We’ve all been there, the days when the instrument is looking at you from the corner of the room but you just can’t bear to get it out of the case because motivation is at an all time low. Perhaps you’ve hit a roadblock in a piece you have been working on recently, or perhaps you are simply feeling too tired to hit the bars right now. Don’t worry we’ve got you covered, because if you can’t stop thinking about practice even though you absolutely don’t want to, doing something and feeling glad you did is better than the guilt you’ll feel if you don’t. Here is a list of things to do when you just don’t want to practice.

1. Play a piece you played when you were younger.

What better moment to indulge in some nostalgia than when you can’t be bothered to do anything at all. Dust off those old scores and have a read through some of the music you were playing when you first started, relive the memories - good and bad, maybe some of those are the reasons you aren’t feeling like playing today...

2. Play a piece that makes you cringe

We’ve all got one, maybe its Wonderwall or that riff from Smoke on the Water, whatever it is it’s worth learning - if you can’t play it already! Not being able to play the classic cringe riffs is a recipe for ego disaster at a party at a later date, close the doors and windows, put a towel under your strings, just learn them and then move on with your life - and have a laugh while you’re at it!

3. Play a piece you have always wanted to play

Cue miming along to Marcin Dylla’s recording of Concierto del Sur whilst manically following the score. What is practice without time to dream? Even if you are on a tight schedule and your teacher wants something done now (read, yesterday) there is still time to fool around and to enjoy what it is that brought you to guitar in the first place, that freedom of expression that comes without the devil that lies in the details. Treat yourself to an imslp download and relax in the knowledge that one day you’ll get there!

4. Work on your improvisation

Improvisation is a skill that guitarists serially ignore for fear of embarrassment but is a tool with untold importance and utility. Start small with a minimalistic pattern, perhaps only two notes, and explore what you can throw in, leave the judgement behind and try to build something from curiosity and exploration - your memorization practice will half itself in duration.

5. Practice Technique

Practicing technique is never a bad idea, whether you are sick of a piece you are playing and need to be challenged in another area or if you feel like taking it easy and working around some basics again with some more thought and involvement, technique is the perfect place to start. Ease into the logic and the physical experience of developing your physical capacities and let go of the pressure that occasionally arises from creative work. Sometime the simplicity of working on one finger motion for ten minutes is all you need to return to a meditative state of mind with your practice.

6. Find your Harmonics

If your mood is low why not try and brighten it with some precision and temporal training of your harmonics - both natural and artificial. Create a meditative moment by observing the precision of your fingers as you try to create the clearest ringing sound you can.

7. Reassess Your warm up

Many guitarists are guilty of not physically warming up their bodies before sitting down to play, the reality is that this muscular limbering up is incredibly important in preventing injury and in optimal and aware movement, which in turn leads to better, easier playing. Perhaps this moment of anti-inspiration is the perfect time to reassess your warm-up routine (if you have one - if you don’t then this is the perfect moment to make one) to see if your body truly feels ready for such intense physical exertion afterwards. Are you warming up each different section of your body gently?

8. Practice your bow

Low motivation moments are the perfect time to start visualizing the concert stage, whether it be Carnegie Hall or the local Guitar Society’s open mic - you will be bowing at some point in the future. Done correctly it can be a moment of true peace and meditation and can give off the warmest feeling to your audience, but without a little practice many bows can seem rigid, uptight and awkward and have you and your audience wishing for it to be over. Practice bowing in front of the mirror, both with and without the instrument, practice walking around the room with your instrument and arriving at the mirror to bow with a smile on your face.

If you are in the position to do so you can also record this and watch it back to make notes. The important part about this practice is that what you are searching for is not a forced performative bow of gratitude but simply a bow in which you can still feel yourself and feel comfortable.

9. Rehearse your piece introduction

You will be required to introduce a piece of music that you are playing not just in the concert setting, but in almost every conversation that refers to what you are currently up to in your life. So, to avoid a red face and warm ears whenever somebody asks what you are working on at the moment, practice talking about the music you are currently playing not just in a historically informed way, but also in a way that feels truly personal to you. This will help you to write your program notes in the future in a way that will really engage the audience with the music you are playing and the interpretation you have made.

10. Try out your ability to perform cleanly

A fun challenge to set yourself if you are not in the mood for work is to try to play a piece you are currently working on completely cleanly all the way through. As soon as you make a mistake, do not return to the mistake and repeat or correct, but stand up, put away the instrument and then come back to it in 5 minutes. It will not only help you to localize errors for your future practice, but it will help you to practice in a way that focuses on energy and observation which is a more dynamic feeling than an enduring practice session.

11. Work on your posture

You can never work too much on the awareness of your posture, a moment you barely feel like playing is a great moment to reassess your sitting posture with and without the instrument. Our bodies are constantly in fluctuation as our muscles develop, so it is important that, instead of leaving the guitar support in the same position for years on end, we occasionally take the time to observe how the support or the chair we practice on is working for us and make the necessary adjustments to keep our backs and necks happy.

12. Examine the functionality of your concert clothes

We might spend hours and hours working on the program for a concert dedicating much of that time to recreating as precisely as possible the conditions required for success, but we rarely think about the obvious external factors that we can influence outside of our playing. One of the major things we can control with very little effort is concert clothes - you can adjust your guitar support right down to the millimeter, but if your trousers are made of silk you will feel like a wet cat clambering over the side of a bathtub as you try to clutch on to your guitar for dear life. Practice wearing and playing through your program in the concert clothes you plan to wear, try walking in the shoes, make sure your trousers are not too tight to sit down and try to make adjustments wherever necessary!

13. Grow your mind-muscle connection

This is a fun one away from the instrument, there are plenty of games you can play to realign your mind muscle connection with your fingers. For instance - starting with all fingers (1,2,3,4,5) face down and resting on a flat surface in front of you, first lift fingers 2 and 4 whilst leaving the others limp on the table, then as you lower 2 and 4, raise 1,3 and 5, and so on in the many combinations! It might seem like a silly exercise to mess with your mind, but really this is a fundamental practice of mind muscle connection that can be applied to all finger independence exercises you will come across in your technical practice.

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Dave McLellan

Concert & Chamber Guitarist

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