Do you ever feel…stuck? (To everyone who now has Katy Perry’s Firework in their head, you’re welcome.) When I say stuck, I mean that feeling when you keep trying at something or you keep practicing something, but you just don’t seem to make any progress. I’ve been experiencing that in an aspect of my life recently.
If you’re an avid reader of my blog, then you may have come across the occasional mention of the fact that I’m learning to play guitar. It’s a hobby which I picked up again after dropping it in my youth (when I was around 8 or 9), and which I’ve been doing in an on-again-off-again manner since during my second year of university. So, it’s been about four years of intermittent learning.
Currently, I’m in an “on” period, and I recently found myself feeling like my practice wasn’t getting me anywhere. The mistakes I made felt repetitive; and it didn’t seem like my speed, with regards to changing between chords, was improving at all. Moreover, I’d just started to get sick and tired of doing the same practice routine over and over again.
It was quite discouraging, and that quickly led to the worry that it wouldn’t be long before I found myself in another “off” period. My off periods were fewer and farther between in 2019 than ever before, which is one of the reasons I felt so motivated to do better this year; because I’d been proud of what I’d achieved.
When I started my most recent bout of committed regular practice – some two plus months ago, though I’ve only been keeping conscious track since the new year began – I was resolute that I wouldn’t let my commitment wane again. I didn’t – and don’t – want to lose another four years of potential progress because I let myself slip.
So, not wanting to let my despondence to lead to my downfall, I began to think of ways to help pique my interest in learning my chosen instrument again. It didn’t take very long before I came up with an idea that had basically been right under my nose for quite some time; I decided to “upgrade” and get myself a full-sized guitar.
You see, the one I’d been playing since I decided to get back into learning is 3/4-sized. It was a gift, and one to which I’ve grown quite fond.
When I first got it, though I knew it wasn’t ideal for an adult player, I decided to keep it because it was in working order and its size didn’t feel like enough of a reason to get a new one. Especially, given that I had only recently decided to start playing again, and didn’t know if I’d manage to stick with it. I knew that I’d eventually need to get a bigger instrument if I advanced enough in my playing, but the smaller guitar was good enough for my early practice phase.
In my years of on-again-off-again playing I’d never gotten to the point where it felt like my guitar was holding me back. Until recently, that is. Despite the long and thin guitarist’s fingers I was gifted with, I had advanced enough I couldn’t quite achieve the deftness and speed I needed on my smallish guitar, without my fingers interfering with notes I didn’t mean to play.
Whether or not my guitar was completely responsible for the issues experiencing in my practice, I thought getting a new guitar might at least provide some novelty that would make my practice sessions more interesting.
After settling on the idea of a new guitar I had to decide how I’d get a hold of one. Though I briefly flirted with the idea of buying a new one, it still felt like too much of an investment given my fickle nature when it comes to learning. Instead, I opted to ask my sister if I could have her guitar.
Yes, she has one too. It’s a hand-me-down, which she never really played much – she prefers to occasionally practice her ukulele and keyboard – so I reckoned she’d be inclined to let me have it. In actuality, enterprising as my sister is, money was required to change hands. Even still, buying the hand-me-down from her cost me a fraction of what a new guitar would have cost me. And, though it seems to require some minor repairs – the specifics and costs of which I will research before doing anything about – I’m happy to use it for the time being.
I am considerably happy with it actually because it’s done what I hoped it would; it’s renewed my interest in learning my chosen instrument. This is for a number of reasons. For one, the bassier sound of my “new”, larger guitar more closely resembles what I hear when I listen to “actual” musicians, which makes me more excited about my own playing.
Additionally, the increased distance between frets means I have to stretch my fingers a little further when I’m doing the stretching portion of my practice or when I’m playing chords. Whilst I’m still adjusting to that stretch, the feeling of it in my hand makes me feel like I’m actually working towards something again, and as it lessens with time it acts as its own marker of progress, helping me to perceive improvement.
Furthermore – whether because of the new guitar or simply due to happenstance – since I’ve started playing it, I’ve started to notice progress in my practice again. But, regardless of which it is, I’m happy to be feeling like I’m moving forward again.
Pushing for progress
Though starting to play a different guitar has helped me to reinforce my commitment to practicing, I don’t want to stop there.
Over the months since I most recently began playing again, though I noticed some gradual progress – excluding that brief “stuck” phase – I’ve started to realise that I’m not going to achieve my goal for my guitar playing this year. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to complete the beginner’s guitar book which I purchased last year, but at the rate I’ve been improving, it seems very unlikely that I’ll achieve it.
Though that shortfall it likely mostly due to me underestimating the amount of progress that was possible in a year, I’ve still decided to help my efforts along and allow myself the opportunity to make a bit more progress than I’m making now. I’ve decided to do so by increasing my weekly practice time.
Though the online instructor I follow, Andy Guitar, says to aim to practice every day, I’ve been aiming for four days as a minimum, given my busy schedule. Whilst I do try to fit in more sessions when I’m able, I also know that a set minimum can be an excuse to not bother once I’ve achieved it, even when I have the time.
In an effort to push myself further, whilst being reasonable about what I could achieve, I’ve decided to aim for a minimum of five, 30-minute practices a week from now on. I’m currently trialling this at the moment, just to ensure I haven’t set my too high and that I can achieve it with disrupting my other hobbies/commitments too much.
Despite only being a trial at the moment, I think I’ve taken an important step in deciding to make this change. It’s a further effort to help me keep moving forward, and to help me make progress more quickly.
Pushing myself is not a new or a foreign concept to me, but it’s one I know I have to remind myself of more often. I’ve got several targets I’m currently aiming to achieve, and if I don’t push myself towards all of them, then I might find myself stuck again, and feeling unmotivated to go any further. I really don’t want that to happen, so I’ll just have to keep pushing.