I’ve been on both sides. I’ve had seasons where I was absolutely obsessed with playing my instrument and practicing. Practicing everyday was no problem for me, and hours felt like minutes. I suppose it feels the same as a new romance; exciting, fresh, full of passion.
But as we all know, the honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever. Sure, you can get it back again, but not without first buckling up and bracing yourself for a few bumps in the road. I’ve had seasons where practicing my instrument felt like a drag. It’s not that I didn’t still love it and want to get better, but because I knew I would have to face some mountains in my playing where I wouldn’t see progress in a long time. Sometimes I was just burnt out. I just overdid it and suddenly I found myself wanting to step back. Other times the shear massive amount of things I needed to learn to become a better player overwhelmed me, leaving me not knowing where to start.
If you truly love music and you want to play your instrument at a high level, don’t expect it to be so glamorous. After all, anything worth getting good at will always come with a struggle! Only those who put in the work, even when the going gets tough, will reap the rewards.
Motivation will not always be there to save you, at least this has been true for me. But when the spark is just not there, this is when it really counts. Allow me to share with you some things that have helped me stay motivated to practice my instrument. Some of it has been learned solely from my own experiences, and others I have taken from professionals in the field of self-motivation, productivity and efficiency.
Become goal oriented.
I talk in a lot more detail about this in our free e-Book, but I’ll summarize here. Setting goals and writing them down can be the difference between success and failure. Studies have shown that those who do this are far more likely to be successful than those that don’t.
For me, setting goals keeps me focused. On my wall I have several post-it notes that have some long term goals on them. Underneath those long term goals I have short term goals that will help me attain my long term goals. Perhaps your long term goals for practicing your instrument will take a year or several months, and your short term goals will be divided into weeks or monthly goals.
In addition to this, when I wake up in the morning I write down everything I need to accomplish that day. These are what I call micro goals. Micro goals are informed by my short term goals, and my short term goals are informed by my long term goals.
Being goal oriented has fueled me with motivation. It helps me keep my eye on the prize and remain focused. I find that when I stop setting goals and creating practical ways to attain them, I lose motivation and nothing happens. Try it! It may work for you as well.
It never hurts to have someone to push you in the right direction and hold you to the things you said you would do. This can come in different forms: perhaps a like-minded musician friend that you go and jam with or a regular teacher who expects you to accomplish material at a given time.
From time to time, I have students come to me for Skype lessons because they want someone to hold them accountable, not necessarily to learn new information. There is so much information out there to learn, especially on the internet, and it can become overwhelming and jumbled.
Having a mentor of sorts can help you stay focused on your musical goals and give you that extra push. I know this has always been a great source of motivation for me, and I think it could be for you as well.
Don’t burn yourself out.
There is nothing wrong with binge practicing your instrument when you are truly inspired and excited to play. When I feel this way I certainly take advantage of it! But be careful. The hard truth is over doing something you love can slowly make it a bit stale. Or it can start to make you frustrated.
I find that rationing practice is the best way to go. As long as your practice is focused, spending shorter periods of time can actually be more beneficial than practicing for long hours.
I also like to give myself a rule: if I begin to get especially frustrated while I’m practicing I stop. Not to say that when the going gets tough you should give up, but to be conscious of when you are starting to develop an unhealthy relationship with your instrument. At the end of the day, music needs to be fun. Otherwise it becomes that frowning kid sitting on the piano bench because her mother was forcing her to practice. We don’t want that to happen!
I find that staying engaged in the music I’m studying will make all of the difference between whether I’m motivated to practice or not. For me, it’s going to jazz clubs to hear live music, listening to records, playing gigs, and jamming with friends. If I’m not doing these things, I start to find few reasons to sit down with my instrument and practice.
Some people just absolutely love to sit down with their instrument and play, and they are completely content with that. They don’t need gigs to look forward to or jam sessions. That unfortunately is not me, and I don’t think it’s a lot of people. Most of us play our instruments because we crave the idea of making music with other human beings. Therefore you need to be satisfying that need and seeking it out.
Make sure you are constantly engaged with your craft and the pursuit of music. If you are constantly stimulated with musical creativity, you won’t need to go searching for motivation. Motivation will show up knocking at you door.