Motivation for Guitarists – Small Goals for Huge Gains

Classic Guitar Licks

Classic Guitar LicksSelf-motivation
I’ve been self-employed my entire adult life. You can’t make that happen without understanding self-motivation. For the next few weeks I’m going to explain some of the things that I’ve learned about staying motivated and how it applies to mastering guitar.

What Makes Some Guitarists Special?
The primary difference between an average guitar player and a great guitar player is motivation. A great guitar player is obviously more motivated than the average player. There are many factors that affect motivation. Some are easy. For example, great guitarists have found something so fascinating about guitar that practice is almost effortless. What they’ve found may be as simple as learning to enjoy the puzzle-like aspect of guitar playing. If you’ve ever tried to copy a song note-for-note you realize that it’s actually a huge puzzle that needs to be solved. Some people give up because they find the process frustrating, others can’t give up because they find the puzzle fascinating. They’re the lucky ones.

As I mentioned, this kind of motivation comes naturally if it comes at all. The other type of motivation results from self-discipline. I view self-discipline as simply a promise we make to yourself and the ability to keep that promise. This aspect of motivation is something that we can control if we choose to. This process doesn’t need to be difficult.

Small Goals Add Up To Huge Gains
It’s important to realize that major goals are attained by achieving several smaller goals. I’ll give you an example. I was recently discussing songwriting and performing with Michael Angelo Batio. I commented that what he does is impossible. The truth is, it would be impossible to write and perform a song as complex as “Hands Without Shadows” without a great deal of effort. I said to Michael, “People have no idea of how much time it takes to write something like that. They think it’s completed in a week or two.” Michael replied, “Three years. It took me three years to write that.” So, what appears to be impossible can be achieved by patiently working toward a goal step-by-step.

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” – Thomas Edison

You must promise yourself that the overall goal will be completed. In this example the goal is composing and performing a song. This is achieved by promising yourself to patiently work on the song a section at a time week after week.

I use this technique in The Complete Basic Course. In three of the Stages I divide songs and leads into four sections. I teach each section as a weekly lesson. The end result of the four week step-by-step process is that you have learned the complete lead. The trick is to break things down into manageable sections and promise yourself to complete each of the manageable sections. Just make small, easy to keep promises to yourself.

The problem most people experience with “promises that we make to yourself” is, there’s too much wiggle room. You must be very specific about the plan of action and not allow yourself to deviate from that plan.

Here’s an example. Let’s say that the goal is to learn a complete song in a week. First decide exactly what it will take for you to achieve the goal. Put this in writing. It could be as simple as, you need to work on the song for forty-five minutes every day for the next week. Think of this as the rule that you must follow for the next week to achieve your goal. Do not allow yourself to deviate from the rule one bit. That’s the promise you must make and keep to attain the goal.

You must act as if there is nothing more important than sticking to your plan for the week. It’s more important than getting together with friends. It’s more important than having fun. It’s more important than most other obligations in your life. So when other things “come up” act like this goal is truly important. Make it a priority.

You must accomplish these goals to believe that you can accomplish future goals. Success breeds success.

This article was inspired by a conversation on our forum: What do you guys do when you’re feeling lost?

Last week when I began this series, I didn’t fully explain my plan. Instead, I just dove right in discussing an aspect of motivation that was on my mind. So I’ll take a moment to explain what I’m up to. Each week I want to write a brief article that inspires you to play, practice, record, and perform with your guitar. I’ll be discussing what I’ve learned about motivation but I’m not covering these topics in an A to Z fashion. This series will be more like a blog and it may end up actually becoming a blog. Each week I’ll discuss whatever topic comes to mind concerning motivation and may end up eventually editing the entire topic into a cohesive guide. For now I just want to have fun writing about what inspires and motivates me. For obvious reasons I’m discussing Motivation for Guitarists, but the information I’m writing about can be applied to all aspects of your life.

When I was a child my dad took the Dale Carnegie management training program. As part of his studies he read some of the most popular inspirational and motivational books of the era. The first book he read was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. After he studied the book it somehow ended up in my hands. Knowing dad he probably bribed me to read it, “Read the entire thing and I’ll give you $10.” I’m not sure if that was the case but we did make similar deals. In another deal we made I remember he offered a dollar for each book of the bible I read. I only made it halfway through Genesis so that didn’t work out in my favor.

I remember being inspired by the Dale Carnegie book but that happened so long ago that I don’t remember the impact. I’m sure that the book was influential but don’t remember which specific lessons I learned by reading it. Chances are that some of the motivational information that I pass on to others came from what I learned from reading How to Win Friends and Influence People.

“If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there and worrying. It’s the worry that gets you, not the loss of sleep.” – Dale Carnegie

When I was about to turn sixteen I wanted to get my learner’s permit. Dad insisted that I take driver’s education first. I was as stubborn then as I am now so dad finally relented. One day he handed me Norman Vincent Peale’s book, The Power of Positive Thinking. Dad wrote in the book, “After you’ve read this book we’ll get started driving.” That was another amazing book that inspired and motivated me. Dad died before he had a chance to teach me to drive but he gave me something a lot more important than driving lessons – he helped motivate me for life.

Through the years I’ve continued to study motivational material. Probably the best stuff was written and recorded by Anthony Robbins. While recording the 1992 version of The Complete Basic Course I was studying his material and it gave me the motivation to actually complete the project. Those of you that have studied the 1992 version are familiar with my motivational pep talks that were included at the beginning of each lesson. When I read student reviews of the course on our forum usually the most favorable comments about the earlier program pertains to the motivational aspect of it.

Motivation is like water – that’s right grasshopper
If you read the article that I wrote last week you may have been quite inspired for a day or two. As each day passes the inspiration decreases. That is the one aspect of inspirational messages that used to bother me. There was a point in my life when I thought, “Why bother? This feeling won’t last. I’m not really going to change.” Eventually, I realized that wasn’t true at all. Every time I’m motivated I do things that change me and often change others. Sometimes being motivated even for a short period of time changes my life and others in amazing ways.

Here’s an example. As I mentioned, I was quite motivated while working on the 1992 version of the course. That motivation translated into many of my students being motivated to become better guitarists. Many also applied what they learned to other aspects of their life. The motivation allowed me to create a course that didn’t need to be revised for seventeen years! That’s powerful stuff.

So here’s today’s lesson. You don’t drink a glass of water and say, “That’s it, I’ve had all the water I need for a lifetime.” Instead you realize that the daily consumption of water is necessary to sustain life. Motivation is like that too.

Sometime this week stop by a library or book store and browse through the motivational section. Pick up something that speaks to your passion. If you don’t have time to browse, check out Amazon. I also like to watch The Big Idea hosted by Donnie Deutsche, on CNBC. It’s on five nights a week and always has a positive, motivational message. It’s important to develop the habit of seeking inspiration.

I’ve included motivational material in my course from the very beginning. In 1984 my ex-wife, Londa and I wrote a monthly motivational newsletter called The Metal Message during the entire year of 1984. (a copy of is included with the audio version of the course)
Earlier this week I received an e-mail from one of my first Metal Method students and he referred to that era. I would like to share a piece of his message with you. Here’s the quote from my former student, Rusty Cooley who is today a well known guitar virtuoso:

“I don’t know if I have told you this before but I used to take the lesson booklets to school and stick them inside my school books so I could study guitar all day. My cassette player would loop the (basic course) cassettes in my headphones all night as I slept and I would read all of the Metal Messages as well. You have had a huge impact on my playing and life including setting goals and developing a plan of action to attain my goals. I started reading self help and motivational books in high school and still buy them today and listen to them while driving my H3.”

I Should – That’s a Dangerous Phrase

How many times during the course of a day do you think, “I should do this”? I’m talking about:

– The garage is a mess, I should clean it up.
– My car’s dirty. I should wash it.
– I should learn the Dorian mode up and down the neck.
– I should practice at least an hour a day.

The list goes on.

We all have long should lists. I’m not talking about just physical lists either. I’m also referring to mental lists. Occasionally an item moves from the should list to the will list. That’s when you actually accomplish something.

Here how to change should to will
Most movement from should to will is caused by pain. “I can’t go to work again today with my car that dirty. I’ve got to wash it.” That’s not exactly the type of thinking that will move you forward in life. That’s called being a C student – doing just enough to get by.

Let’s try a different approach. You move forward in life by raising your standards. For example, “I no longer find it acceptable to be in one of the worst bands in town. I will be in the best band in town.” The difference between being the best and the worst is a matter of standards. Raise your standards and you’ll change your position in life. It’s not enough to just say “I want to be in the best band.” That’s no different than saying, “I should be in the best band.” What we’re looking for is, “I will be in the best band and won’t accept second place.”

How is this accomplished? By raising your standards. You must study the band that’s in first place and make a commitment to exceed their efforts. It’s not enough to think that you should practice five nights a week instead of two. You must be committed to actually practicing five nights a week and maintain that commitment. Otherwise, you’ll find that will was really a should said with conviction.

The difference between should and will is that should doesn’t include a decision. Will is a decision. Decide to do something and follow that decision with massive action and you’ll succeed.

I don’t like reading an article when the author tells me, “Go get a pencil and paper. I’ve got a list for you to make.” So, I won’t do that to you right now. You can do the list part in the morning.

Get a pencil and two pieces of paper. On one piece of paper write tomorrow’s date and the words, I will at the top. On the other piece of paper write, I should. Put the pieces of paper where you’ll see them first thing in the morning. In the morning write a couple of things on the I will list. These are things that you’re fully committed to accomplishing that day. On the other list, keep a running tally of I should items. You don’t need a new should list every day. Just keep working on the same list. You do need a new I will list every morning. Try this every day for the next week and you’ll be surprised at what you’re actually able to accomplish through these commitments. Gradually things will move from the I should list to the I will list. Every day you must accomplish everything that’s on the I will list to maintain your confidence.

The reason I like to make these lists in the morning is that it’s easier to summon will power early in the day. I don’t know why that is but I’ve certainly noticed it in my own life. I start most days with a lot of energy and sometimes end the day wondering how I just sat there watching four hours of TV. It’s almost as if I’m three different people during the day. I have one attitude in the morning, another in the afternoon, and a third in the evening.

I’m fortunate that I can make my own schedule so I exercise in the morning and accomplish other things early in the day that I wouldn’t even bother attempting later on. However, even in the late afternoon if I see something on my I will list that I haven’t accomplished I will get it done.

Are you a natural?
Are you a naturally gifted guitarist or do you find it difficult learning to play guitar? That’s a loaded question. I believe that you have a natural talent for playing guitar or you wouldn’t have been drawn to the instrument in the first place. You may not feel like a natural guitarist because you’re not making the type of progress that some of your friends are making.

In the first article of this motivational series I wrote the following:

“Great guitarists have found something so fascinating about guitar that practice is almost effortless. What they’ve found may be as simple as learning to enjoy the puzzle-like aspect of guitar playing.”

You may have thought, “I don’t like puzzles that much, so that probably explains why guitar is so difficult for me.” The puzzle aspect of guitar playing is just one aspect of many that might draw you to the instrument. Another aspect that might have drawn you to the instrument is you like to show off. You like to do something well that others find difficult or impossible. Some people are drawn to the educational aspect. There’s always something new to learn. Then there are the gadgets…. I love gadgets! There is a never ending supply of toys and tools that you can purchase for your guitar.

You could have been drawn to the guitar for any or even all of these reasons and more. Why you have chosen to play guitar also determines what type of guitarist you will become. If you like puzzles, you might become a neoclassical shred master. Are you in awe of the mystery of guitar? Does it appeal to your spiritual side? You may be the next Hendrix.

It’s important for you to consider what naturally motivates you to play guitar and spend the majority of your time following your passion. If you force yourself to practice by channeling will power as discussed last week, you’re not going to do as well as someone that is truly following their passion. Will power can prepare you to play passionately but it won’t sustain your passion.

For example, if you love to show off, that might mean a career on stage. Once you’re on stage the performance will be effortless because that is your passion. However, to perform on stage it’s going to take a lot of will power because it won’t appeal to your performance passion to sit in a lonely room and master the craft.

Please join our discussion on the Metal Method Forum.