Advice to the Discouraged

Posted by Bradley Laird

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Do you sometimes get frustrated trying to learn to play your instrument? If you don't seem to be making progress despite all the practicing, and you are beginning to think you are just not cut out for playing, then I'd like to remind you of a couple of things.

1. You could be worse!

What do I mean by that? Well, if you have been playing a few days, months or even years, I want you to think back on how well you played on the day BEFORE you started trying. I am quite certain that you would have to agree that you have improved at least somewhat since that day.

Don't forget that. There was a time when you played at a level below where you are today.

2. Did it seem easy at first but now... ?

Maybe you got your instrument out today and it seemed like you are ACTUALLY getting worse instead of better. Don't let that freak you out. That perception really does happen. But it is an illusion. You see, when you started you didn't know much about what you were TRYING to do. You had less to think about and less to worry over. Now, you are TRYING to accomplish new things and acquire new skills and that can make it seem like you are backing up instead of moving forwards.

Consider this analogy. When you started playing it was like going to a golf driving range and just hitting a bucket of balls. There wasn't even a hole to try to get that stupid ball to fall into. It was just basic fun swinging.

Then, you decided to hit the 18 hole course. Suddenly all those beautiful drives you were making over at the driving range were missing the green by a mile. After losing all of your balls in the sand traps and the ponds, you are very frustrated.

You are actually probably hitting the golf ball about the same as you did on the driving range. It just seems like you stink because now you have that darned hole to try to hit. You don't really stink. You are just trying to do something that is a little harder.

Playing your instrument can be like that. You might be trying to learn a new chord or some fancy new lick and you keep messing it up. Don't worry about it. Just try to get "close to the hole" and take another whack at it.

3. Picture your favorite musical hero.

Think about some person who plays the same instrument as you. Someone who you think plays great! Mandolin players would do well to picture David Grisman, Sam Bush or someone similar. Banjo pickers think of Earl Scruggs or whomever you choose. Just make sure that the person you select is really, really good and is, without question, A LOT BETTER than you are today.

Have that person in mind? Okay, now think about this fact: There was a time for (insert your hero's name here) when he/she played WORSE than you!

It's true. Everybody starts at the bottom and can't do squat when they start out. True, some get it easier than others, but no baby comes out of the womb knowing how to play an instrument. (Perhaps Mozart and Chris Thile excepted.)

4. Maybe you need a reminder of the progress you HAVE made.

Are you a right handed player? Don't think you are playing very well? Okay, switch hands. Turn your mandolin, banjo, or whatever, backwards and try playing those chords with the other hand. Hold the pick in your left hand and use your right hand on the fretboard. (Lefties do the opposite.)

That feels really creepy doesn't it? Now, switch back to your normal direction and TELL ME that you are not making progress. You will be forced to admit that maybe, well, um, yes, you have made a little progress, right? Okay, keep on doing what you have been doing.

Another tip: Record yourself today and come back and listen to it in a year. Or make a little video. I just took up the Dobro recently and the first thing I did was made a little video of me trying to play it. No, you can't watch it! But, when I get a little discouraged I just watch that and I am forced to admit that I am making progress.

5. Would you do me a favor?

Would you mind sharing my website with your friends on Facebook, Twitter and the like? You can use the share button at the top of this page if you want to share this article. If you know someone who might be interested in my free lesson websites or my eBooks, would you help me spread the word?

Helping another person by sharing this information is good for your karma. What goes around comes around. And, who knows, that deposit in the bank of good karma might help your playing too.


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