It can be hard enough just to find time to practice.
And once you’ve found the time, it can be even harder to stay motivated. Real practice is hard work and often frustrating. When I was a student, I sent more than one metronome flying across the room. Many of my students have expressed similar sentiments, usually involving smashing a perfectly good guitar.
This is the reason why most people plateau: getting better is a struggle, and who wants to struggle with something that should be a joy and an escape? It’s a fair question. Don’t we maintain enough discipline in our regular working lives? Isn’t playing music is supposed to be fun?
Yes it is. And if what you’re able to do today makes you happy, celebrate and enjoy your accomplishment. If you want to be able to do more than you can today, though, it’s going to take some work. This isn’t news, of course.
The part that might be news is that celebrating your accomplishments is a great motivator. Many of us are always looking beyond where we are to where we want to be, and that’s also great motivation. Ask any athlete. But the greatest motivation for the athlete isn’t always their accomplishments: it’s the love of the game. So it is for music too.
The best thing you can do for your own motivation is to cultivate the love. Appreciate where you are today, wherever that is. Sometimes that means taking a step back and playing something easy, just because you can. Then take a deep breath and dive back into the challenge. Accept that it will take hours of practice before you can see real improvement yourself. (Incidentally, one of the great advantages of working with a teacher is that you have someone else that will see the improvement before you do, and can point it out to you). That improvement had been going on all along, of course. Generally by the time you notice it, you’ve settled well into your new “level” and are on your way to the next.
Cultivate the love.
So what does it mean to “cultivate the love”? It means you should find or create opportunities to play the things you can play today. Write a song. Jam with friends, even if none of you can really play the way you want to. Pick a simple enough song and it’s not hard to get everyone to join in. Get into home recording. Start a YouTube channel. Ultimately, we all need goals and an outlet, a way to feel we’ve crossed a finish line. You’ll feel the payoff for all the work you’ve put in when you finish that performance, wrap that jam session, or bounce that final mix.
When that happens, you make the connection that’s the most powerful motivator of all: the feeling of being part of the music instead of a passive listener. That feeling is what really made me fall in love with playing. And as with any successful relationship, true love weathers every storm.