Guitarist Series: Being Inspired to Practice

Playing any instrument is really a love/hate relationship. We all want to be able to play fantastically powerful/expressive/advanced/compelling music, but rarely want to practice to reach such a goal. There are exceptions, but I think the majority of us would rather "play" our instruments than "practice" them. Why shouldn't we? Playing as the name implies, is fun, while practice, is work. Of course there are some definite benefits to practicing like, increasing our repertoire, advancing our skills or learning new things, but that isn't always enough motivation to inspire us to practice.

I was recently inspired to practice my guitar for almost an entire weekend (straight through, and it's carrying over into the week as well). I do practice relatively regularly as is, but I tend to play instead most days. Every so often though I get truly inspired to practice and painstakingly work over new music and skills until I perfect it. Since I'm in one of those practicing moods right now, I thought I'd share a couple of the things that inspire me to practice in the hope that maybe they'll inspire you to do the same thing.

Find a song you really like that is beyond your skill range
Personally, this really works well at inspiring me, but it usually happens purely by accident. I happen to really get into a band, an artist, an album or a song where the guitar work is well beyond my skill. It usually has to be a new album or at least one I haven't listened to in a while because then I'm extra impressed by the musicianship. I seek out a tab, or transcription of the music and get to work trying to replicate those famous sounds that I'm digging so much. I also find that if the song/music is very far beyond my skill range I'll find my skills increasing dramatically because I'll have to troubleshoot so many problem areas before it sounds anywhere close to accurate... cleaning up my chops along the way.

Record yourself and listen to it critically
This can really be a shocker if you're not used to hearing yourself play on tape/digital media etc. More than once I've found that by taking a listen to a recording of my own playing, I've just been so horrified (sometimes it truly is horrifying) that I've spent the next week or even month criticizing and drilling until those mistakes are gone. Multiple recordings helps even more if you have to time to do it and really pinpoint where your mistakes are and the best ways to fix them.

Play a song straight through with a metronome
I'm a strong believer that music should be practiced with a metronome all the time for the best results, but that doesn't mean I am diligent enough to use it all the time. If you've never played with a metronome before I think this is an absolute must because it will expose problems in counting, time and phrasing almost immediately... things that playing by yourself might hide. Scales, chord changes and difficult passages seem to benefit the most from this, at least for me, but I also find that just trying to play an entire song perfectly in time can have a huge effect on my musicianship.

Jam with a fellow guitarist who's "better" than you
There really isn't any "better or worse" in terms of music, but I think the ego in us guitar players can get the better of us and make us think we're better than we really are. Nothing brings you down to earth like getting your butt kicked by someone who's obviously your superior in terms of raw technical prowess on the instrument. I don't mean that you should go take part in the random shred competitions that happen in various guitar stores because they're a waste of time in my opinion. Instead, find a friend (or a whole band) who's just farther along in their progress than you and jam on a couple of tunes. Not only does playing with other people make you want to step up your game, but you might even be able to pick up a few pointers and learn a few licks while you're at it.

Watch one of your favorite "professional" guitarists tear it up
Another thing that always seems to inspire me is watching one of those "professional" (I mean ones in a band like that you'll hear on albums/radio/etc) guitarists play. Not many of us are lucky enough to be able to play music for a living so the people who get to tend to be good (although not always) at what they do. Watching a compelling bit of concert footage where one of your guitar heroes tears it apart with an amazing, heart wrenching, shred-fest of a solo can be quite inspiring. Plus if the footage is really good and you have a keen eye you might even be able to try out a few new techniques and learn a few licks.

Some people are born with an almost unnatural dedication to their instrument. To be honest, I would be that kind of musician if I had the time to play 8 hours a day everyday, but unfortunately I don't and when I come home from a long day looking to relax and play my guitar, practicing is not always what I'm interested in and so these are just a few of the things that inspire me to push my musicianship to the next level. Although they're guitar oriented I think they can be applied to just about any instrument and a few can be applied to things like songwriting and composition as well.

Each person has to find their own muse in the end, but if you're like me and occasionally need a little extra push to practice your instrument, maybe one of these techniques will help.

Who knows, you might even end up enjoying watching yourself improve as much as playing and will be inspired to practice all the more.

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