Albo’s Practice Diary #009: Four ways to deal with sucking

I’ve had my nose in a book for the last two hours repeatedly going over the same two exercises over and over and over.  Despite the mundaneness of this action, I’ve had laser-like focus on it and surprisingly (or maybe not) I can see and hear myself getting better.

This is good, because for the past week I’ve sucked.  For real.  This is not some self-pity cry for attention B.S.  I really sucked.

Music BookI missed three days of practice because I was tied up with other projects.  Then, when I did practice I got so frustrated that I put the guitar down and said forget it.  I dragged myself to my weekly guitar class and, while my instructor tried to be understanding and encouraging, I was bumbling and stumbling all over the place.

Sucked, sucked, sucked.

I don’t have a specific explanation for why things turned downward this week.  But there is a bright spot.  After my two-hour session, I feel really good and thrilled about getting myself back on track tonight.  And not only did I get the engines started again, I also gained a few learnings in the process.  Here’s what I learned…

1. You gotta stick with it.  Improvement does not always travel in a straight and steady line upwards, but rather comes as a series of peaks and valleys… and true progress occurs over the long haul.  Keep going and work through the rough patches.  It will get better.  If you need help getting started, try this.

2. Pay attention to other areas of your life.  As much as we all love playing guitar and it’s a big part of our lives, it is not the only thing.  And all those other things will have an affect.  In my case, I had a difficult week in other areas… and I’m certain it spilled over to my guitar playing this week.  When I’m flying high in life, it shines through when I play guitar.  When things are shitty, that comes through as well.  It all adds up.  If you’re feeling unhealthy, depressed, stressed, overwhelmed, you can turn to the guitar in hopes of lifting your spirits, but just know the art that comes out (at least initially) is going to reflect those feelings.  Conversely, if you’re feeling happy, amazing, inspired, beautiful, the art that you produce is going to reflect that as well.

3. Recognize that while it’s always fun, it’s not always fun and games.  I love playing guitar.  I love practicing, I love performing; I love reading about guitarists; and I love talking to others who share the same passion.  But when you want to get get better and hone new skills, you’ve got to put in some work.  Learning scales takes work.  Playing new material takes work.  Gaining enough dexterity to play clean notes and chords takes work.  There’s a time to play and there’s a time to roll up your sleeves and get to work!  In looking back over the past week, I wasn’t really focused on getting better… I was kinda going through the motions.  Tonight I put in the work, and the results showed.

4. Keep faith that the sun will shine again.  Everyone goes through bumps in the road.  Feeling like “I’ll never be able to play this!” is an all too common emotion that every guitarist goes through.  It’s easy to get frustrated. And it’s ok to let that out.  But remember the sliver lining that lies ahead.  If you keep the faith that things will get better, and you stick with it (see #1), I promise that it will get better.  It always does.

Earlier this week I forgot to keep the faith, and I paid for it.  Tonight was a good reminder though.  Things always improve if you stay positive and work towards it.

So there you go… next time your struggling to improve, or working on a difficult piece that is just not clicking for you, remember those four tips.  You’ll soon be rocking again.

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