Some ways to manage all of this extra time

In today’s online guitar lessons, we’ll look at the best ways to stay motivated, practice, and improve your technique during these strange times we live in. 

I had a talk with some friends the other day in which I asked, “Knowing that the world is fundamentally changed by the events of the last year, would you say you had sufficiently experienced enough of the life you once led?” (that was way too well worded for normal dialogue, but you get the idea) Meaning, things will never be the same, and so are ready to embrace that fact and move forward? 

I’ll avoid all the clichés we hear any more about the “new normal” or “when the economy gets back to business.” Instead I’ll say this, I believe that there are some people who will just wait and wait so they can get back to their old lives. There will be others who just become desperate and change, likely in negative ways, simply to survive. And there will be those who take this time to reflect and use this opportunity to improve their lives, evolve, get stronger. 

The obvious thing is that now many of us don’t have employment, but instead we have time. And while we may be worried about when we can get back to work, or when that next gig will ever be allowed to happen, we should still be trying to change the way things were. I know it’s been tough to stay motivated through all of this because there is this overwhelming sense of how tenuous things will be for a very long time. But I have some advice… 

Stay Motivated, practice, and improve your technique 

If all you have is time, don’t squander that resource by drinking beer and binging TV and pizza. Get in the practice room and work on some new moves! 

Here’s an idea, get a shoe box, a fish bowl, or a top hat, some vessel. Write down ten different practice items that you keep meaning to get to, tear them off, fold them up, and drop them in the hat. Every time you sit down to practice, draw one out, that’s your first 30 minutes of practice today. 

Then every time you think of something else you keep wanting to work on, write it down and drop it in your box. Eventually, you might get so many ideas that you won’t revisit them very often and every practice session will be different. 

My recommendation is to be rather specific on each of these ideas as well. Here’s a few examples. 

A Minor Pentatonic - 2 Octaves @ Fifth Position – Alternate Picking – 3rds 

Mel Bay Guitar Method Grade 3 page 20 

Descending Triads by 3rds in C major – Spread Voicings – strings 1,3,5 

Intro riff to “Fuzz Universe” – Paul Gilbert 

Etc. 

I know I’ve got this long list of items that I worry I’ll never get to, but this way will allow you to start exploring new techniques or perfecting existing ones. It will also become inspiring to have a different musical experience every day. 

Another way you can approach this is to draw three of the ideas, and make those your assignments for the week, so that you have time to linger and perfect those specific things. 

Prepare to change your life 

I think something important to realize is that with all this upheaval in our lives, we’re also presented with enormous opportunity to change what we haven’t liked about them in the past, or to prepare and save up some momentum for whatever world we will encounter on the other side. 

One of the biggest sources of anxiety for me as a musician is the nagging sense that I need to put together a portfolio or create a more professional online presence. Or I need to finish the album, expand my professional network, create a budget, learn to write grant proposals, etc. etc. 

To me, the big mistake people are making right now is that they’re panicking because they can’t play gigs, or go to concerts, or parties. And they feel that their purpose as a musician and their very identity is negated by this.  But it’s been my experience with most bands that we’re not very good at time management and prioritizing the different aspects of our careers. 

We get in a mode of doing all the things at once so that we’re not ever giving a single one of those things the full attention it deserves. And in my opinion, that is most often the case with the work that requires more sitting time, more creative effort. So my suggestion is that while the rest of the world is freaking out and trying to constantly maintain the attention of their audience on Instagram via streaming concerts, instead of following suite, you should work on a follow-up to your last album. 

In his book “Bag of Bones,” Stephen King talks about how any writer should have at least two emergency novels written, in the case that they encounter writer’s block, and on top of that, they should have at least two other novels ready to be published before they are ready to sign any book deal. Musicians almost never follow this formula. Instead we play gigs and write a song here and there, quit bands, get frustrated, post our latest 30 second idea on facebook, work a day job, and eventually burn out having created only a handful of completed compositions. 

Take this time to follow the Stephen King method. Create, create, create! You want a music career after this? Write two, three albums! And save the one you just finished until there is a sign that the world is improving. Build your portfolio of products right now, and wait to release anything until there is a vaccine for the virus, until there’s a guarantee that we can play gigs. 

Then start creating a plan for all of this stuff. Don’t just look for people locally, start a conversation with bands and musicians around the world, get people interested and lay the groundwork for something big.  Think about it. When things were “normal” you had no time to get any of this stuff together, and that was the excuse why things would never move forward. But now, all you have is time, so make use of it…really, truly make use of it.