"Even though you're growing up, you should never stop having fun."
- Nina Dobrev
So many times we are told that once you get past your teenage years it's time to step up and be a man or woman.
"You'd better assume your responsibilities, young one."
"Now the real deal starts."
Haven't you ever received such kind of advice?
In a nutshell, what they want to tell us is that the fun is over and it's time to work. Well, at least that's the only thing I can understand judging by the sheer amount of people who tell you that kind of BS.
Yes, it is BS.
Where is it written that you can't have fun?
If you don't like what you are doing, then why are you doing it at all?
Guest blogger Tom Boddison takes us on a trip down memory lane to learn how we can turn guitar practice fun. It's great advice for anyone who either feels like they've lost the motivation they once had, or to those who want to make sure they do it right from the beginning so they don't ever lose it. It's surely going to make you reflect.
Off you go, Tom!
In an ideal world, this article wouldn’t exist. It wouldn’t need to.
Having fun on the guitar would already be the number 1 goal of every player out there, and everyone would be achieving it.
After all, that’s the whole point of musical instruments – they were invented to help us relax and have fun after a day at work.
The problem is, we’ve got to a stage as guitar players where “getting better” is more important than playing for the Hell of it.
Go to any internet forum and you’ll see people talking about “How to Improve Discipline” and asking “how do I make myself practice more?”
And then self-proclaimed “experts” reply with “well if you wanna get good, you GOTTA have discipline. You’ve just gotta do it”… what? Whatever happened to putting enjoyment first?
Everyone’s so preoccupied with progress that they forget to enjoy the process!
Fun – The Ultimate Foundation for Success
Now I know what you’re thinking; “yeah, but if I wanna have fun then I have to practice to get better. If I don’t get results I get bored”
But here’s the thing: If you put fun first, results will come even faster.
You see, fun is the main ingredient in fast learning. When you’re enjoying yourself, your brain is in the ideal state for learning new skills.
It’s engaged, it’s focused, and it’s ready to learn; you’re in the perfect mindset to form new neural connections and take on new challenges.
If you’re bored, it’s the opposite. You’re gonna have a hard time learning something if the process isn’t engaging. It does not require discipline to be a good guitar player; it requires a mindset focused on pure enjoyment and the ability to enjoy the process.
Everyone focusing on discipline and treating guitar like a job is barking up the wrong tree.
Focus on having more fun! The process of learning the guitar will be massively more enjoyable, which in turn will make you do more of it, which’ll mean you get more results, which will make it even MORE fun, which’ll make you do more…
…and before you know it you have a guitar addiction and you’re on the easy path to success!
1) Make Fun Your Priority
This is by FAR the most important tip in this article.
Fun should be your number 1 goal on guitar; if this is the case, everything else will follow easily.
Every time you play, ask yourself this: “am I enjoying it?”
If the answer is "no", stop! Forget it. You’re missing the whole point of guitar.
Feel like forgetting scales for a day, turning your amp up loud and rocking out? Then do it! Forget the practice schedule and just jam, playing along to your favourite songs and messing around.
Be like a little kid again. Forget all about “results” and make fun your priority.
The ironic thing here is that you’ll actually get better results by doing this. Putting fun first makes you get more progress than you would if you put progress first. Strange, but true.
Find ways to make even the “boring” stuff fun. Even scales can be exciting if you focus on enjoying the practice; which brings us on to the second point…
2) Focus on Your Goals
If you’re really inspired by the thought of Angus Young, then don’t bother learning the Phrygian dominant scale just because someone told you to.
Learn the things that are most relevant to the type of music you want to play.
Set yourself fun, inspiring goals. They don’t have to be elaborate; “I wanna play a bit like Angus and a bit like Rory Gallagher, but in my own style” is good enough. Remember, we’re doing this to relax and enjoy it, not to achieve targets at work.
Then, go for it! Learn as much as you can about that style of playing, and make fun the priority.
Get immersed in the music, and rock out to it whenever you can. Make sure everything you learn is directly related to this style.
Then, it’s all fun – even scale practice is enjoyable because as soon as you master a new shape, you can use it to make more cool sounds in the style that you want.
Don’t let a teacher force you down the path of grades, or jazz theory, unless it’s relevant to what you want to play. I once had a teacher who told me “grades are the best way to learn”, but when I wanted to rock out to Guns ‘N’ Roses, they were the last thing I wanted to focus on! It killed my motivation to play, which destroyed my progress.
Focus on the music that excites you, and ignore everything else!
3) Make it a Game
Make up “games” you can play while you work on skills, to make the process enjoyable and get lots of “small wins” that all add up to BIG progress. This is awesome for motivation, and some of these little games can get quite addictive! It’s like playing games on your phone, but you get better at guitar at the same time.
So what makes up a game?
Activity. This could be playing a certain scale, practising a lick, or learning to recognise some intervals by ear.
Score. You could record how many you can do correctly in a row, or how fast you can play the pattern perfectly.
Goal. You’ve got to have a target to shoot for; a score you want to reach. This could start off as “I want to play this scale at 60bpm 5 times in a row perfectly”, and then you can try to beat your personal best.
Activity, score, and goal. As long as you have those three, you have a fun little game you can play.
Some of my personal favourites are:
I pick a lick that I want to learn, and then see how fast I can play it perfectly five times in a row. Then, I practice for a little while before seeing if I can beat my “high score” and play it just a tiny bit faster.
For learning string bends, I like to grab my tuner and select a note on the fretboard. Then, I close my eyes and try to bend that note up by a whole tone. Then I open my eyes to check how close I am; if I get it bang-on pitch then I score a point. I try to get as many as I can in a row; I record my “personal best” and then see if I can beat it! It sounds simple, but after a few sessions it becomes really fun.
I put on a song with a simple melody, and see how quickly I can figure it out. This is fun, and it’s great for ear training; it’s surprising how quickly you learn. It’s fun to do while watching adverts on TV – don’t pay attention to the advert, just see if you can figure out the jingle before the ad finishes! If you’re a beginner then start by just trying to figure out the key. Then try out full melodies and progressions.
There are thousands more you could play; all it takes is a little imagination. You could even play them with friends – who can get the highest score?
4) Measure Your Progress
So you’ve been practising a new skill for a couple of months, and you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere.
You can’t see how much you’ve improved because you don’t know how good you were a month or two ago; it feels like you haven’t improved much at all. The thing is, progress on guitar is gradual. New connections in your brain are formed slowly, and skills develop bit-by-bit each day.
This means that sometimes, it’s really difficult to see how much we’re learning. Because we’ve only seen the day-to-day tiny improvements, we can’t compare ourselves now to what we were like before.
Unless, of course, we measure our progress.
Then you’d always have a benchmark to compare to. You could take a video of yourself playing guitar on your phone, and after a month or so you could look back at it and see how much you’ve progressed.
The day-to-day improvements might be minute, but when you add them up they quickly become noticeable.
You can also record your progress with the games we talked about earlier. Write down your personal best and then put it away in a drawer for a couple of months; get it out later and see how much you’ve improved!
Measuring your progress like this hardly takes any time at all, but it’s incredibly powerful for your motivation. You’ll completely avoid all feelings of helplessness and “why can’t I learn this?”, and replace them with iron-clad confidence in your abilities.
What could be better than that?
Every time you pick up your guitar, you’ll know without a doubt that you can succeed. The evidence will be there that you have improved – and if you’ve done it before, you can do it again.
So, to recap:
1) Make Fun Your Priority 2) Focus on Your Goals 3) Make it a Game 4) Measure Your Progress
Remember – when it comes to guitar, fun comes before everything else.
Don’t let anything get in the way of enjoyment. Be like a little kid at Christmas, and get excited about just playing!
I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed the article. Put the tips to use and see how you get on.
Have fun, and keep rocking!
About the Author Tom has been playing, performing, writing, recording, and teaching music for the past decade, and shares his knowledge and experience through his blog www.tomguitar.co.uk. It’s full of free lessons, guitar hacks and super-simple tips that’ll skyrocket your results.