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Mind Over Matter: Changing Your Mindset to Improve Your Practice Habits

 Are you the type of player that heads to the basement to “noodle'' every evening? Or, are you forcing yourself to meticulously schedule your 10,000 hours of practice until you achieve g.o.a.t. status? While the latter might seem like the more straight-forward path to reaching your performance goals, some experts argue that the first approach may be the more tried and true way to improve your craft.

Caption: Allen Iverson talks about PRACTICE. 

A Canadian study done called Passion & Performance Attainment in Sport analyzed the way athletes achieve greatness through their practice, and while they all certainly had hard work in common, the more prevalent trait they shared was their passion for the sport that motivated them to keep pushing through any perceived obstacles in their performance (did you know Michael Jordan did not make his High School Varsity team the first time he tried out?).

So how does this relate to musicians? Well the two biggest characteristics they use to define the passion needed to propel you to guitar-godliness is loving what you do (duh) and the second is incorporating what you love into your identity. Do your pals introduce you as "this is my buddy who plays guitar"? Does your social media bio say “Insurance broker / Guitarist / loves dogs”? Do your in-laws buy you random guitar-themed gifts for every holiday "I thought of you when I saw this mug cause it has a guitar on it"? If so, you may be on your way to excellence with what is called the Self Determination Theory.

Ok, so changing your social media status won’t make Prince’s solo from While My Guitar Gently Weeps flow through your fingers like magic, but what the experts say it will do is make playing guitar such an intrinsic part of your personality that it stops being a special effort to sit down and practice, but instead is just a thing you do as a part of your everyday life. Plus it helps those around you accept the attention you give to playing your instrument all the time and going down never-ending youtube rabbit holes (you knew I was a guitar-guy/girl before you agreed to move in with me, right?).

So, how do you get started? Here are some tips to help ignite that passion for playing (and we don’t mean lighting some candles and putting on something more comfortable, but if that works for you, go for it):

  • To get into the zone, first you need a zone.
  • Whatever you do, don’t put the guitar in its case under a bed. You are a guitar player (it’s part of your instagram bio after all) and you can incorporate that into the layout of any living space. Whether it’s as simple as a guitar stand next to the couch with a songbook nearby, or a home studio in the garage, make a dedicated space for music making. It can become a sanctuary away from the stress of everyday life. Plus, keeping your guitar on a stand will serve as a visual reminder to “pick me, pick me!” the next time you go to reach for your phone or the remote control.

  • Get geeky.
  • Think about your favourite artists, genres, or eras. Dig into the bootlegs, live shows, and demos. Find out who your favourite artists were influenced by. Maybe read some books or watch a documentary. The internet is a treasure trove of information and there are rabbit holes just waiting to be explored. Chances are, the more you know, the more you will want to know and the more you will want to play!

  • Find your community.
  • This is especially helpful if your partner/friends/family do not engage whenever you try to talk to them about sweep-picking. If you are really into something obscure, it makes life so much better to find people that share that interest, and they are for-sure out there. Find a friend or two to jam with, swap practice tips, and challenge each other to learn new repertoire. These days, you don’t have to put an ad in the paper, (like Lars Ulrich finding James Hetfield), look up the facebook groups, the reddit threads, the forums, wherever like-minded musical souls gather.

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    Rob McLaren is a guitarist and lover of all things stringed, you can catch him playing guitar with Union Duke or picking the banjo with his bluegrass outfit the Barrel Boys