Stay Motivated
How to get over a plateau

stay motivated when learning an insrument

It happens to all of us at some point; it is very hard to stay motivated because that fast section in a piece is still causing trouble. We practice and practice and practice, the weeks go by and we seem to be in exactly the same place we always were as though no progress has been made at all.

This is a dangerous time. It is all too easy to throw up our hands and say “OK, that’s it! I give up!” While thinking this however, it may be worth remembering that the world is full of adults who wish they had never given up playing an instrument. Almost every time I play a concert or a gig  people tell me about how they used to learn at school but then gave up and regret it. The number of parents who have told me they really want their children to continue with music lessons because they regret giving up during teacher meetings is huge. They explain how school work, going out, sports and any other number of things got in the way. They just couldn't stay motivated.

Some of the happiest adults I know are those whose job may not be music but who are involved in music in some way. Maybe in a rock or pop band doing cover versions, accompanying choirs or even just getting together with friends to play together in their houses. It gives them a great creative outlet, helps relieve stress and if they are playing in public can earn a bit of extra cash!

So think about these people next time you are about to throw your toys out of the pram and you want to give up because I guarantee you will live to regret it if you do!If learning music was easy then everybody would do it, and what would we have to set us apart from the rest of the non-instrument playing world? Stay motivated!

Try different practice routines and games, talk to your teacher or other friends who play your instrument about your problem. Contact me and I will help if I can! In short, get support. Browse the Essential Music Practice site for general tips.

And if you do decide to give up, don’t stand and tell somebody you see in a band in 20 years time you wish you had continued, because it might be me and I will say “I told you so!”

Tips to get you off the plateau and climbing again

stay motivated to get across the saddle

Two days before the summit of Kilimanjaro, climbers cross the saddle. They end the day at a lower altitude than they began.
If they stay motivated they will be standing on the top in two days time

One of the first things to realise is that you are probably making some progress but you don’t notice because the improvement is small each session. Tell your teacher how you are feeling. He or she may reassure you that you have made progress over the past few weeks. Believe it!

If you want to test your progress a good way is to record yourself. This doesn’t have to be a top quality studio recording. In fact I often use a mobile phone to make one off reference recordings when there is nothing else handy! Don’t listen to the recording and record yourself again after three weeks. Listen to the recordings one after the other. The chances are you will hear an improvement and it will probably be considerable. If you hear no improvement don’t be disheartened! Practice for another couple of weeks and record yourself again. If there still seems to be no improvement take both recordings to your teacher and ask their advice.

When you are on a plateau it can seem never ending. One thing you can do is to invent new ways of practising to keep you motivated. Play difficult phrases backwards (I have no idea why, but this often helps you play something forwards), find the hardest/worst bar and practice only that bar until it is not the worst one anymore. It doesn’t have to be the best, just not the worst. Once you have done that there will be another bar that is now the worst. Practice that one until it isn’t and so on. Very soon you will find you have the whole section that was giving you a problem nailed!

Another method is to challenge yourself to play a section a certain number of times correctly in a row. Make sure you have a reward lined up for yourself when you achieve your goal! It is a good idea to involve parents/partners in this one. They can provide the reward if you succeed. Be careful though - they may require some kind of forfeit from you if you don’t achieve your stated goal!

If, after trying lots of different techniques you are still not making progress at a particular piece it may be good to just leave it for a while and come back to it. Maybe the techniques are just a little out of your reach at the moment. Talk to your teacher about learning another simpler piece that uses similar techniques to help develop your skills and come back to complete this one more comfortably later. This often helps to stay motivated. Whatever happens… don’t give up!

When you stay motivated

Two days after the saddle I made it to the top of the mountain for sunrise. I believe that learning a musical instrument stood me in good stead when things became difficult while climbing. Many people might say after climbing that if they could climb Kilimanjaro they could do anything. I said to myself on the way up, if I can learn to play the piano, clarinet and saxophone, I can climb this mountain. It is amazing, looking back, at what a great resource being able to play an instrument was when it came to the need to stay motivated when climbing the mountain.

Expert Practice Secrets

practice makes perfect by simon horsey

Frustrated with your practice? Read Practice Makes Perfect and hack the 10,000 hour rule. Cut your practice time by up to 25%! Make faster progress, learn pieces and scales faster, memorize more easily, and much more. "If you play an instrument you need this book!"

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