Updated: Jul 22, 2020
I received a message from one of my students the other day saying he had lost inspiration to practice his guitar. He chose to take the last four months off due to the COVID pandemic, and in the process, did not keep his practicing up. I was on vacation at the time he messaged me, so it gave me time to formulate some thoughts and suggestions for fighting through what I call an “inspiration drought.”
First, what does it mean to be inspired to play or practice? Almost all of us came to our instrument after watching someone else play it, or hearing a piece that resonated with us in a unique way. We can be inspired ongoingly through attending concerts, watching YouTube videos, or hearing a fresh take on an old piece, etc. Another important question to ask is, is being inspired an important concern? The answer to this is dependent on the person being asked, and in what manner they need inspiration, but for students, the answer is definitely ‘yes.’ There are numerous things we all could do to stay inspired, but here are four general things I have suggested for my students over the years that seem to work well.
1. Make a time everyday to sit down with your instrument
You cannot expect to get better or to regain fondness for your instrument without actually picking up the instrument. It helps to set a specific time each day (the morning tends to work best for me), but at least making sure there is a time set aside each day is crucial. Next, set a particular amount of time to practice for. Your teacher can help you with this, but even if it is just 15 minutes, a set amount of time is important. After a few days, you will likely find yourself increasing this set time. You must also avoid distractions during this time. Make sure your phone is silenced and there no other devices turned on (TV, computer, etc.).
2. Play pieces you enjoy and love
Often, students and professionals alike must work on music we are not always fond of. Whether it be a piece your teacher is having you learn, or a piece you are learning for a gig, we may not always be inspired by our current repertoire. It is always a good idea to maintain older repertoire -
- pieces you love and pieces you can play well. We can find inspiration in such pieces, as they can remind us why we love our instrument. Even when we are not in an inspiration drought, it is a good idea to plan time for older repertoire in our daily practice sessions. Doing so can even help prevent inspiration droughts in the first place.
3. Take a day off from technique work
Before I get too far into this point, please do not misunderstand this to mean taking several days or long periods of time off from working on technical exercises and etudes. Technique is crucial to everyone’s development on their instrument and must be done daily. However, when in an inspiration drought, and when you have no upcoming performances or playing tests, it is okay to take a day off from technique to work purely on inspiring repertoire. This can relieve some of the daily stress we as musicians deal with regarding our abilities and things we are trying to improve upon. It can allow us to just enjoy our instrument for the beauty it can create. Again, do not make it a regular habit to set aside technical work - just on occasion.
4. Take a day off from practicing
Like the previous point, I would not recommend making a regular habit of this, but there are times when it is acceptable, and even important, to take a day off from your instrument from time to time. It can allow you to take your mind off the more stressful and tedious aspects of playing and give your mind a rest. I just returned from a five-day hiking trip in the Rocky Mountains. I certainly missed practicing my instrument, but I know it is important to take time off occasionally. It gives my mind (and fingers) proper rest, and I come back with a fresh attitude and rekindled inspiration for the guitar. Further, I find new inspiration and ideas for my students (this blog is one example).
If you are in it for the long haul, you will no doubt experience inspiration droughts. It’s not just something that happens when playing an instrument, but it happens in almost all aspects of life -- from other activities or hobbies, to your job, and even relationships with other people. The answer is not to give up, but to find ways to renew and strengthen your interest and desire. I hope these suggestions will help you in the next inspiration drought you face.