Staying Motivated and Overcoming Plateaus

John had always loved the guitar. From the moment he strummed his first chord at the age of 13, he knew this instrument would be a lifelong companion. Over the years, he spent countless hours practicing, learning new songs, and even composing his own music. However, as he entered his mid-twenties, something began to change. The excitement he once felt when picking up his guitar started to wane, and practice sessions that used to fly by now felt like a chore. John found himself stuck in a rut, playing the same licks and scales over and over without much progress. Frustrated, he wondered if he had hit his peak and if this was as good as he would ever get.

John’s story is not unique. Many guitarists, regardless of their skill level, experience periods of stagnation and waning motivation. Understanding the psychology behind practice and applying strategies to stay motivated can make a significant difference in overcoming these plateaus.

Understanding the Psychology of Practice

The Importance of Goal Setting

Setting clear, achievable goals is crucial for maintaining motivation. According to research, goal setting can significantly enhance performance by providing direction, increasing effort, and promoting persistence. For guitarists, this means breaking down long-term aspirations into smaller, manageable milestones. Instead of aiming to “become a better guitarist,” focus on specific goals like mastering a particular song, learning a new technique, or improving your speed on scales .

The Role of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Motivation can be broadly categorized into intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes from within and is driven by personal satisfaction and enjoyment. In contrast, extrinsic motivation is influenced by external rewards such as praise, recognition, or financial gain.

Research indicates that intrinsic motivation is more sustainable and leads to greater long-term commitment. People who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to engage in and persist with activities over time . For guitarists, finding joy in the act of playing itself, rather than focusing solely on external rewards, can help sustain motivation.

Overcoming Plateaus with Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice is a structured and purposeful approach to improving performance. It involves setting specific goals, receiving feedback, and continually challenging oneself. A study highlighted that deliberate practice is a key factor in achieving expert performance across various fields, including music .

For guitarists, this means focusing on areas of weakness and pushing beyond comfort zones. Instead of playing familiar songs repeatedly, challenge yourself with new genres, techniques, or compositions. Recording your practice sessions and reviewing them can also provide valuable feedback and highlight areas for improvement.

The Impact of Mental Practice

Mental practice, or visualization, involves imagining the physical act of playing the guitar without actually doing so. Studies have shown that mental practice can enhance performance by activating the same neural pathways used during physical practice. Research found that mental practice can lead to significant improvements in motor skills, comparable to physical practice .

Incorporating mental practice into your routine can be especially beneficial during times when physical practice is not possible. Visualizing chord changes, scales, or entire pieces can help reinforce muscle memory and improve overall performance.

Practical Strategies to Stay Motivated

1. Diversify Your Practice Routine

Variety can keep practice sessions interesting and engaging. Alternate between different styles, techniques, and exercises. Incorporate improvisation, ear training, and music theory to keep your practice sessions well-rounded. I’ve always enjoyed turning on my play list and just jamming along. It’s great for ear training and keeping you motivated to try new things.

2. Join a Community

Playing with others can provide new challenges and inspiration. Joining a band, attending jam sessions, or participating in online guitar communities can reignite your passion and offer fresh ideas and perspectives.

3. Set Up a Reward System

While internal motivation is crucial, extrinsic rewards can also play a role in maintaining your motivation. Set up a reward system where you treat yourself or your kids after achieving specific goals. This could be a new guitar accessory, a favorite snack, or a break doing something you enjoy.

4. Track Your Progress

I know it’s extra work but keeping a practice journal or using a dedicated app can help you monitor your progress. Documenting your achievements and setbacks can provide a clear picture of your growth and highlight areas that need attention.

5. Seek Professional Guidance

A guitar teacher or mentor can provide structured guidance, feedback, and motivation. They can help you set realistic goals, correct bad habits, and introduce you to new techniques and styles.


Staying motivated and overcoming plateaus in guitar practice involves understanding the psychology of practice and applying effective strategies. By setting clear goals, finding intrinsic motivation, engaging in deliberate and mental practice, and diversifying your routine, you can keep your passion for the guitar alive and continue to grow as a musician. Remember, even the greatest guitarists face challenges; what sets them apart is their ability to persevere and find joy in the journey.

Noel Wentworth teaches Guitar lessons in Kelowna, BC at the Upbeat Music Academy Kelowna


  1. Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705-717. Link
  2. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227-268. Link
  3. Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363-406. Link
  4. Yue, G., & Cole, K. J. (1992). Strength increases from the motor program: comparison of training with maximal voluntary and imagined muscle contractions. Journal of Neurophysiology, 67(5), 1114-1123. Link

About the Author: noelwentworth

Noel Wentworth is a Guitar, Bass and Ukulele teacher for the Upbeat Music Academy Kelowna.
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