This post was adapted from an article published by Chad Crawford owner of the Palmetto Music and Greenville Guitar Lessons in South Carolina.
Many times when starting music lessons students feel an amazing sense of overwhelm. They don’t know where to start and the end result seems so far away. You see your instructor or other students who seem to be light years ahead of you and you wonder when it’s all going to set in for you. Maybe you have a pile of lessons sitting in a folder or on your music stand and you get the feeling or sensation that it’s all too much.
Let me ease your mind. What you are feeling is quite normal. To become good at playing guitar or any instrument, there is a sizable amount of information that must be learned to become fluent with your instrument. You may conclude that, “I am not able to do this”, or, “I don’t know if I have the time to do this”, or “I feel like I’m getting nowhere I should just stop.” Most people think the next logical step is just that, hanging up their guitar to collect dust in the closet.
So let’s talk about how we can get unstuck from this trap and the things we can do to avoid it. Remember that overwhelm is a state of mind which is temporary, not permanent. Sometimes overwhelm is perpetuated by a fear that we are not good enough or capable of finishing or achieving the task we initially set before us.
So let’s see what Chad recommends to get rid of overwhelm and make success your reality.
1. Know The Facts.
You first need to come face to face with the truth which is that learning the guitar, or any instrument for that matter is a big task that takes time. Thinking positive thoughts about being a good musician is great but Chad says this will accomplish nothing unless we allow this positive framework to motivate sustained action toward a specific goal. He is absolutely right. When you combine positive thoughts with action we can actually get results with our instrument. So the first step is to replace the thoughts and ideas (mental) of doom and gloom and replace them with the positive reinforcement that this is actually possible. That many people just like you, including your idols, have gone through this same exact path. Then, take the actions necessary to make those positive thoughts a reality.
2. Formulate A Properly Balanced Perspective.
First, we need to narrow down our goals to something realistic. We can’t be at either extreme. We shouldn’t reach for the moon quite yet because that can seem so far away but you should also not assume that because you cannot play your favorite song that your playing is worthless. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a balance in the middle and if you have a good teacher, they will be able to show you how to have fun no matter your skill level.
If your goals are out of proportion to the amount of time you are willing to dedicate to your instrument, you will surely be disappointed. If you give in to overwhelm at the slightest bit of a challenge or difficulty, then you will likely quit and never reach your goals. Balance is key and is why I focus on having lots of small goals to work towards along the way. One step at a time and always adding up to bigger and better things for your playing or singing.
3. Set Effective Goals
So what is a realistic goal? This will vary greatly from person to person and will depend on how much time they can spend with their instrument and how many times a week they come for lessons. Chad says, “It is very important to pick a range of styles to focus on. For instance, classical guitar is a very different approach to guitar than rock. It is unlikely that anyone, and particularly a hobbyist, is going to achieve great things in both of these styles. Even professional musicians tend to focus on one style. So pick the one you like most – the one that has the most songs that you enjoy hearing. In doing so you have eliminated a great deal of material that you need to bother with learning.”
I like to focus on specific techniques that can be carried across most songs you like to play including, chord changes, rhythm skills and picking skills. You can also add music theory and ear training into the mix later, but the first three will get your very far with guitar.
If you have been learning for a little while, you likely have accumulated a lot of materials and it becomes impossible to study everything at all times. This is especially true if your time is limited and that’s when overwhelm steps in again. Chad says you have to look at your short term goals and see what materials will mostly get you to those goals the fastest. So if you want to play along to simple songs, I would recommend focusing primarily on chord changes and basic rhythm skills. Chad says, “For instance, if your near-term goal is the ability to play pop rock solos, you do not need to practice exotic scales and diminished arpeggios. Focus on pentatonic scales, embellishments, and phrasing. The more advanced materials can wait until you have mastered the basic stuff to an extent that you can yield more practice time to exploring new ideas.”
Bottom Line: Overwhelm is a product of our mind. It is something we create. To over come overwhelm, we must first remove the negative thoughts and replace them with positive and empowering thoughts. Then, we must take action to reach our goals. Goals should be small and incremental. Your time should be focused on the materials that will give you the most benefit the quickest. You can work with your teacher to see which items you should be placing the most focus on during your practice sessions.