Inspiration is a lie. A lie musicians often tell ourselves to feel better about not practicing. “Oh, I can’t play today, I’m just not inspired”. Alternatively, it’s a lie we tell ourselves to make us feel better. “I was so inspired yesterday I played for like, 3 hours man.”
Inspiration is a lie. To rely on inspiration will mean that we won’t get better. And, I don’t just mean as guitarists – I mean this for all aspects of our lives.
So then, if inspiration is a lie, what should we rely on?
You already know the answer of course, but most of us don’t like the answer. Truth be told, we need discipline more than we need the abstract reliability if something as fleeting as inspiration.
Inspiration can strike at the weirdest times. The drummer who wakes up at 3 am can’t go play out a new fill he dreamed of because he will upset his neighbors and housemates.
Inspiration can be bought. We buy a new piece of gear and suddenly we’re alive. We think of all sorts of new ideas. New riffs, phrases of effects. We build songs around our new toy. For a week or two that is, until it’s just another pedal sitting on the shelf.
One thing that inspiration cannot do is be called on at will.
Greatness might inspire us, but inspiration alone will not lead us to greatness. If you want to be great you need, more than anything else, discipline.
You cannot reply on your practice to come from inspiration. You must make it a habit. Once you are in the habit of daily practice, you will be well on your way to taking control of your progress.
You might have a long day at work or school and be tired. You may not be progressing at a pace you thought you would. We all get frustrated, and inspiration and frustration do not make good bedfellows.
But, if your practice is a habit, if you flex your discipline muscle, then none of those things will stop you. If you are not inspired, play scales, play through your songs, force yourself to write a verse or a chorus. If you are inspired, then let that add to what you are already doing.
The 3 R’s of Habit Change
James Clear speaks about the 3 R’s of Habit Change. In this, he talks about how every habit you have — good or bad — follows the same 3–step pattern.
Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior)
Routine (the behavior itself; the action you take)
Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior)
So, let’s take this and apply it to learning an instrument. We want to get you into the habit of playing daily. After 21 days you will have your habit formed, and your playing will improve because of it.
The human capacity to remember things is fairly bad. How often have you heard people tell stories of them going to the shops to buy milk, then coming home with bags of groceries but no milk? Has it ever happened to you?
And if you’re tired, we can conveniently “forget” to practice. So, to counter this, set an alarm on your phone. Set an alarm for the time of day you are most likely to practice. If this changes every day, then have multiple alarms.
The act of turning off an alarm will make it harder to ignore that voice in your head telling you to play.
This is the act of actually picking up your instrument and playing. Try and have set goals when you practice. Just strumming along to a few songs isn’t as helpful as playing one song over and over until it’s perfect. If you want some advice on how to structure your practice sessions in order to be using your time to the fullest, drop me a mail and I’ll send you a free guide.
But having said that, at the end of the day, for now, all that matters is that you actually play.
Make it fun, but also make sure you play a few scales and techniques. Also, for the love of timing, use a metronome. It is your best friend. You know, the kind of friend who tells you that shirt makes you look fat or that your hairdo isn’t really cool. It’s that honest friend that we all need.
For some habits the reward is instant. That is why drug users become addicts. For musicians, the reward will take a bit more time. And that is where disciple becomes your best friend.
But, let’s be clear. If you play something for 21 days, and you record yourself on day one, then re-record yourself on day 21 – there will be marked improvement.
Inspiration is a lie. But, if you can funnel your inspiration into something more, like into a habit of playing, then you will be unstoppable.