A Simple Tip For Learning Guitar Fundamentals (Even When Practice is Boring)

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There are some skills that, if performed correctly, can save your life.

Starting a fire without matches. Finding water in a desert. Identifying and avoiding poisonous snakes. Knowing edible plants from deadly ones.

An Arduous Practice Session
An Arduous Practice Session

Adventurers take these skills seriously, because they know a mistake in an emergency situation could cost them. Big time.

Fortunately for us, our lives won’t ever depend on our knowledge of chord inversions or modes. In a way, though, that’s a disadvantage because it’s so easy to become complacent and procrastinate. Guitarists do face dangers, most of them having to do with playing below your potential and setting yourself up for regret.

To a guitarist, survival means sticking to a practice routine despite the thick jungle of distractions we hack through daily. Work, bills, beckoning televisions, telephone calls, incoming text messages… Not to mention advertising, which pours from every street corner and every screen in your home.

If you can cut through all that overgrowth and continue to work on guitar fundamentals, my hat’s off to you. You’ll never regret the time you spend learning music. Sitcom reruns, on the other hand…

How to Practice Boring Things

Let’s face it: learning how to write out major scales and map the fretboard isn’t the most exciting way to spend a Saturday night.

So here’s how you stick to training even when it’s boring: you keep the rewards in mind. As Tom Waits puts it:

“Never let the weeds grow higher than the garden
Always keep a sapphire in your mind
Always keep a diamond in your mind.”

Practice regimens are especially fragile if you don’t understand the payoffs of practice. If you’re not yet clear on the benefits of learning music theory, for example, you might find yourself low on motivation.

If you find yourself procrastinating something you know you need to learn, it can be helpful to ask yourself (and your teacher): “Why do I want to learn this?” Because until you have a satisfying and believable answer to that question, your theory books will continue to collect cobwebs and dust.

What’s in it for you?

When a soldier training to be an Army Ranger finds himself running hundreds of miles a week wearing a 65 pound pack and getting less than four hours of sleep each night, he’s not doing that because it’s fun.

He’s enduring the training because he’s set his sights on a reward – in this case, he wants the prestige of winning that hard-earned Ranger tab. If he makes the cut, he’s succeeded at something that many soldiers never even attempt. The new Ranger has the satisfaction of having tested himself and won.

By keeping your goal in mind, you too can keep learning and training. Never forget that when you hit a boring or difficult phase of practice, there are hundreds of guitarists out there who gave up right where you are now. Muster the will to push just a little further, stay patient with the problem, and sooner or later you’ll turn the corner where many other guitarists turn back.

When in doubt, apply the “Crawl, Walk, Run” method and you will see progress, even if it takes a week or two.

Keep your goals in focus. How far you go with this instrument is completely up to you.


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Nicholas Tozier

Nicholas Tozier is a book hoarder and songbird from the woods of Maine. In 2012 he made a small cameo in Songwriting Without Boundaries by Berklee professor Pat Pattison, and was named one of CDBaby’s top 10 Songwriting Resources to follow on Twitter.

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