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How to Overcome Guitar Burnout

When you first take up the guitar, you spend hours a day eagerly learning notes and chords and scales, playing songs and making stuff up. But as time goes by and the novelty of playing begins to wear thin, so can your drive to practice. Playing the same arpeggios, licks and bits of songs over and over and over again gets old. When you stop having fun playing, you stop playing.

Now, there are going to be days when you can't wait to learn that new chord. Then there will be the days when you'd rather pass a kidney stone than play one more scale. But we're not talking the natural ebb and flow of motivation here. We're talking the lack of desire to pick up the guitar and play.

Most guitarists at some point experience periods of burnout—that feeling of being uninspired, unmotivated, completely uninterested in playing your instrument. If this is you, if your guitar is gathering dust in some corner, try some of these tips to help resuscitate your practice:

Pick up a new piece of gear. Different gear makes different tones and sounds possible and can shake things up a bit. Buying something new gets you excited to play again, even if that something is as small as a new set of strings. This doesn't mean that every time your practice stalls you need to rush out and make a purchase. Set up a gear fund and occasionally dip into it to treat yourself when you're feeling especially flat.

Actively listen to music. In a store, in the car, or on the stereo while cooking dinner, music surrounds us. But there's a big difference between hearing music and listening to it. Consciously pay attention to the music you hear. You'll be reminded of the riffs and licks and solos that made you want to play guitar in the first place.

Play with others. While you may be a guitar god in your bedroom or basement, perhaps the most important thing for you to do is to put yourself out there and play with other musicians. It can be intimidating at first, but as soon as you get over your stage fright, you'll love the feeling of playing with others. Fellow guitarists, like teachers, will often give you insight that will help you progress. Playing with others will greatly improve your consistency, your endurance, your improvisational ability and your feel for locking into a groove.

Play in a band. Taking the idea of playing with others one step further, playing in a band will definitely reignite your practice. After all, you'll have to maintain a practice schedule if you're to keep up with your bandmates. And speaking of, be selective in choosing the people you have playing around you. If you're not happy with the music you're making as a band, the frustration will prove counterproductive and could potentially push you even further away from your playing goals.

Build some flexibility into your practice. In learning to play guitar, you've no doubt discovered that some days you're more motivated to play than on other days. Some days you can go for hours on end, while other times you only want to practice for a few minutes. This is normal and if it's one of your "off days," allow yourself to enjoy a break from practice without feeling guilty. Don't force yourself to play if you're truly not feeling it. You should play guitar because you enjoy it, and if you're not enjoying it, forcing yourself to play will only burn you out more.

Change up your style. Another way to help get the rust off after a long dry spell of not practicing is to try out a new style of playing. If you were focused on country music pre-burnout, give classic rock a try. Or jazz. Blues or classical or metal.

Tackle something new. Learn some music theory or a new scale. Give fingerpicking a go. Master movable chords. Try your hand at songwriting.

Hold yourself accountable. Goals are important. They help keep you on track and give you something to shoot for. Set short and long term goals. Some players find keeping a journal of their goals and progress helps keep them in check, even on the most unmotivated days. Seeing your goals down in black and white makes them more concrete and maybe just a little bit harder to blow off. Just think how much farther ahead you'll be one year down the road if you were to hit even half of what you set out to.

Have a purpose. It's much easier to move beyond the burnout point if you have a reason to do so. Say you want to play guitar around a campfire gathering. Or for a friend's wedding. Or maybe you want to hit the world stage. Maybe you just want to play some music to unwind after a long day. It's much harder to force yourself to do something every day if you don't have powerful enough reasons to do so.

Misery loves company. One of the best motivators in trying to achieve any goal, like learning an instrument, is to look to other people for help and assistance. Chances are you'll find another guitarist who has had the same problems you are facing. They can give you great advice. Learning how other people overcome their obstacles will help tremendously to inspire and motivate you.

Going soft. If you quit playing for a long time, you'll lose your hard-won calluses and have to rebuild them all over again. They were hard enough to build the first time around. Why would you want to have sore fingers all over again? Keep those calluses tough by keeping to your practice.

Divvy up your practice time. If you have 90 minutes to practice, invest 45-60 minutes working from your practice regimen. Use the rest of time to freely play whatever you feel like playing that day. Practicing chords and scales and whatnot is great and highly useful and everything, but it shouldn't be all you do. Mix it up a bit to help keep your practice fresh. Play a few songs you like. Play over a backing track or with songs from your music library. Try to write something original, no matter how simple. The best routines are not the same each day. A good practice should be effective, efficient and flexible, so make some room in there for fun and creativity.

And finally, a word of caution. Unless you're financially strapped, think twice before selling your gear. Feeling burned out is rarely a permanent state. Your desire to play will return one day, and you don't want to be missing your favorite gear when it does.

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