Half the time, I hate the guitar.
But other than that, I have a passionate love affair with the thing.
Those are both exaggerations…. but only a little bit.
The guitar’s been my constant companion since I was just a kid (my first axe was a deep purple Fender Strat, made in Mexico).
And like any lasting friendship; we’ve had our ups and downs.
Sometimes we see eye-to-eye. Sometimes we are in sync, getting along well with each other.
Sometimes it does what I want it to do. Other times, hard as I try, it stubbornly refuses to cooperate.
Sometimes I want to throw it out the window.
But I never do.
Because there are those moments when I play it, and time melts away.
There are those moments where the ideas flow freely and come out exactly the way I intended.
There are times when my progress is obvious and it keeps me moving forward.
Because of the tendinitis in my wrists, I have had a particularly rocky relationship with the guitar.
I want to play it, but I often end up walking away in pain.
I’ve come to form a lot of strong, negative associations with the instrument.
And it only got worse when I became a professional guitarist.
Working with bands was always a challenge. And sometimes we’d have disputes that were never resolved. Most of the bands broke up.
Some of them carried on, bitter and bruised (it’s hard to say what is worse). Guitar was always at the center of these conflicts, since it’s why I was involved in the project in the first place.
And then, I built a business helping others become better guitar players.
This came with a whole host of challenges I couldn’t have predicted or planned.
A lot of haters assaulted my marketing efforts.
I get insulted about my compression sleeves daily.
Many have accused me of faking my guitar skills through the magic of video editing (I’ve dealt with this for a long while, like most fast shredders, but there has been a huge uptick in these accusations).
I have injured my hands on multiple occasions, and it’s prevented me from playing the guitar at all (or doing damn near anything else that involves my hands).
Thankfully, the students I feel honored to work with are overwhelmingly positive.
But all of this just adds more drama to my relationship with the guitar, positive and negative.
I’ve formed lifelong friendships and met lovers (and my wife) because of the guitar.
The guitar is a magnet for all manner of frustration and favor. I’ve had plenty of reasons to loathe it and to love it.
It can be a huge upper or a major downer.
So of course I lose interest in it from time-to-time.
So if this has happened to you; you’re not alone. I feel like this is a perfectly natural impulse.
But there’s something else that I think is important to consider:
The most meaningful, rewarding, and valuable relationships in my life are never entirely neglected.
There are some that require a well-deserved break when things get too hot or we simply get our fill of each other.
(I think of former bandmates and certain family members. I love them to death, but after a couple of days together, it’s just time to part ways for a while).
But there are some, like the relationship with my wife, that I am deeply involved with on a daily basis
(unless I’m willing to pay the price and watch the health of our companionship decline. This has happened more often than I am proud of, and it hurts when it does).
Breaks aren’t often optional with my wife. So when things get rough with her, I am quick to repair the rift.
I know it’s not the best analogy, but it brings me to my main point:
If the guitar is important to you, you owe it to yourself to tend to that relationship and keep it healthy.
Whatever it takes.
And sometimes the health of the relationship requires a break (more on that in a second).
Other times, it requires novelty. Bringing something new to the table.
Let’s look at each of these (and a couple others) in turn.
(This is when I should write some clickbait headline about “The Simple 4-Step Life Hack for Reigniting Your Passion for the Guitar Forevermore.” But I will spare you the hyperbole and demeaning attempt to capture your attention, because I respect your intelligence).
1. Take a break.
Breaks are not only encouraged; sometimes they are vital.
One of the things that I have noticed after playing the guitar for almost 20 years is that whenever I go on biggish breaks, I come back with a fresh perspective.
Among other things:
- I break out of old habits.
- I see the fretboard anew.
- I have better ideas.
- I am more daring and willing to branch out and learn unfamiliar genres or styles or keys or time signatures.
And on a neurophysiological level, I have given my brain time to consolidate memory, to adjust to new motor functions, and to creatively percolate.
And during the break, I stop comparing myself so much to other players, since I am not actively practicing myself. Silencing the inner critic and incessant comparer is a huge relief.
So breaks are fine. I’m not falling behind. Nothing can be forced, and I am right on time with what I have to offer and what I love most about playing guitar. There’s no rush.
On top of that, it’s a cliche for reason:
Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Make yourself miss the guitar, and the interest will come roaring back as a mighty craving.
2. Try something new
You can’t always depend on satisfying progress being the glue that keeps you connected to the guitar.
Some practice sessions just suck.
Some types of progress takes longer to gain than others.
And sometimes the practice sessions feel like a step back even though you’re right around the corner from a breakthrough.
That’s life, no matter what you do. It’s part of the process. The players who stand out are the ones who are willing to endure this tedious and sometimes painful experience. Most don’t.
But if you are always trying something new (learning a new song, riff, solo, lick, or tackling a technique you’ve never tried before)… you can maintain your interest for a long time.
I like trying to learn skills that are completely foreign to me that I don’t necessarily care to master.
Because the stakes are low, and it allows me to enjoy the experience much more. Without judgment.
I will try my hand at flamenco guitar, for example. I will fail miserably and laugh about how impossible it feels to get my hands to make the proper motions.
Because I don’t care about the outcome, I can just giggle at how weird it feels.
It’s funny: how peculiar it is to be able to have proficiencies with some things (like sweep picking), but look like a child learning to walk when it comes to this new technique (picture a bowlegged drunken sailor, wobbling dangerously back and forth before failing on their backside).
But because I have started something new, I have immediately rekindled my interest (which is all the more likely to happen if I lighten up and laugh about it).
I have now officially cleared the air and cleaned up my relationship with the guitar.
The time for intense focus and deep dedication to improving in the ways that matter most to me will quickly return now that I have refreshed my interest.
It’s like making up with a lover after a bad fight. Sometimes that reunion is exquisite and memorable.
3. Stop lying to yourself
When I lament a sudden lack of interest in the guitar, the stories I tell myself that tend to cause pain are:
…But you’ve worked so hard on it for so long. It would be a shame and waste of all that time and effort if you give it up.
…You will lose all of the progress that you’ve made! You’ll no longer be able to play the solos you wrote for the last album you made.
…You will fall behind! Your peers will outpace you, and you’ll never catch back up!
…People are counting on you to care about the guitar and to continue developing your skills and sharing your perspective. You’ll let them down!
…You’re too old and slow and dumb to learn something new! You need to double down on what you’ve already got going for you, not mess around elsewhere.
Perhaps you can relate to this line of thinking.
The problem is, most of these stories are simply untrue.
Or more accurately: they are only partially true, in certain ways, and variations of each one of these stories (including their opposites) are almost always equally if not more valid.
It pays to be reminded of that.
Keeping a malleable mind and questioning your inner worrier or doubter can pay off nicely in terms of giving yourself some peace and quiet and letting life happen.
My wife has a tattoo on the inside of her wrist that says, “Is it true?”
This is something we learned from Byron Katie; one of the wisest women I’ve ever met.
It comes down to noticing how you react, how do you feel, when you think the thought “I’m losing interest in guitar.”
I won’t delve deep into that terrain, but let’s put one of these thoughts (or stories) to the test by turning them around and inside out and naming 1-3 ways that those variations are valid or true:
“…But you’ve worked so hard on it for so long. It would be a shame and waste of all that time and effort if you give it up.”
Here are a couple ways that this might be true:
- It has been a long, hard road, and it would be sad to just walk away from it
- I am reliant on my guitar skills in much more ways than in my music life, so it would be a blow to the whole show if I bailed out on that gig
These strike me as true.
But here are variations of that thought (including its opposite) that are also true:
- It won’t be a shame that you put all that time in and gave up ;after all, there are more important things in life. Plus it might give you the chance to explore other instruments more deeply]
- You haven’t worked so hard or for so long. Compared to most other things in life, you’ve barely scratched the surface of your potential with the guitar (even though the little bit of effort you’ve put in has gotten you where you are)
It took some digging. But I found some gold here.
These are real insights for me, and they’ve come simply by writing down the stories bouncing around in my head as a result of losing interest in the guitar, and putting each one of those thoughts into the, “Is it true?” ringer.
I can be at peace with it.
The key twist that works for me is to also name three ways that the original story or thought might be true.
Why do this?
Because it helps to develop true cognitive flexibility, and makes it so that thoughts are less likely to be so sticky and believable (and thus, painful enough to affect your mood or behavior).
Even if this process––or some variation of questioning your thinking with compassion––doesn’t help you regain interest in the guitar… it can certainly help to make your lack of interest something that doesn’t eat at you.
4. Zoom way out.
The last thing I’ll say is that it pays to not fret about it.
Because even the aforementioned stories (or lies) were true… it’s not the end of the world.
It’s not a death of a friend or family member.
It’s not a prostate cancer diagnosis.
It’s not an earthquake or tidal wave.
There are things out there that will make me quickly forget all about the guitar.
It can help to put things into perspective in moments when you’ve lost interest in the guitar and feel bent out of shape about it.
Whenever my head gets too far up my own rectum, my bandmate, Jeremy, loves to remind me:
“You could fit 1.3 million earths into the sun.” Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Ironically, the very act of realizing that it’s not a big deal tends to have a nice side effect:
You regain interest in the guitar.
Because you stopped taking it so seriously.
If you’ve lost interest in the guitar, it’s all good.
Nothing bad is gonna happen.
You can take a break. It might even be one of the best things you can do.
Be cool with yourself.
And remember that there is much more to your life than the guitar, no matter how important it may be.
The good news is: if the guitar is that important to you, I know you’ll treat it as such.
Treasure that relationship and nurture it back to health. It makes for a more harmonious existence.