How to get good at guitar – 5 Tips to boost your motivation

Learning is a fascinating and very empowering experience but it can also be very frustrating. Finding motivation during the “not so good” moments can be difficult so here are 5 tips to help you boost your motivation!

Tip #1 – Warm-up

Have you ever grabbed the guitar and felt discouraged after playing a couple of notes? Your hands are cold and your chops seem to have vanished overnight. I feel like this everytime I start playing if I don’t warm-up first. 

Warming up will calibrate your hands and brain while making the blood flow into your hands and fingers. That way, when you start playing actual music, your body will be ready and you will enter a flow state much more easily.
Now that you have an idea of the benefits of a good warmup : How long should you warm-up? What exercises should you do to warm-up?
With the right exercises, you should be able to get all the benefits of a great warm-up in 5 to 10 minutes. I usually do exercises based on finger combinations (the typical “1234, 1243, 1324 …” sequence) in order to work on every finger equally. I also know from experience that my picking hand takes longer to warm-up than my fretting hand. Therefore, I do the “1234 exercise” picking every single note.
The picking hand is fairly simple to warm-up. You just need to pick until it feels effortless.

The fretting hand however, can be a little bit trickier. That’s why I’ve made a video sharing my go to warm-up for it.

If you’ve never warmed-up before playing, this may seem a bit overkill : “I just play songs until I’m in the zone”. And if it works for you : Great!
The point of a warm-up is to get you up and running quickly by following specific patterns. Playing songs in order to warm up can work (it depends on the song) but it will probably take longer and may end up discouraging you completely before reaching a flow state.

Tip #2 – Have a plan

Have you ever grabbed the guitar and wondered what to play or work on? You then look for “alternate picking exercises” on Youtube and, next thing you know, you realize you’ve been scrolling through and watching videos for an hour without actually working on anything. 

That’s why you need to have a plan before grabbing the guitar.
The point of the plan is to know what you’re going to work on (and what for) everytime you pick up the guitar. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to fall into the “overplanning trap” of scheduling : 5 minutes of Fusion licks, 5 minutes of Jazz chords and 10 minutes of Music Theory. A plan can be pretty loose. Mine is usually :  10min warm-up, 45min raw technique exercises, whatever time I have for music (composing, learning songs etc).

How do I know what exercises to do during the “raw technique” part of my plan?
– I take the trickiests parts from the songs I’m currently learning and turn them into big exercises.
How do I know what songs to learn?
– That, detective, Is the right question ;)
In the past, I’ve been guilty of learning a technique for technique’s sake. It’s a very frustrating process but you’ll end up learning said technique. The problem is : you don’t know what to do with it.
That’s why I now work on guitar, based on the songs I want to learn.
A very useful tool in order to know what songs to learn is : The Top 10 List
The Top 10 List is a tool I got from the time I took lessons from Jon Björk. It’s a list where you write your 10 favorite moments of your 10 favorite artists. It can be short licks, song sections or full songs depending on what you’re looking for.
By taking the time to create this list you’ll make your life much easier.
When it’s time for the “Music” part of my plan and I don’t know what to work on, I open the list and choose whatever interests me the most at the moment.
The list is a compilation of your favorite moments so anything you choose should be interesting and fun for you to learn.

Tip #3 – Give yourself time

When was the last time you spent hours playing a lick trying to understand it, transform it and expand from it? 

Nowadays, with the avalanche of information we get constantly, we tend to go very quickly from one thing to another. And by not spending enough time on one thing (lick, song etc) we usually miss its essence. But fear not! This has an easy fix : Spend time on it
The next time you learn a lick, schedule twice as much time as you think you’ll need. Once you have said lick under your fingers : analyze it. What is it that you like about it? Is it how certain notes interact with the harmony? Is it the rhythm? Identify that and then play with it.
Use the same notes but with a different rhythm, modulate, change one note here and there : Take the time to be creative.
A painter paints his pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence” – Leopold Stokowski
As anything that requires creativity, you won’t always feel super inspired. But take the time to dig and see what you can find. Embrace the silence and the boredom because a creative spark can come at any time from anything.
The end result is absolutely worth it.
I’ve seen from experience that the licks that I use the most are usually those that I “created” more than the “original” ones.

Tip #4 – Monitor yourself

Have you ever worked on a specific lick for days without barely noticing any progress?
You need to start monitoring yourself.

Do you remember how learning the Am pentatonic felt like? Struggling to play an entire position slowly without playing a wrong note. I’m guessing it’s a bit easier now.
It’s like that for any skill we learn. At first, it’s overwhelmingly complicated. Then it starts sinking in until it just becomes second nature. And at the same time our own perception evolves : What first seems to be lightning fast quickly becomes pretty average and we set the “lightning fast bar” further up.
That’s why, you can’t trust your own perception of your playing.
The most reliable way of seeing if you’re making progress is monitoring yourself. And now it’s easier than ever!
Grab your phone and record yourself playing the lick you’re working on. Do the same the day after. And so on for a couple of weeks. Then, watch the videos back to back. if you don’t see any progress, watch the first video and then the last one.
At this point there’s 3 options : 

  • If you play the lick better : Congratulations! Keep it up or move to something else if you’re satisfied with your results
  • If you play it moreless the same :  It’s okay. You need to change your approach. There’s probably something in your technique stopping you from making further improvements. 
  • If you play it worse : Chances are you haven’t been consistent enough. Try to commit to 10min a day of specific practice for the lick and see if you fit in the 2 previous categories after a couple of weeks

Again, monitoring yourself may seem tedious to do. But it’s a much more reliable way of tracking your progress. Just try it ;)

Tip #5 – Get a teacher

If you feel overwhelmed by the previous tips and don’t see yourself following them on your own : get a teacher.

A great teacher will be able to create a plan for you to reach your goals. Having weekly or biweekly lessons will give you something to look forward to while working on short term and long term goals.
How to find the right guitar teacher?
This is both simple and not so simple. The right teacher is the one that has the skills you want to learn and knows how to pave a way for you to learn them. This means that you first have to know what you want in order to find someone who can teach you that. Once you know what your goal is : Look for a teacher and see if you’re a good match. That’s right, you may find someone who has the skills you want but for some reason he’s not able to teach them to you. That’s totally okay. Some people get along and some don’t. Just try another teacher until you find the right one for you.
It goes without saying, a teacher can only teach you something that he already knows. Don’t believe those who claim that they can teach you something if you haven’t seen them perform that skill.
Finally, bear in mind that you’re not a worse musician for taking lessons. Every time I’ve wanted to learn a new skill I’ve had a teacher for that (when I could afford it). I’m currently taking lessons for Mixing, Marketing and Guitar with 3 different teachers. That’s right, I’m a guitar teacher and I have a guitar teacher too ;)

Bonus tip – Don’t compare yourself

Here’s a bonus tip as food for thought : Don’t compare yourself to others.
You may be tired of hearing this but bare with me because it makes sense.
You can only compare one thing at a time : 2 elements with only one difference.
For example : you can compare “yourself with a black t-shirt” to “yourself with a white t-shirt”

Because of  social media, the huge amount of guitar players and our own insecurities. We tend to compare ourselves to other fellow guitar players : “This guy has a better alternate picking than me”, “he has a better sound” and so on.
By doing this you are comparing yourself to someone else. That’s waaaaaaay too many variables to compare. 

Use others as inspiration and compare yourself to yourself only. That’s all for me, 

Thanks for your time and have fun with your guitar!