guide, and sometimes just wanting to put the instrument down.
You are not alone in any of these feelings.
Accepting that there will inevitably be dips, frustrations, and plateaus, that appear along our journey we must look for some strategies to lift our spirits and foster motivation when when find ourselves getting stuck.
- Be inspired
Inspiration can be a powerful source of motivation that fuels focus and effort. For the musician a recording or concert can remind us why we started this journey in the first place. By focusing in on what we love about the instrument, its sound, timbre, complexity, and vibrations, we can re-ignite our passion for music.
The music we play can also offer new and exciting inspiration. If you have diligently been working on repertoire that feels more like a chore than a challenge then perhaps you can seek out something new. It does not have to be a complete change in your studies, nor does it mean that you will drop what you have been doing, rather it is an opportunity to have a hiatus from work and dabble in some new music for the sheer joy of it.
Working on new music can simply be reading through pieces you haven’t played before but what if it could be something more exciting?
As a musician, you can explore your creative side as you search for new music. What if you arranged something new? What if you sought out a composer and commissioned a new piece? What if you did some research and unearthed music that has been neglected for a century or so? If you have a proclivity for composition you could make your own music and in the process learn a great deal about the music you have already been studying.
Classical guitarists can sometimes get a little tied up in invisible constrictions. While it may seem that there are lots of rules when it comes to learning the instrument, remember that at its heart the study of music is a creative and expressive experience. Feel free to break some rules if it inspires you.
2. The virtuous cycle of improvement
For many, the sense of accomplishment is a great motivator but it can be a balancing act to achieve. In the early stages of learning we are constantly and quickly rewarded with improvements. How to sit, how to fret a note, how do a rest stroke. All of these new skills might take time to refine but they are quick to start.
As we progress through to intermediate territory the sensation of these successes feels fewer and father apart. The improvements can become so drawn out that it feels like they are not happening at all, or worse, you are going backwards!
I am a firm believer that we are able to offer ourselves some much needed objectivity in these moments by tracking out progress over time. At the CGC Academy we have practice journals that offer an easy way to look back at early recordings and observations. With powerful technology at our fingertips these days it is an easy task to grab a quick progress recording of our playing if only to mark our progress over time.
Sometimes even a progress journal will leave us feeling like we have plateaued and that is when you need to fall back on trust. Whether it be your personal teacher, the author of a method you are following, or simply your own autodidactic skills, you will sometimes need to let go of negativity and forge ahead with perseverance. Trust can be motivation because it alleviates negative self assessment that can stymie our efforts.
I firmly believe that the key to balancing work with the joy of improvement lies in the materials we choose to work on. If you are working on repertoire or exercises that are too advanced for your abilities you run the risk of losing motivation due to a sense of feeling stuck. Trust your guide, your teacher, and be patient with your work.
3. Finding the others
While studying the classical guitar is often described as a solitary experience, that solitary experience is shared with thousands of others across the world. Connecting with other classical guitarists can offer a sense of motivation, camaraderie, inspiration, curiosity, and accountability.
At the CGC Academy we have a kind and supportive community of musicians who lift each other up and inspire one another. The community is the heart of the Academy and it makes it truly unique. If your musical journey is aligned with friendship, celebration, commiseration, and a shared set of musical values then it can withstand many of the challenges you will come across.
Wherever you are in the world you will be able to find your community of guitarists but you might have to put some effort into it.
Ensembles provide an outstanding opportunity to find motivation. Not only are they educational experiences, but social ones too. It may take some time to find an ensemble that you can work with but it is worth the patience. Do not feel that you must be at a high level to be in an ensemble. While there are some basic skill sets that you need to get started there is a wealth of material to work on. If you feel out of your depth in terms of running a rehearsal or choosing repertoire perhaps you can reach out to a guide to help you get started. Teachers will often have contact with a variety of students and they might be able to match you up with some other musicians.
Classical guitar societies are also wonderful places to find other guitarists. They are a true gift because they make the effort to bring like minded people together and put on events that inspire us. Taking the time to attend, contribute, and support society events will help these communities live on and offer you motivation.
Motivation can be hard when you have to rely on your own inner discipline but when you have others around you it can be easier to stay on your learning path. Finding the others with provide you with an elusive but powerful motivator, accountability.
4. Setting Goals
Goals motivate through an inherent accountability. Yes, it is true that a new years resolution may fail some of the time, or perhaps all of the time but it does give you an initial boost. The problem with most new year’s resolutions is that they are ill considered and poorly designed. If you put time and thought into your goal setting they can offer a powerful source of motivation.
Although I have already discussed goals it is worth adding that not all goals have to be musical. If your motivation comes from the need to acquire a skill to serve others, because you are required to, or simply follow through on a promise you made that is no less of a practical goal. The important thing is to take some time to reflect on what is the true motivating factor. If you understand this then you are better equipped to manage your own motivation.
5. Dedicated time and space
In my experience the biggest chasm to cross is between not practicing and sitting down. Once I have the guitar in hand and some music in front of me it is easier to get going. In order to find the motivation to cross that chasm think about removing obstacles.
Creating a dedicated time for practice will be a huge motivator because it is something that will hold you accountable. If you announce this dedicated practice time to others then it will provide even more accountability. Even if it is fifteen minutes at 7pm every day, it will be more motivating than if it was fifteen minutes “at some point when you get a moment”.
With many of us being time starved (or distracted) setting up a dedicated practice space that allows us to simply sit down and start practicing can remove potential procrastination and excuses. If possible, have the guitar out, music on the stand, and your practice goals decided upon.