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Practical tips on how to find the motivation to keep practicing when life, schedules, and distractions pull at you.

by John Bartmann
July 06, 2018

At this time of the year, enthusiasm for your music practice routine can start to dim. The decision to sign up for an online guitar course can start to slip down your list of priorities. The space you cleared to make a music corner in your room might have become cluttered with other things. Does this sound familiar? Don't worry. It’s normal to lose interest in learning an instrument when your motivation fades and your time is taken up with other matters. So how do you find the resolve to continue your daily practice?

Take Stock

When you find yourself rolling your eyes at the thought of another 30 difficult minutes doing technical exercises or 2017 Mando Camp.Peghead.Learning 069.jpgchecking out your latest online music lesson, it’s good to reward yourself with a reminder of how far you've come. It's called “playing” your instrument for a reason. If the work outweighs the fun, you're doing it wrong. So try skipping your practice routine today and play a fun, easy number that you enjoy for half an hour. Load up a backing track if that makes it more fun. You can get back to the technical stuff tomorrow, but be a rock star today. This might sound like bad advice for a serious musician, but forcing yourself forward without an occasional reminder of what the practice is all about is an inefficient use of your energy. And playing an instrument is all about efficient use of energy.

Think Differently

Music is an esoteric art form. You might start out just wanting to nail some Bill Monroe licks, but the farther along the path you find yourself, the more you may think about your musical practice as a philosophical or even spiritual pursuit. Your approach to music affects the type of music you make. If practicing your instrument is currently categorized under “chores” in your mental to-do list, it may be time to reset. Try giving yourself a week off. Watch your hunger for it grow during that time, but avoid the temptation to pick up your instrument before the week is out. During that time, reflect on your reasons for wanting to learn fiddle, for example. They're in there somewhere.

Revitalize Your Practice Routine

We all practice differently. Some people practice often, in short bursts. Others practice more occasionally, but for hours on end. Some only practice for upcoming events, while others practice to maintain a consistent level of ability. Whatever your approach, it's good to have a routine. Musicians are athletes of the small muscles. Learning guitar, violin, or mandolinn(or any other instrument) is as much about muscular development as it is about melody. Repetition is essential. Refresh your practice routine by changing the focus of your practice from week to week. This week, for example, work on right-hand technique. Next week, minor scales. Practice one thing at a time.

Finally, remember that learning an instrument online or elsewhere is hard! Give yourself a pat on the back. Few who learn an instrument regret having tried. You don't have to be Chris Thile to experience the pleasure, lightness, and joy of playing music. Just keep going, that's all.

By John Bartmann

Category: commentary

Comments and Discussion

Posted by John Bartmann on
I also find it useful to surround myself with inspirations, yes. But most importantly, choose what matters and ignore the rest :)
Posted by Theresa Ryken on
One thing that helps me if I'm in a slump or even if I'm not, is to listen so a bunch of things on You Tube or elsewhere of one of my instruments, banjo, fiddle, guitar and singing of whatever I'm focusing on at the time, til I here a tune or musician that inspires me and really focus on what they are doing and how they are getting the sound. My mind has to be excited and having fun for me to focus well, so I have to be really into it to do excercises.
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Nov 24, 2020
A great mandolin duet of Sarah Jarosz’s original tune, recorded live at the Marshall Mandolin Summit.

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