How to Make Guitar Practise Fun, Inspiring and Addictive by Using The Science of Habits

  • by Tom Boddison
  • 21 Nov, 2017

Every pro guitarist has habits that help them to succeed. Here's how you can do the same...

When I was in my mid teens I decided that if I was going to do  anything with my life, it would be mastering the guitar.

I might not ever be rich or famous, but if I could master this instrument then I'd be happy.

Of course, you can't  really  "master" an instrument because the learning never stops - but that didn't stop me from trying!

I remember reading about how I needed a practise schedule, and how I should practise for hours every day if I wanted to get good.

I drew up practise plans and tried to force myself to stick to them, running through scales, exercises, and theory.

It always felt like a struggle. Sometimes I'd get results and feel excited, but more often than not I'd feel overwhelmed, frustrated and fed up.

It took too much effort! All those hours, and all that discipline... it felt like work, when it should have been fun!

I always had to  force myself to do it, and I always felt guilty because I wasn't playing as much as I was told I "should".
After a year or two of this, I decided to forget the practise schedules and just take a break.

Instead of forcing myself to play, I just played when I felt like it.  I didn't focus on learning anything in particular; my only focus was on having fun!

Some days I played for hours, jamming to my favourite songs, while other days I only did a few minutes.

There was just one rule:  I made sure I did a little bit every day.

Even two minutes was fine, as long as I did  something every day. If I played the guitar, that counted.

I forgot about how "Steve Vai did ten hours a day" and how "you're never gonna get good unless you have a two-hour practice schedule". This was all about  fun.

Then something strange happened. After a while it started to feel really natural to grab the guitar whenever I had a spare five minutes.

It didn't feel forced at all. It felt like I really  wanted to practise all the time, and if I missed a day I felt myself wanting to play even more.
Before, I had struggled to play every day because it was "hard" and the practise schedules were too much. I was all focused on becoming good rather than having fun .

That meant daily practice never really happened - I'd do a few days, and then get bored/frustrated and take a break.

Now , though, it was different. Because I'd focused on just doing a little bit each day - no matter how small - guitar playing quickly became a habit .

A "habit" is defined as "a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up" .

So brushing your teeth in the morning is a habit - it's settled, regular and you probably want to keep doing it!

By making guitar playing a regular habit, it'll become something you just do . You won't even have to think about it - you'll just pick up your guitar and start playing like it's the most natural thing in the world.

It makes practise not just fun, but compelling . You really, really want to do it! If you've got good guitar habits, you'll get way better results simply because you'll play so much more.

Once the habit is formed, then you can introduce all the practise schedules and more "serious" stuff, because guitar playing will already be such an addictive thing!

You have to get the habit first.
This is why sticking to practise schedules and plans is difficult in the beginning, and why people struggle to get results from them.

When you're already used to playing every day, though, sticking to plans and getting great results will be dead easy.

Every great guitar player has habits like these (or did, when they were learning to play). Habits practically control your life - from getting up the morning to going to bed at night.

They are a key part of getting good at the guitar. In this article you'll learn exactly how to use habits to improve your own playing and achieve your musical goals.

How to Make Playing Every Day Easy

There's a common myth floating around the internet that goes something like:

"It takes 21 days to form a new habit".

Sounds pretty cool, doesn't it? In just 21 days you could have a whole load of new habits - guitar playing, daily running, eating healthily and more. Imagine how much better you could become...

The trouble is, though,   it's not true.

The time taken  entirely depends on which habit you're trying to form .  
According to a University College London study , how long it takes to make a new habit can vary WILDLY.

As in, anywhere from 20 to 254 days - or even longer!

It all depends on the difficulty of the activity. Activities that take lots of effort or discomfort are harder to turn into habits.

If all you want to do is drink a glass of water after breakfast every day, it'll become pretty much automatic after 20 days.

But what if you want to start running regularly? That will take much longer - way longer in some cases.

Even eating a piece of fruit with lunch every day can take over forty days to become a habit - more than double than for a glass of water!

Avoid This Crucial Error

The message here is that it's VITAL to make it easy for yourself . The less effort and the less time it takes to do whatever activity you're doing, the quicker it'll become a habit.

This was my mistake - I tried to commit to a massive practice schedule right from the get-go, and ended up overwhelmed and unmotivated.

Because I took on a lot, it  took loads of effort to do the full practice plan every day. This meant that it  never became a habit, because I'd have to stick to it for the best part of a year to even get  close !

When I changed my approach, however, I made it easy for myself. I just focused on playing every day - even if it was just for two or three minutes.

This was EASY to stick to, because let's face it - anyone can find a spare two minutes!

After the first week it was already feeling easier, and within three weeks it was pretty much automatic.

This is because I'd made it  low effort and  quick  so it didn't take any willpower to do. It was easy!

Don't try to stick to a two-hour practice regime at first, or even a 30-minute one. MAKE IT EASY.

The simpler and easier you make the activity, the quicker the habit will form and the sooner you can start getting REAL results.

Once playing for two minutes is a habit,  then you can start to introduce more. By that point the base habit is already there, so you can boost it to ten minutes, then twenty, and so on without difficulty.

Just get the basics down first. Don't pressure yourself, and don't try to run before you can walk.

But... what? Two minutes? Is that it?

Yes!

I know what you're thinking - "but how the hell am I supposed to improve with just two minutes a day?!"

You're not. The point here is to  get the habit started.  No, it's not gonna turn you into the next Satriani within three weeks, but it WILL give you a habit that will serve you for the rest of your life.

The long-term benefits of starting small are HUGE - and the long-term effects are what'll make the biggest difference to your playing.

Soon it'll be effortless, too, because it's just something you want to do - like making coffee in the morning, or turning on the TV when you get in from school/work.

Enjoy the process, and remember that  you can increase and expand afterwards.

How to Form Habits Easily - The Four Rules

Making a new habit can be really hard  or  really easy, depending on how you approach it.

I've come up with four "rules" that'll help you make guitar playing a habit within just a few weeks. Remember -  your habits define who you are, and what you can do.  If you make guitar playing a habit, you'll be a much better guitar player.

1. Make it Easy to Do

This is what we've been discussing so far -  making it easy  for yourself.

Just commit to two or three minutes, if you like. In fact, I'd say that's  better than trying to do twenty, thirty, or sixty minutes right away.

The key is this:  the easier it is to do the activity, the quicker the habit will form. Just do two minutes of noodling a day, and then you can build upon that habit when it's already ingrained.

This is  way more effective than trying to stick to a large practice schedule right away.

As far as  what to play, it doesn't really matter at this stage. You could play your favourite song, or just noodle around with some scales. It doesn't have to be the same thing every day, either.

The important thing is that you do  something  and that it's easy to do. If it feels like a real chore, you're doing something wrong.

The main reason people fail is because they quit - so make it really easy to carry on!

2. Make it Regular

However much you decide to do, you have to  make it regular .

Decide on a time and place, and stick to it.

You could choose to do it as soon as you wake up in the morning, sitting right there on your bed.

Or, you might decide that every day straight after dinner you're going to do two minutes of guitar practice in the living room.

Decide on a specific time and place, and then make sure you do it every day. No excuses!

This makes it easier for the habit to form because it's more predictable, and it's the same every day.

If you choose "as soon as I get home from work, in the study" for example, then after a while it'll feel natural to grab the guitar as soon as you get home.

This means the habit will form quicker than if you do it randomly.

Structure is essential!

3. Be Consistent

So you've made it easy for yourself, and you've got a regular time and place sorted.

The third "ingredient" is to  BE CONSISTENT .

Make sure you do it every day. Don't skip days and don't make up excuses.

Everyone can find two minutes to practise, including you.

This is especially important in the beginning, because those are the days when the habit is first forming. You've gotta be consistent!

To help with this, you could try using a calendar to track your "streak". Put a tick on every day that you've done it.

Then you'll have even more motivation to carry on, because you don't want to break your streak!

It becomes easier with every day that you do it, so eventually you'll get a streak of months and months and you'll make sure you play every day so that you keep the streak going.

It's exciting - it's like getting the high score in a video game.

Be consistent  and do it  every day  without fail. No excuses!

4. Prepare in Advance

This last rule ties in with the first because the more you prepare, the easier it'll be.

Have you decided to practice as soon as you get up in the morning? Then keep a guitar on a stand in your bedroom.

Don't leave it in it's case, and don't leave it hidden away under the bed. 

Get it out and keep it somewhere where you can grab it as soon as you start practising, with minimal effort.

Keep all of your practise materials - like a tuner, a capo if you use one etc. - with your guitar too, so that  when you go to practice everything is already prepared.

That way you can just  play without any hesitation! This will make it even easier to practice daily because there aren't any barriers - you don't have to get it out of the case, or untangle a load of leads. It's right there!

Don't think you have to play with an amp, either. It's absolutely fine to play unplugged, and it also means you won't annoy people or wake them up if you want to practice early in the morning.

Remove all the barriers to practice - things you have to do before you can just play - and you'll find yourself playing more and more.

This is key to forming a habit quickly.

Your Next Steps

If you follow those four rules, guitar playing will quickly become a fun and rewarding daily habit.

Once you've got used to playing every day, what's next?

Now it's time to increase the time that you're playing for, so you can get real progress.

You could do this by either adding time onto your current session (such as doing 5 or 10 minutes after work every day instead of 2), or by playing at different times in the day (such as a bit when you wake up, a bit after work, a bit after dinner, and so on).

I like doing both. If you're anything like me this will happen automatically. After those two minutes are up, you'll want to keep playing!

After a few weeks of daily guitar playing it's almost like it becomes addictive - you'll want to play and practise all the time. The time you play for will increase naturally just because you  want it to - it's fun!

This is when you'll start to get more progress. Those two minutes will turn into five, then ten, then thirty... and so on, until you're playing for hours every day and loving it (if you don't think you have time for loads of guitar practice, check out these easy tips ).

There's an important thing to be aware of at this stage, though - and that's  making sure that you don't pressure yourself.

Don't try to force yourself into doing too much, because then you'll end up all frustrated again and you might even destroy the habit that you've spent ages working on. That won't help at all!

Instead, go with what feels natural. Increase the amount of practice time gradually, bit-by-bit, until you feel like you're making good progress.

This is also the stage where you can start  really practising rather than just noodling. You could have a full schedule if you like, or do something simpler where you just have a "main focus" you'd like to work on for each week.

You could work on songs, scales, chords, technique... whatever you like! It's up to you and your goals.

The point is to increase the amount that you do  without it feeling like work. FUN should be the main goal - because if it's fun, you'll get  way  faster progress.

Do that, and you're on the road to guitar success!

Final Thoughts

So there you have it - the complete process for forming guitar habits that'll serve you for the rest of your life.

To form a new habit quickly, make sure that you:
  • Make it easy to do
  • Make it regular
  • Be consistent
  • Prepare in advance

These tips can also be used to form positive habits in other areas of life, like fitness or work. Those four rules can be  incredibly helpful in forming new habits - so make sure you use them!

Your habits define the results you get, which define who you are - so create some positive habits and watch your skills grow!

Thanks for reading - if you'd like to stay updated then don't forget to subscribe to the email list to get awesome lessons, cool articles and super-effective guitar tips delivered straight to your inbox (you'll also get some free lessons and guides as soon as you sign up).

Have fun, and keep rocking!
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