Practice and Self-Discipline

01Jan09

May I count the times you and I have heard “Practice makes perfect”? It’s stressed so often how practice is vital in learning and improving your musical skills on any instrument including the guitar. But how many days out of the week do you actually feel like practicing? Maybe a couple, maybe every day, maybe even only once a month. So how do you make yourself more prone to practice more often?

You decide to discipline yourself to.

Now when you hear the word “discipline” I’m not talking about a belt to the ass. I’m talking about self-discipline.

Self-discipline is the willing mechanism to make yourself improve on whatever it is you are doing. It plays a vital part in your musicianship, and if you are real about wanting to be a good musician, this is the heart and soul of your way to be one. It is the process of making the habit and second nature actions to get you where you want to go. In the case of learning to play the guitar, it is not just about motivation and passion. Although those are very important aspects of practice and improvement, they are completely useless and non-existant without having the self-dicipline to stick with it.

When you decided you wanted to play the guitar (or whatever instrument it was you decided on), you might’ve been absolutely passionate about the idea at that time. Some of us are naturally so fascinated by music with every bone in our body that the discipline to stick with it comes second nature. But not all of us are like this. Some of us are just curious about what it might be like to go out and buy a guitar and watch a video and see if we like it. In the latter case, people usually end up falling off the ladder early in the round when they are just starting. Sometimes we don’t have the time to play, or we decide that we feel it is more frustrating work than any enjoyment we expected to get from it. By deciding to use self-discipline to dedicate yourself to it, all of these obsticles will be eliminated and you will find yourself becoming more and more developed into your practice.

Developing Musical Discipline

Disciplining yourself to be dedicated to your instrument begins with at least four different steps:

  1. Accepting musicianship
  2. Adopting your instrument
  3. Creating a routine
  4. Joining other musicians

These are the four that I picked out. Other guitar teachers might mention these and others, or maybe use a different approach altogether. For the record, there is not only one right approach, but this is the approach that I brought myself up on as I improved my guitar playing.

1. Accepting Musicianship

Bear in mind, this blog site is aimed at those who deeply WANT to be really great and dedicated musicians. If this is not what you want, reading this will probably just be a waste of your time and you wont get much out of it.  If you’re unsure as to whether or not you really want to, reading this entry may very well help you begin to decide. The fact is, if you actually expect to get anywhere on the guitar, you have to actually WANT to. If you expect to be an exceptional musician, it’s not going to work by making it a small side chore throughout the span of a year. Amateurs who decide to make their practice something they just do when they are bored never get anywhere. You need to be clear about a few things here: first, that you really want to be a great musician, not that you just want to be someone who just knows how to play.

Before you really start dedicating your time and effort to practice, take some time to really think about the idea of YOU being a great musician. Imagine it in your head, swirl it around, really let it sink in everything that it will mean for you wield this skill. Don’t just think about the idea of getting rich and getting laid. DO NOT let your mind become slave to that idea. This is about what music itself means to you. Pop in your favorite artist, put on some headphones, close your eyes and absorb every ounce of feeling from the music. Absorb its essence and let it teach you emotioanlly and spiritually what it is about playing music that empowers you internally and externally. This is what its all about. You have to let this energy surge and build up. It should open your mind and your heart to completely and genuinely want and long to speak out.

By this time, if you have really let it sink in, you’ll know for sure if you are deeply ready to dedicate yourself to this future of creating music. Keep in mind the idea that this feeling that hit you is exacly what you will one day give to others.

2. Adopting your Instrument

The previous step, however long it takes, will motivate you on a number of different levels. If you didn’t have a guitar at one point, it can push you to go out and buy one. Frankly, having your own guitar is the absolute first essential to everything else. How could you properly learn to play guitar if you’re always having to borrow somebody elses?

Having your own guitar is like having your own best friend who lives with you every day. The awesome thing about this best friend is that they don’t eat your food, mess your house up, spend your money, or get on your nerves in the ways that an actual roommate might. This guitar is not only going to be your best friend but it is going to be a part of you, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is like a soldiers gun in the heat of battle. It will never leave your side, it will never cheat on you, and it will never lie to you. It is your baby. Give her/him a name. Clean it, take care of it. If it is your first guitar, it should be immortalized even after you don’t have it anymore. My first guitar was a Harmony electric. It was just about the only real friend I had for years, and it was more dedicated to me than just about any friend I know of to this day.

3. Creating a Routine

The next essential step is the meat and potatoes of disciplining yourself to play. Practicing is not just about picking up a guitar and spending a half hour to an hour of some day out of the week to get a little better at what you’ve most recently learned, whether it be a cover song, a scale, a chord, or a picking technique. Just like any other kind of practice in any other field, your mind and your body has to adapt to it. Your fingers are going to stretch, calisses on their tips are going to form, and mentally, your brain is going to go through a big change in function as well. Playing most instruments (guitar, piano, etc), requires bimanual hand movement which requires more use of certain parts of the brain that you never, or much less frequently used before. For example, on the guitar, if you are right handed, you will be using your left hand eventually as a prime focus for traveling the fret board, while your right hand moves in the background to pluck the strings. In this way, your practicing routine is absolutely vital for exercising your brain to adapt to bimanual usage of your hands.

Probably the best guitar student I ever had, had one of the most dedicated routines I’ve yet to see in anyone I’ve taught. They spent at least half of every day to their practice. Every morning they would open their eyes, stretch, get out of bed and go strait to their guitar to warm up their fingers on the guitar before they even ate breakfast. After 30 minutes of warming up his fingers, he would put the guitar down, go eat breakfast, come back, and begin reviewing every single cover song he’d learned since he began playing the guitar. Afterward he would practice scales and chord changes he had learned both from me and from the cover songs he had reviewed. Finally, he would pick out one or more new cover songs to learn, get out his tablature books and CD’s, and spend the next hour or more learning them. This went on for an entire summer (since he was out of school and playing the guitar interested him more than sitting around with friends most of the time). The great thing about it was it never had one interruption in it. Today he plays twice as good as I do! Later in future entries, I will lay out some good templates of routine for different kinds of people who have different schedules of their day.

4. Joining other Musicians

It is said that with anything you want to absorb, using the people around you gives you the best support for it than anything else. Think about religion and church gatherings. Think about study groups in school. Surrounding yourself with people who are also learning what you are learning is one of the best ways to stay motivated and learn new things. (Just stay away from the evil cults ;) The best people to surround yourself with are those who are much better than you. It’s a proven fact that the more one absorbs information from being around an expert of what they are learning, the faster they open up to, and learn it themselves. Also, these people are great mentors for you to look up to. Never under estimate the influence of people. Just be sure that they are not people who are a bad influence otherwise. If they are into drugs and alcohol and have a larger problem with managing themselves than they are good at being a decent influence to those around them, they are most likely not who you want to be around. If you want to stay dedicated to your musicianship with no distractions, the best thing to do is surround yourself with people who will ONLY provide that kind of support for you if anything.

Being a growing musician should not be mistaken as a pass-time hobby. The better the musician you want to be, the more drenched in music your everyday life should be. Who’s ever heard of the guitarist who never listens to other artists more than once a week? If you really want to be good at it, you have to eliminate all unsureness about it and just decide to emerse yourself in it.  If you want to enjoy it, make sure your guitar is one that will not only provide the best exercise for your fingers, but also the best sound. If you want to understand what it is you want to play, listen to music all the time. Study it inside and out. When you practice, make it a part of your day that must exist for your day to be complete. Go out and talk to others who make it a regular part of their day, whether its over an interenet forum, or in your own neighborhood. Whatever you do, adopt every aspect of your playing into every fiber of your being. The discipline of playing your instrument will come more naturally with each of these aspects you accept to focus on.

In future entries, I will more specifically elaborate on the idea of the routine of practice and learning. The point of this entry is that if you are going to spend any time trying to learn whatever instrument you are learning, you might as well make it worth as much of your attention as possible. That is the key to becoming a great musician.



8 Responses to “Practice and Self-Discipline”

  1. 1 BravoBox

    Count me among your followers here!!

    Your “three” post was the first I saw, and this one is even better. I like the fact that we know you’re accomplished, not because you’re posing or sticking it in our faces, but because you make sense.

    If I could add just one thing to your ‘habit’ line of thought, it would be to not put the thing in it’s case. Let it be out there, living with you. Let your guitar be as close as the remote control, I know which one I’d reach for!!!

  2. 2 honeybrisketbabyfat

    Hello Echo! Happy New Year! I am very much convinced that you are a genuine musician after reading your blog… Simply because you have that passion in the innermost recesses of your heart and soul. And I can sense that you are truly one with your instrument. Oh! you are much welcome to use my “Öld Trash Guitar” in one of your entries for 2009. It’s a great pleasure! And I added you in my blogroll and I named it echo’s guitarwisdom. Cheers!

  3. @honeybrisket: Thank you for your comment and the blog roll. It’s good to know that my readers are enjoying my writing and getting value from it. :)

  4. @BravoBox: Thank you for the great feedback! It seems what I’m providing to this community is worth a lot and I hope that it is able to reach a lot of musicians who want to know these key elements to being a musician. I must certainly agree that keeping your instrument out in sight is an excellent way to stay reminded of playing all the time.

  5. 5 Andres

    I really liked your post and found it truly motivating. Im a music student and i just can`t seem to discpline myself the way musicians do. So i really liked the part that said that you have to make your instrument an intrinsic part of yourself. Its kind of a life commitment with it, and i hope i can get to that kind of relationship with my instrument if i keep working. Thank you for your insigts, please keep writing.

  6. 6 Cam

    Hey great read man. I have been playing for quite awhile now and I’ve come to a point where I’m really understanding how the mental part of music is way more important then the physical part ( both is needed of course ) I am really into the discipline thing you were talkin’ about. Not only is it needed to practice and get better but also when playing with others. Being a young player though ( I’m 17 ) it’s hard to find others my age with the discipline to understand how to really play with others and make it sound great. Most ppl my age around where I live are really good on the physical side of it, but don’t understand the concept of playing together and only doing what benefits the song instead of playing fast just because they can. I realize it isn’t their fault because until you really understand it then you really don’t know any better. I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by spectacular musicians my whole life and I have always made it a point to be open minded and really take in what they say, so I think I have a head start on others my age. My question is how do I make my peers understand this concept or is it something that you just learn when u get it and there is no rushing it.

  7. Great post! I linked it to mine on discipline, loved what you had to say!
    – Dez


  1. 1 Success requires Discipline « Dez Donnell

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