Any endeavour in life worth doing requires commitment, persistence and passion, and learning a musical instrument is no exception. Some people have these qualities in spades from the off; most have to work a little harder. Let’s have a closer look at these qualities and understand how a positive mental attitude binds them all together.
Commitment: Simply put you set yourself a goal e.g. “I am going to learn to play the guitar” or “I want to improve my ability so I can play like XXXX” or “I want to learn a specific song or piece of music”. Commitment isn’t a one time thing it needs to be restated and reinforced throughout the learning process as goals are achieved or change. Even when the going feels tough a reaffirmation helps to focus the mind on the intended goal. Commitment is underpinned by discipline, for example, adhering to practise schedules and putting in the necessary time and effort.
Persistence: Learning anything can be hard. It’s hard for everyone. Some people are described as having a ‘gift’ or ‘talent’. This is not particularly helpful or even accurate. The ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’ often start with no knowledge or aptitude for their instrument. They’ve simply worked hard at it, for many years usually. They have practised regularly and made effective use of their practise time, almost always guided by good tuition. Persistence needs to be smart and efficient rather than simply dogged. Sometimes practise can feel like a drudge. Sometimes you feel like you’re making no progress or even going backwards. This is all normal. Learning to play guitar is not like being on a smooth upward slope to technical perfection, it’s a bumpier ride than that for most. But working effectively and persistently through the tough times will always lead to a positive outcome.
Passion: Most folk, particularly adults, start to learn to play an instrument because they have a passion for music and want to create music for themselves. Sometimes this passion can take a beating when the going seems slow or impossibly hard. We can help keep the passion alive by recognising and embracing the solid progress that is invariably made with time and effort. Put things in perspective and don’t get dispirited over that troublesome exercise, or challenging piece. I encourage students to keep a notebook for lesson note taking which importantly also serves as a history of the progress they’ve made. Those with the wherewithal to record their performances can make an audio journal so they can hear over time how well they’ve progressed. Listening to great players or favourite pieces and remembering why these artists and performances set you on the path to want to learn to play also keeps the musical juices flowing.
Positive mental attitude: I express this in two simple statements “enjoy the journey” and realising that the “journey never ends”. No player, however great, gets to a point where they feel that they’ve arrived and there’s nothing more they can learn. The process of learning a musical instrument should be an unending and pleasurable voyage of discovery, it’s not a race to the finish line! Maintaining a positive attitude has to be an active, not a passive, exercise. You need to consciously resist being deflected or deflated by the bumps in the road. Accept that progress takes time and effort. Don’t be too hard on yourself and acknowledge and reward your progress.