From the October 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY PAULINE FRANCE
If you’re past the honeymoon phase with your guitar, chances are you’ve experienced a love-hate relationship with it at some point—and that’s OK. Maybe you’re frustrated because you can’t learn fast enough, or perhaps you’re just bored with playing the same old songs. Whatever the case may be, there’s still hope.
I talked to seasoned guitarists who successfully reignited the flame with their six-stringed muse after serious bouts of detachment. Below, you’ll learn how they did it. Prepare to fall in love again.
1. Take It In For an Oil Change
Think of your guitar like a car. There’s no better feeling than driving a squeaky-clean vehicle that runs smoothly and has a sparkling exterior so bright it blinds you. On the other hand, imagine driving a car that reeks, breaks down, and is covered with dirt. Not too enticing.
John Bronson, guitarist and owner of Bronson Guitar Works in Scottsdale, Arizizona, has worked on guitars since 1991 and knows how guitars in top shape affect a player’s chops. “When your guitar is clean and re-strung, it’s inspiring because it looks and sounds so much better,” Bronson says. “It’s like getting a new pair of tennis shoes, or new tires for your car.”
Bronson recommends getting your guitar re-strung every three to six months, if you play infrequently. For those who gig regularly, he suggests new strings for every nine hours of playing time.
To get the “works,” take your guitar to a repair shop for a setup, which generally includes cleaning, re-stringing, action adjustment and more.
2. Take Some Time Off
Sometimes you just need a break. Ask San Jose, California, guitarist Marc Schonbrun, who’s in the midst of a self-imposed one-year sabbatical from playing. It’s a strategy he’s used before to great avail. “While it sounds antithetical to take a break like this, it’s only taking a break from physically playing,” Schonbrun says. “It’s not taking a break from music.”
The rationale behind his highly disciplined approach is to spend more time listening than playing. “The physical aspect of playing guitar is too easy to focus on,” Schonbrun says. “You have to master techniques and musicality at the same time in order to play great music. It’s easy to work on one at the expense of the other, and for whatever reason, physical practice seems to be much easier for me than mental/aural practice is. So I am forcing the issue.”
The time Schonbrun normally devotes to playing now goes to ear training and transcribing, which lets him listen with more focus.
If a year is too long, start by taking a few days or weeks off until you find a timeframe that suits you.
3. Clean Your Room & Be Good to People
What do clean rooms and personal relationships have to do with rekindling passion for guitar? San Diego guitarist and philosophy professor Peter Bolland finds a direct tie between keeping a clean environment, doing good for others, and playing guitar. “I find that my guitar playing goes best when all the other areas of my life are in order,” Bolland says. “If there’s chaos and disorder in my environment, in my relationships, or in my finances, I stop and attend to those. When the music isn’t happening, clean your room, pay your bills, and help others. Then your song will come from a purer place. You’ll pick up your guitar and feel again that flush of first love you’ve felt so many times before.” Not a bad way to become a better person and a better player.
4. Meditate & Be Good to Your Body
Musicians generally spend more time exercising their ears than the rest of their bodies, but neglecting the latter can seriously affect your playing. Guitar coach Josh Brill, founder of Yoga of Guitar in Venice, California, explains that a healthy body can result in healthier guitar work. “Playing guitar is a movement and body practice first,” Brill says. “We forget this because many people spend a lot of time thinking about the guitar itself, but it’s the body that is actually doing the work. So how we feel in our body directly has an influence on how we play.”
Exercise and a healthy diet can help provide the kind of mental clarity needed for musical ability and development. Just ask artists such as Jon Bon Jovi and Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen, who make it a point to exercise and eat healthy even while touring. For a more invigorating experience, try meditation.
“When we meditate, we are slowing down our thoughts and clearing our mind, which leads to a greater connection and presence with that which we are playing,” Brill says. “Most peoples’ minds are always very busy and usually loud and kind of out of control.”
Brill developed Yoga of Guitar to work with meditation and music from two directions. He teaches students to meditate while playing guitar, and to play guitar as meditation.
“Meditation is to the mind what playing scales is to the guitar,” he says. “When we practice meditation just like scales, we begin to develop a relationship with movements and patterns. Through meditation we begin to literally clear more space in our head so we may focus with more clarity and an expanded attention.”
5. Don’t Force Yourself to Practice
Setting a practice schedule might sound great, but the monotony of it can be challenging. “If you don’t feel like playing one day, that’s fine,” says Swedish fingerstyle guitarist Gabriella Quevedo. “I don’t think it’s good to have a strict schedule every day. You will become like a robot, just playing because you have to, and will forget why you’re doing it.”
Josh Brill notes that the method of practice matters, too. “It’s very important to remember that how we practice is just as important as what we practice,” he says. “So if we practice from a stressed mindset or physicality, that is what we’ll learn as we practice.”
6. Write a Letter to Your First Teacher
Gratitude can go a long way. Peter Bolland recommends thanking those who first helped you start playing guitar. “Write a letter to your first guitar teacher or that kid from your first band, even if they’re no longer living,” he says. “Whoever helped you fall in love with playing guitar. Tell them how their crazy love for music and the power of performance broke open something in you, and how you’d never be able to repay them for what they showed you. There’s no better way to remind yourself why guitar playing matters.”
You might find some of your own ways to rekindle your fervor for guitar—to re-capture some of the original passion and reignite your love for the instrument.
This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
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