Practice Motivation: How to Meet Your Practice Goal | Hub Guitar

Practice Motivation: How to Meet Your Practice Goal

Photo by James B.

Most guitar players struggle to maintain the motivation to practice. After learning for many years, practice can seem like a chore. We know that we love to play, but that doesn’t always mean it’s more tempting than watching TV or just wasting time. The title of this article is “Practice Motivation”, not in the sense that you need to be motivated in order to practice, but that you need to practice being motivated.

Perhaps the biggest illusion of positive forces like motivation and inspiration is that they are somehow self-starting and self-sustaining. Nothing could be further from the truth. Motivation is not a magical force which visits upon the lucky and drives them to accomplish their goals. It is a free resource that we all have access to—if we’re willing to grab a shovel and dig it out.

Tenets of Motivated Practice

Commitment to Guitar

No matter what your goal, you need to make a commitment to advancing as a guitar player. If the commitment is fragile, so is your motivation. For some of us, learning guitar is both a personal and professional goal. For others, it’s just a hobby. Decide who you are, what you want, and what your commitment level is. Do not let this commitment waver.

Learning a musical instrument is an effort that rewards the diligent. Unlike other activities in life, guitar is its own reward. You don’t need anybody’s permission or approval to enjoy playing and to get better every day. Think about these words, and ask yourself if you can say them to yourself with confidence:

I will pick up my guitar and practice for 30 minutes every day, no matter what, for the rest of my life.

If this sends a chill up your spine, then either this article has turned into a lame self-help book or those words just don’t resonate with you. But we’re not talking about carrying around a friendship stone or drinking magic tea to prevent Alzheimer’s. We’re talking building your commitment to practice. And until you can say these words, your commitment level is not supporting your practice.

The Power of Habits

Too many people fail to recognize the role conditioning, habits, and environment play in the decisions they make each day. Another illusion of motivation is that it is the source of good day-to-day choices. But this is not accurate, either. Your habits and environment create the final result. Your motivation is merely a limited amount of initiative that you use to change your habits and your environment.

Applied this way, motivation can help you create a new schedule for yourself that includes a daily practice time. It can help you finally enroll in guitar lessons. It can help you make changes to support your commitment to learn the guitar. But in the long term, it’s not always going to help you practice every day. Sometimes you’re just not going to feel like it.

If you take the short-term view and invest your motivation poorly, you’ll never develop a habit cycle that produces the results you want. For an accomplished guitar player, it’s no more difficult for them to practice every day than it is for them to brush their teeth every day. Habits, once formed, are self-sustaining.

Let’s imagine that you haven’t been practicing enough lately, and today you have the day off and want to fix that. Instead of using your motivation to practice for 2 hours on a Sunday, why not use that time to figure out why you have so little time, and make the change that will claim some of your time back? For most people, “there’s no time” is just an excuse.

Set a Goal

You should know your daily practice goal off of the top of your head. This should be number of minutes you aim to spend practicing every day, forever.

The Power of Environment

Your environment plays a big role in whether or not you practice.

  • Do you have a specific time of day set aside for practice? If not, how do you expect to find the time?
  • Do you set goals for yourself every day? If not, why not?
  • Do you have a dedicated place in your home to practice, equipped with the resources you need?
  • Do you have a realistic daily practice goal?
  • Do you have a plan in place for contingencies, such as traveling?

These are all supporting factors provided by your environment and your previous decisions. And without them, it’s unreasonable to expect that your practice will be anything but inconsistent.

In Bad Times, Hang In There

Once you’ve made a commitment to practice guitar every day, and kept this habit for months or even years, what will you do when you have an illness, injury, financial trouble, family problems, or experience any of life’s other twists and turns? If you don’t want to lose years of patiently building a good habit, now is not the time to abandon it. Instead, revise the habit to reflect the new reality you’re facing. Only you can decide what revision is appropriate. But do whatever you can to make sure you pick up your guitar every day. Even if you decide it will only be for 10 minutes per day until fairer weather arrives. Hanging on by the thread of a fingernail will not only preserve this habit you built, but it will make you stronger. This sends a clear signal up and down your spine, that radiates to every cell in your body:

I honor my own commitments.

In Good Times, Reach Higher

Maybe you have a three-month break from school, a one-month sabbatical or parental leave from work, or some other brief period of rest from normal duties. Most of us are lucky enough to have some break from regular commitments throughout our lives. And in some cases, this is an opportunity to take your guitar playing to a new level. Or maybe the schedule at your new job just feels very comfortable, and you’re easily settling into 60 or more minutes of practice each day.

When times are good, resist the urge to pat yourself on the back. Lower your head and press onwards. If your 30 minutes of practice time went by in a breeze, ask yourself if you have a bit more time today. When everything seems to be going your way, push a little higher.

Hit the Reset Button—Starting Today

How many days out of the last 30 have you practiced? Be honest.

Now is the time for you to hit the reset button and renew your commitment to practice. This button is available for you to push whenever you feel disappointed in your lack of practice.

Before you hit this button, forgive yourself for your shortcomings and pledge to do better in the future.

Here’s what you do:

Get a piece of paper, and draw four rows of 7 boxes. This represents the next four weeks, starting today. It doesn’t matter of it’s Tuesday the 13th. Your new program begins now.

At the top of this paper, write your daily practice goal. Pledge to yourself nothing more and nothing less than four weeks of flawless execution. Carry the card around with you. Remind yourself of your commitment and let nothing stop you from reaching it.

After that four weeks is up, you’ll see things much more clearly.


Your guitar practice, once it becomes a firm commitment, is not only a means to learn to play music. It is a way to pay yourself back. It is a way to communicate clearly and firmly to yourself that you are a person with the strength to accomplish your goals. The “woodshed” can become a powerful reminder of the positive force you are capable of, given enough time. And in those moments when your fingers feel fully in control of the instrument, you’ll see that the results of this effort speak for themselves.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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