Think back to the time when your interest in playing guitar was born. Remember the time when you got your first guitar and actually started playing it. For most of us, even when we were totally beginners, clueless about how to play anything, it somehow didn't matter because we were just so excited about beginning our musical/guitar journey. I can remember the exact day I bought my first guitar (January 31, 1986). I was extremely excited about owning a guitar and banging around on it making all kinds of terrible noises at first.
That feeling most of us felt at the beginning of our guitar days is what I call "Fire" or "Inner Fire". It is something like the first weeks and months of a new romantic relationship - very new and exciting and the desire to maintain that passion feeling is strong. But over time (weeks, months or years), that passion to play music weakens. Of course you still have at least some interest in playing and becoming a better musician, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this.
What I hope to do here is help you to get back your fire (or if you still have it, I want to help you to never lose it). The most important thing you must do is recognize what the factors were that caused you to feel less motivated and excited about playing music. Over time, some players begin to feel inadequate in their ability to reach their goals. A more common factor for some is not really having clearly defined goals or a good strategy to reach them. Its important to remember long term goals are long term. As long as you work to move forward, you are progressing. If progress is slow, understand this is normal. Of course there are things you can do to dramatically speed this process up such as practice more, practice more efficiently and work with a really good teacher that can show you how to do improve faster.) Other people become too focused on getting better and lose sight of why they started playing (to play and/or create music they love!). Keep reminding yourself of why you wanted to be a musician in the first place. Besides simply thinking about your early playing experiences, go back to your roots and listen to the same CDs (or cassettes or LPs (if you are old enough to have any of those). Listening to my earliest influences always reminds me of my early music days and I just can't help to feel that eager beginner feeling again.
I've mentioned some of these next few points before in a previous article, but it's worth mentioning again here.
Find out what truly inspires you to want to play music, write music, jam with your friends, etc. Whatever it is for you, go there and marinate in that inspiration. Get your mind in that place and focus on it. Many classical composers (and other serious artists) go to artist colonies for weeks or months at a time. For them being in a beautiful environment with serious artists of all kinds is extremely inspiring and a great place to write music, practice, reflect among other things. Personally, I like to travel to Europe in the summer and do most of my serious composing there. There is a house I stay in overlooking a valley with large trees and beautiful sunsets. It is very inspiring and I always do my best creating there. Your inspiration may be musical (listening to some great players, bands or songs. It may be going to concerts. It may be a set of things that are totally nonmusical (like a special location or being around special people, etc.). You must find whatever it is and go there, you might be surprised at how fast you feel that burning desire to really play more, write more, to be more.
Never ever compare yourself to other musicians! If you sit around and think about how much better of a player you are compared to your friends, this will probably only lead you to contentment and will steal away your drive and fire to improve. If you think about how much your friend (or any other musician) is better musically compared to you, this often leads to feelings of dissolution about your progress and your goals, which also can lead to a lack of motivation and fire.
When you began playing guitar, how good would you have to be in order to be happy with your playing? And where are you now? When I was starting out, I thought if I could play Iron Maiden or Metallica songs, I would be happy for rest of my musical life! Of course the time came when I could play all those songs, but I didn't feel as happy as I thought I would when I first made my goal. That is because, before I even reached that goal, I had already set new goals. These new goals were good for my progress, but I made the mistake of never really appreciating and enjoying the success of reaching my earlier goals. I robbed myself of the pleasure of feeling happy about my hard work paying off. Of course by now I have learned that lesson and do thoroughly enjoy each new goal that is reached. It is my hope you will learn that lesson now and not after several more years of playing guitar.
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Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world.