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What Should I do if I'm getting bored with the current practice?

Exercises, chords, scales, ear-training, sight reading, composition, theory and simply jamming… these are the eight categories that Steve Vai would organize his practice routine into. 


“Some of what you practice should sound terrible, because then you know you’re working on something that needs to be worked on” - Guthrie Govan


As Guthrie Govan (arguably the best guitarist alive) puts it, you should be working on something that needs to be improved rather than just repeating something you can already do. Many other guitarists, and other instrumentalists, believe that you should make some effort to maintain a level of ability as you travel down the road of playing your chosen instrument - I say this as no one ever truly stops learning. 


In this blog post I want to try and explain my understanding of the word ‘practice’ and share some thoughts and opinions of my friends and colleagues. Though having a guiding hand through this process is invaluable, there really is something to be said for developing your own understanding of practice and everything that surrounds it. 


The Oxford Dictionary defines practice as “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” and this is something everyone can relate to, but first you have to determine the activity or skill you are aiming for proficiency, or the maintenance thereof, in. If you are an amateur player, with aspirations of simply playing a few basic songs, having fun with that and nothing else, then you don’t really need to be practicing fast melodic runs using complicated scales - there is just no point. Alternatively, if you desire to become a well rounded guitarist, then playing the same song over and over again is not really practice and again, is pointless. Everyone has their own level of ‘seriousness’ when it comes to any activity in life - you may enjoy ice-skating, but not wanting to become a figure skater is a good example. The advice I discuss below should be adjusted given your specific goals and desires when playing the guitar. 


A frequent answer when I posed this comment to some friends, is that you should try learning a different style of music. I would definitely recommend trying this, you may find you really enjoy playing differently (I was the same when I joined a Ska band!). Do be careful, as you shouldn’t avoid pushing through something if you really despise it - not everyone loves Norwegian Black Metal, and that’s ok.




Some Things You Can Do


As I mentioned above, you could try something fresh - a new song, style or technique that needs improving. However, there are many other ideas you could try. Here are some of my favorites:


Playing with Other People


The opportunity to share your experience with other people is not one to be squandered. This can be anything from self-study with someone who is working towards the same goal, playing with them or even joining/starting a band. These are all fantastic ways to get things moving again. In fact, for the final two years of my compulsory education, I was found playing guitar with a good friend of mine during lunch - almost every day in fact. 


It is also commonly understood that the best way to improve is to surround yourself with people that are more accomplished, even just a little bit more so, than yourself. Progressing in leaps and bounds is another amazing way you can inspire yourself. You also commonly see comments on social media, YouTube etc under a post of a talented musician saying something along the lines of “That’s it! I’m selling my guitar. I give up.” - try to see this as inspiration rather than demotivation. 


Take a Break


If you have been learning something that is very tricky, such as ‘Got A Match’ by Chick Corea, and you just don’t seem to be making any progress with playing the arpeggio shapes at the beginning, take a breather. This could be 10 minutes trying something different, or perhaps even putting the exercise on the back burner for a while - there is no shame in that. I really enjoy playing silly versions of popular kids songs from my youth, and often use this as a way to break up the monotony that practice can bring.


A good friend and teacher also suggested to me that one should go and listen to some music; remind yourself why you started playing in the first place and put on your favorite song or try to discover something new to listen to. 


As an avid reader and gamer, part of me would like to suggest reading a book or playing a video game for a short while, although this is not suggested as you can easily get lost in a different world, or becoming more dependent on instant gratification that comes with placing 1st on Mario Kart. 


Re-focus 


Using ‘Got A Match’ as an example, you could try refocusing your practice but within the same subject material. The Dm/A into A Major arpeggios at the start of the song are played extremely quickly, but rather than building up the speed, aim for a consistency in the notes you are playing. Are they all the same volume? Can you move across the strings evenly? These are things that I try to impart onto all of my students, and I deem them more important than speed in any case.


Referring back to my dissertation that I mentioned in a previous blog post, a modern guitarist should have an excellent knowledge of the gear at their disposal. Are you achieving the potential of your equipment, or maybe you can try to achieve the same guitar sound as Frank Gambale achieves in this performance of the song.


As a quick side note, working on your sound is something that is worth practicing, but not at the cost of your technique. Many times I have arrived at a gig, with a sub-optimal backline and having to think on my feet. 





Writing Music


Writing music is not for everyone. In fact, I have some students that vehemently despise the mere concept of writing a song for their own personal reasons. Personally, I find it tricky to start a song and believe my strengths are in arranging or co-writing a piece of music.  


You don’t have to write something for the purposes of producing an original song. A common trend on YouTube in recent years is playing an existing tune in a style that is far removed from the original (see Postmodern Jukebox or Scary Pockets on YouTube). One of my personal favorite arrangements is Giorgio Serci’s cover of ‘Message in a Bottle’ by The Police but in 7/4 - creativity at its finest, but not in the way you would think.


Additional Inspiration


Whilst I don’t think this point is the correct answer to anyone’s problems, retail therapy is a real thing. Treating yourself to a new pedal, a plug-in or even a guitar can give you that push you need. Just don’t be fooled into thinking that you need to buy a specific guitar for a certain style, or buy a signature guitar to play like that artist.


Looking at this from a holistic point of view, you should try to see the bigger picture of why you are practicing something the way that you are. Just imagine how the end result of your labors would sound or look, and understand that this mental mindset can be just as beneficial as the physical activity itself. It is also something you have to train yourself to do - beginners, especially younger students, can’t comprehend the bigger picture beyond that they may want to be a famous rock star.


Another teacher of The American Guitar Academy, postulates some useful points for practice is his blog post regarding being able to read music (see the blog post here). In this post, Ryan mentions how creating a practice schedule can be a good way to keep yourself motivated - it can give you a physical representation of what you've done and allow you to see what should come next. Another point he makes is to avoid frustration - you should try to recognise the signs that you are becoming frustrated before it happens. 


There is also no specific timeline for learning the guitar. Everyone is different and you should make every effort to not compare your progress with others. There should be some clear goals, though. For example, if you have been playing for a year you would be expected to at least know some chords and some rudimentary strumming patterns. 


Final Thoughts


People get bored - it is a fact of life. It is up to you, perhaps using some of the tips here, to figure out how to get yourself out of this rut. A professional guitarist is not all fun and games, and many inexperienced people believe that it is just a case of picking up your guitar and playing - how we all wish it could be just that!


Make sure you always set out with a clear goal in mind, and it doesn’t have to be earth shattering accomplishments or record breaking feats. However, be careful not to short change yourself and aim for something too easy. There is always something you could do. You never know, you may surprise yourself!


Alex

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