How to get more ‘musical fuel’ to keep practicing and avoid 'burning out'
Ever heard of good players or pro musicians who ‘burn out’ and stop playing for good? I know I was in that position of aimless practice, feeling lost, not progressing, getting really frustrated and starting to think about giving up. We all probably been there at some point.
It’s pretty normal to get discouraged. We usually are too anxious and impatient to get to our goals or visions of ourselves in the future.
Living in the future is a common problem that I see everywhere in people’s lives (and sometimes on my own). When we tie our fulfillment to the future, we say to ourselves that we’re only going to be fulfilled if we do this or achieve that. We end up turning anything we have to do on a chore: I just want to get there, so I will hang on and keep practicing. It takes the joy out of the journey and leave you doing aimless and forced practicing, which can ultimately lead to giving up on the guitar and ‘burning out’.
There’s nothing wrong in envisioning a great future, but we got to live and enjoy the here and now to be fulfilled. What’s funny is that, in this process, we usually forget how long we’ve come and how much we evolved.
We must find practice fulfilling by itself, otherwise it is pointless: Why would you want to force yourself into practice every day, only to find happiness 5 years after when you can play like Malmsteen or Vai? Doesn’t it sound a little painful? Remember the popular quote “life is a journey, not a destination”. The same applies to everything in life, and it definitely applies to guitar playing.
Fear not, my friend! In my experience, there are 5 things you can do to ‘fill your musical tank’ with fuel to keep you motivated and engaged on your journey:
1) Think back to where you started: Remember the famous guitar player or singer that got you started, the songs you wish you could play when you bought your first guitar and the drive you had to learn. After doing that, take a few days off from practicing to have fun with your guitar, like you used to do in the beginning.
I can recall when I first tried to sing and play at the same time: I stood with the door locked in my room for HOURS trying to play “Poison” by Alice Cooper and sing the backing vocals. As much as I had to work to get it done, and I failed plenty, I surely recall it as being fun and awesome. That’s one thing that you need to get your musical motivation back!
2) Try to dig out some old footage of your playing. Maybe something you recorded with a few friends or just old videos of you playing alone. Remember the frustrations, spot the mistakes, see what you were trying to achieve as if you were back all those years in the past and take a moment to rejoice how far you’ve come: I bet you didn’t even imagine you would be at your current level in your instrument.
3) Find a good teacher, course or program: Most of your frustrations are related to being lost in the middle of thousands of YouTube videos, guitar teaching articles, free eBooks and other things. Having a teacher that is qualified and will guide you through the path to your dreams will surely feed you with enough fuel (or drive) to pull you out of that ‘burn out’ situation. I’ve been teaching guitar for several years, and I really enjoy taking lessons with other teachers, friends and being part of courses or highly valuable online guitar communities.
4) Is there any friend of yours who plays the guitar too? If the answer is yes, schedule a jam session just to hang out: talk gear, switch guitars, jam on some songs, improvise, make a few videos and have fun. Having a partner to share the journey with helps a lot, even if you don’t get together much often.
5) Congratulate yourself for the achievements, breakthroughs, new songs or a goal that you just reached. Take your time, don’t rush to the next goal right after. Like I said, people usually focus so much on the future and forget about the present. You’ve come a long way in your life and in your playing since you started, and it is really motivating to rejoice yourself in the progress you already made.
Once you do all that, you tipped the balance in your favor: Practicing and playing guitar (or whatever instrument you play) is now more fun than painful, and your brain will gladly keep on going. Practice is not supposed to be overwhelming or tiring, even if you’re a pro. We must not push ourselves to do things: in order to do something constantly, we need to create a pull by making it fun, constant and pleasurable, while remembering to enjoy ourselves on the journey.
For me, the easiest way to keep my drive going is to never stop studying with a teacher or in a course. That way, I always find new challenges and new things to work on. Whenever I have a few months off from taking lessons or enrolling in courses, I always feel my inspiration and drive slowly fading away. Let’s finish off with a quote from Les Paul:
About the author: Bruno Gonçalves is a guitar teacher, pro musician and digital effects enthusiast from Ribeirão Preto, Brazil. To find out more about his work or read more articles, you can visit www.bgsmusical.com.br