Letting Go of Practice Guilt | Hub Guitar

Letting Go of Practice Guilt

The author, Grey, in Kyoto, Japan. Trying not to feel guilty about failing to practice.

What is Practice Guilt?

Practice guilt is the feeling that serious musicians sometimes have which makes them feel that they are inadequate for not having practiced enough.

The Role of Practice Guilt

Practice guilt is a wonderful force. Without it, legions of musicians would never have quit watching TV and playing video games in favor of taking up their instruments and aspiring to play at high levels. However, there are times when practice guilt can restrict the quality of your life. It’s important to recognize when the guilt is an appropriate thing to experience and when it does not belong.

Who Experiences Practice Guilt?

When I was a student at Berklee, I always felt guilty whenever I was doing something that wasn’t serious. And I passed a lot of hours this way. Most weekends I would try to relax for at least one evening. I used to gather up my gang of friends and pursue the simple pass-time of drinking alcohol and eating Chinese food.

Among my classmates, there were some pretty unbelievable kids who had taken their musicianship to extraordinary levels. And I always felt a sympathetic pleasure when I bumped into one of them in a recreational setting.

Wow, you’re such a serious player. And here you are trying to relax for a few minutes and socialize. How could that be?

It was during these encounters that I realized seeing even the best of my class relax felt like good news. It made me feel like it wasn’t a bad thing to kick back for a few hours once in awhile.

I always felt that if I wasn’t practicing, I was throwing away the only chance I had at getting the life I had always dreamed of.

Everyone needs to relax a little bit to be balanced and happy. So during the time when you allow yourself to relax, make a commitment. Allow yourself to really relax. Don’t pollute the experience by adding guilt to it.

My Trip to Kyoto

Since I was about 12 years old, I had always wanted to visit Kyoto. The high cost of airfare and accommodation kept this dream away from me for 16 years, until I was 28. It so happened that I was “in the area”, as I had just come back from Thailand, where I passed the days while building the first version of Hub Guitar.

I remember the breathtaking beauty of Kyoto’s thousand-year old temples. I remember every detail, from the pillars and the pagodas all the way down to the mysterious forests of short shrubs somehow matching perfectly in my mind with the way I had always imagined it. A childlike wonder gripped me, and I wandered through the ancient city as though I were in a dream.

But there was a ceaseless reality that kept me from dreaming for too long. I remember the guilt that, although I had brought along my guitar for the trip, I didn’t touch it even once.

At that moment I realized that, although practice guilt is productive, in some cases it can be a burden.

I committed not to be guilty for failing to practice while I was enjoying a very limited, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

We only have a short time to wander around this rock. The pursuit of musical excellence is one way of paying tribute to that truth by seeking the transcendent experience of making music.

But sometimes there are other ways to transcend.

How to Deal with Practice Guilt

Recognize that practice guilt is a good force that motivates you to practice, but that there are some situations in which it is not welcome. Practice guilt does not belong in your romantic relationships, and it should not diminish the joy you get from life’s most rare and special moments.

Know exactly what your practice goal is. Pursue it vigorously. And the rest of the time, try to live a normal life. You only have one chance.

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