I had a really interesting discussion with one of my students this week. We were talking
about what the most essential thing that a guitarist needs to get really good. Think about it for a minute. Is it a
good teacher? Is it effective practice habits? What do you think we came up with?
Well, after about ten minutes of debating we came to the conclusion that desire is
the most important thing. In other words, you need to feel a deep need to get good on the guitar.
Without this strong desire you just won't do the work that it takes to get good. After all, you
could go to a great teacher and learn the most effective practice strategies, but if you don't have the motivation
to work hard you won't be getting good anytime soon.
A Sneaky Question That I Ask To All My Potential Guitar Students
One of the questions I ask my potential students is this…
"On average, how much time per day would you be able to dedicate to guitar
Now, I must admit this question is a little bit sneaky. The actual answer they give is not
that important or revealing. (Obviously a person working 14-hours a day will probably write down a lower number
than the person working a mere 10-hours a day. What I look for is a consistency between what they write
down and what they do once lessons commence. In other words, do they walk the talk?
This consistency between what they say and do gives me a lot of an insight into just how
strong their desire is…
For example: I've had potential students say that they can do two hours a day of guitar
practice on average. Once they start lessons, I'd be lucky if I can get them to do 30-minutes a day! They will
usually come up with a bunch of lame excuses each week as to why they are not doing the two hours a day that they
said they would do. They say things like "I had a busy week" or "I didn't have time". The cold hard truth
is that they just don't want it badly enough.
If a potential student says that they will do at least two hours a day, and once lessons
start they actually do what they say, then it's clear to me that have a genuine desire to improve. And because they
have the desire, then it's only a matter of time before they get good on guitar.
One Major Reason Why Desire Is So Important
If you're an adult, then you also probably have all the responsibilities that go with
being an adult. For example, you probably have to pay rent or make mortgage payments. You probably also need to pay
for food and utilities for yourself and for your family (if you have one). And for many people, earning enough
money to take care of these responsibilities takes up a lot of their available time.
Let's take a look at an example. Let's say that an imaginary budding guitarist called Joe
wants to really improve his playing. At the moment a typical workday for him looks like this…
- He works 12-hours a day. (This includes his commuting time).
- He sleeps 7-hours a day.
Between work and sleep around 19-hours a day are taken up. This leaves 5-hours
a day for all other activities. If Joe has a family then in order to do two or more hours of guitar practice on a
workday he will probably have to do one or more of the following things…
- Reduce his other leisure activities to almost zero. He will need to practice his guitar
instead of watching TV, reading trashy novels, surfing the Internet and other low-value activities.
- He may have to give up all of his other hobbies. Spending an hour a day making model
airplanes, stamp collecting or scrap booking might be fun and relaxing…but it isn't going to improve his guitar
- He may have to get up earlier or go to bed later. This could mean reducing the amount he
sleeps by an hour or so. Of course, this may not be an option depending on how well he responds to slightly
less sleep. The point is that Joe may need to test sleeping less for a while. (He might find
he can easily adapt to slightly less sleep than normal). [Side Note: No...I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one
on TV...so obviously check with your doctor first before reducing how much you sleep by insanely large amounts.
It could be a very, very, very stupid thing to do!].
For most people having to do the above represents a significant sacrifice that
they wouldn't be willing to make. And the only way that someone would make this sort of sacrifice
is if they really, really, really want to get good on guitar.
And let's face it. A lot of people like the idea of progressing quickly on guitar, but they
don't have the genuine desire that will cause them make the necessary sacrifices. (They say they
want to get good…but at the same time they aren't willing to stop watching their favorite TV shows).
Discipline Alone Isn't Sustainable
You might be thinking that maybe the answer is to discipline yourself to do the practice. While it's true that
you could probably discipline yourself to do a small amount of practice each day, I don't think discipline alone
works for larger amounts of practice.
Something to also keep in mind is that doing three or more hours of practice each day is a
totally different proposition than only doing an hour each
day. (The sacrifices you need to make are much greater). I personally don't think that it's possible
to sustain large amounts of daily practice over the long term unless you have a burning
desire to get good…
You might be able to sustain doing three hours of practice each day for a month or two. But do you really
believe you could sustain it for 10 years or longer just by discipline alone? If you could, then you're a much
better person than me! (Side Note: And if you don't deeply and genuinely love the guitar and truly want to get
good, then why the heck would you want to force yourself to do all that practice?).
So if you've been a bit slack with your guitar practice lately maybe you need to ask yourself…"How strong is my
desire? Do I really want to improve my guitar playing?". And if you feel your desire isn't really
strong right now, the next logical question might be…"What could I do each day to increase that desire?".
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