I had a really interesting discussion with one of my students a while ago. We were talking about what the most essential thing that a guitarist needs to get really good. Think about it for a minute. Is it a good teacher? Is it effective practice habits? What do you think we came up with?

Well, after about ten minutes of debating we came to the conclusion that desire is the most important thing. In other words, you need to feel a deep need to get good on the guitar. Without this strong desire you just won’t do the work that it takes to get good. After all, you could go to a great teacher and learn the most effective practice strategies, but if you don’t have the motivation to work hard you won’t be getting good anytime soon.

A Sneaky Question That I Ask To Many Of My Potential Guitar Students

One of the questions I ask many of my potential students is this…

On average, how much time per day would you be able to dedicate to guitar practice?“.

Now, I must admit this question is a little bit sneaky. The actual answer they give is not that important or revealing. (Obviously a person working fourteen hours a day will probably write down a lower number than a person working a mere eight hours a day. What I look for is a consistency between what they write down and what they do once lessons commence. In other words, do they walk the talk?

This consistency between what they say and do gives me a lot of an insight into just how strong their desire is…

For example: I’ve had potential students say that they can do two hours a day of guitar practice on average. Once they start lessons, I’d be lucky if I can get them to do thirty minutes a day! They will usually come up with a bunch of lame excuses each week as to why they are not doing the two hours a day that they said they would do. They say things like “I had a busy week” or “I didn’t have time”. The cold hard truth is that they just don’t want it badly enough.

If a potential student says that they’ll do at least two hours a day and once lessons start they actually do what they say, then it’s clear to me that have a genuine desire to improve. And because they have the desire, then it’s only a matter of time before they get good on guitar.

One Major Reason Why Desire Is So Important

If you’re an adult, then you also probably have all the responsibilities that go with being an adult. For example, you probably have to pay rent or make mortgage payments. You probably also need to pay for food and utilities for yourself and for your family (if you have one). And for many people, earning enough money to take care of these responsibilities takes up a lot of their available time.

Let’s take a look at an example. Let’s say that an imaginary budding guitarist called Joe wants to really improve his playing. At the moment a typical workday for him looks like this…

  • He works 12-hours a day. (This includes his commuting time).
  • He sleeps 7-hours a day.

Between work and sleep around 19-hours a day are taken up. This leaves 5-hours a day for all other activities. If Joe has a family then in order to do two or more hours of guitar practice on a workday he will probably have to do one or more of the following things…

  • Reduce his other leisure activities to almost zero. He’ll need to practice his guitar instead of watching TV, reading trashy novels, surfing the Internet and other low-value activities.
  • He might have to give up all of his other hobbies. Spending an hour a day making model airplanes, stamp collecting or scrap booking might be fun and relaxing, but it isn’t going to improve his guitar playing.
  • He might have to get up earlier or go to bed later. This could mean reducing the amount he sleeps by an hour or so. Of course, this may not be an option depending on how well he responds to slightly less sleep. The point is that Joe may need to test sleeping less for a while. (He might find he can easily adapt to slightly less sleep than normal). [Side Note: No…I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV…so obviously check with your doctor first before reducing how much you sleep by insanely large amounts. It could be a very, very, very stupid thing to do!].

For most people having to do the above represents a significant sacrifice that they wouldn’t be willing to make. And let’s be honest, the only way that someone would make this sort of sacrifice is if they really, really, really want to get good on guitar.

A lot of people like the idea of progressing quickly on guitar, but they don’t have the genuine desire that’ll cause them make the necessary sacrifices. (They say they want to get good…but at the same time they aren’t willing to stop watching their favourite TV shows).

Discipline Alone Isn’t Sustainable

You might be thinking that maybe the answer is to discipline yourself to do the practice. While it’s true that you could probably discipline yourself to do a small amount of practice each day, I don’t think discipline alone works for larger amounts of practice.

Something to also keep in mind is that doing three or more hours of practice each day is a totally different proposition than only doing an hour each day. (The sacrifices you need to make are much greater). I personally don’t think that it’s possible to sustain large amounts of daily practice over the long term unless you have a burning desire to get good…

You might be able to sustain doing three hours of practice each day for a month or two. But do you really believe you could sustain it for 10 years or longer just by discipline alone? If you could, then you’re a much better person than me! (Side Note: And if you don’t deeply and genuinely love the guitar and truly want to get good, then why the heck would you want to force yourself to do all that practice?).

So if you’ve been a bit slack with your guitar practice lately maybe you need to ask yourself…”How strong is my desire? Do I really want to improve my guitar playing?”. And if you feel your desire isn’t really strong right now, the next logical question might be…”What could I do each day to increase that desire?”.

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