The question of how to master guitar is often thought of as purely a technical one when in fact the technical aspect makes up 20% or less of your eventual success. We instinctively think that all that is required is knowing the steps involved as if we were piecing together a puzzle.
The 80% that determines mastery
What gets overlooked is motivation. Sustaining motivation for a short time is easy which is why we like puzzles that can be solved in a matter of minutes. Maintaining motivation for years is a very different story and this is where mastery resides. To master anything one must first learn how to sustain motivation. No amount of technical understanding will make up for a lack of motivation to put in the time required to develop the skill of a guitar master which leads us to the next question.
How do we sustain motivation for years?
Focusing your attention on this question will be a better investment of your time especially in the beginning. There are plenty of great ideas out there on motivation but few will actually sustain you but here are a few that I have found to work.
Think long term
Mastery should be thought of as something you will achieve in 10 or 20 years from now, not 6 months. One of the big reasons people quit guitar too soon is because they expect too much in the short term. Thinking long term from the very start improves your chances of staying motivated. When you resolve yourself to a 10 year horizon you will also be more likely to practice the skills correctly rather than rushing headlong into songs you are not ready for and thereby compromising good technique which reduces your chances of ever reaching mastery.
Focus on your practice not your performance
Many students practice with performance in mind. In other words the reason for their practice is simply to prepare for the next performance. This is fine but it tends to lock them into the idea that they only need to practice when they have a performance coming up. It also causes them to cram and therefore compromises their technical development. Good practice should be the goal. What I mean is you should be treating your practice as the main game. Every time you sit down to practice look for ways to improve the quality of your practice. When you make practice your focus you will actually come to enjoy the practice which in itself becomes the motivation.
Make ‘deliberate practice’ a habit
Practice needs to become a part of your daily routine. Most beginners don’t realise that practice if consistent, will eventually become a habit. Once ‘deliberate practice’ becomes a habit you have set yourself on a path to mastery. By deliberate practice I mean practice that is challenging you and ensuring improvement. Playing what you can already play well is not deliberate practice. It’s what I call performance. We perform what we know and practice what we can’t yet play well. When practice becomes a habit the motivation is built in because a habit by it’s very nature is something we feel automatically motivated to do.