Picture this: You look at the clock. It’s 4:32 pm on Wednesday afternoon. You’ve
been practicing for what feels like hours. Your hands are cramping from holding your
guitar, your back is sore from sitting at your drum kit, or your throat is tired from singing
the same song repeatedly. You stare at the wall for a second before forcing yourself
back to practicing your instrument. It’s been at least 10 minutes – you’re sure of it. You
look back at the clock. It’s 4:33 pm.
We’ve all been there, friend. You know that you love your instrument, and you
know that practicing is a must… but boy, are you bored.
There is not one musician, famous or otherwise, who has escaped the throws of
burnout. So how do these people manage to continue pushing through with practicing?
Here are a few tips some of the most dedicated individuals follow to keep up their
- Look at the Big Picture
This may sound really cliche, but if your health (physical, mental, and emotional)
are out of sorts, your playing will likely be off as well. If you’ve never heard of Maslow’s
Hierarchy of Needs, you’re in for a treat. Maslow was a psychologist who basically said
that if a person’s primal needs (water, food, oxygen, and shelter/safety) are not met, that
person will not be able to pursue dreams or function optimally. So next time you’re
feeling completely unmotivated while practicing, think about your habits outside of
music. Are you getting enough to eat? Have you had enough water? How about sleep
the night before?
Once you’ve established that these needs are met, you can…
- Drop the Guilt
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re a musician with some serious
passion for your instrument. This is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that this
excitement tends to lead us to practice. The downside is that this passion can leave us
feeling guilty when we don’t practice.
The thing is, burnout is completely normal. And it’s not just in music, it’s in every
aspect of life! When your practice starts to feel overwhelming, take a step back. It’s
perfectly okay to take a breather. This may be something as simple as taking a few
minutes to focus on something else. Sometimes, it may include putting your instrument
down for a few days. When it all boils down, playing music is supposed to be joyful. It
should be a creative outlet, and while practicing and creating goals are important,
sometimes taking a breather will spark an even greater passion upon returning. If taking
a break from practicing causes you intense anxiety, then that break might be exactly
what you need.
- Just Breathe
Ready for some more psychology mumbo-jumbo? Similar to burnout, sometimes
when we practice or play live, we begin to feel frustrated. Perhaps it’s the fill you keep
missing. Maybe your barre chord sounds completely muffled and you can’t seem to fix
it. You can feel your heart rate rise and, if you’re anything like me, you feel like you’re
going to cry the shameful frustration tears. The absolute best thing to do during these
And I’m not talking about the usual automatic stuff. I’m talking about clear, deep
breathing that actually makes your entire chest puff up. Research has shown that
mindful breathing brings your nervous system out of that worked up state and into a
more relaxed one.
The best way to do this is by counting. Inhale for four seconds, hold that breath
for three, and exhale for five seconds.
It’ll take a few times; so don’t you quit after one deep breath! Try for at least
three. If you’re in a position (such as a live concert or in the middle of a gig) where you
cannot take time to breathe, wait until you finish a song or there’s a break in the set.
Ah, routine. It may seem counterintuitive, but having a set schedule can prevent
feelings of anxiety or apathy when it comes to practicing. I know personally that I
struggle with motivation when I don’t have a goal to work towards or a routine to follow.
Do you have lessons lined up and marked on your calendar? Do you have
“checkpoints” set up to check your musical progress? Without things to look forward to
(i.e. gigs, playing specific songs correctly, playing songs for others), the motivation to
practice completely falls by the wayside. Working towards a goal and establishing a
routine are vital in keeping up morale.
- The Little Things
I had a singer-songwriter friend who would often face writer’s block. When he
was recording or writing, he would get easily frustrated and bite his nails or click his pen
incessantly. So for Christmas I gave him a Bob Ross bobblehead. Now, whenever he
faces that block, he says he plays with the bobblehead. He says he thinks about all of
his musical mistakes as “happy little accidents,” and it makes him laugh.
It may not be a complete cure-all for writer’s block, but sometimes having a little
totem to bring you back to reality during those frustrating times can be a lifesaver.
At the end of the day, playing music should be fun! It should bring you – and
hopefully those around you – joy. To make the most out of this creative outlet, take some
time to focus on the aspects of music that spark your passion to prevent that burnt out