Guilty Guitar

“I didn’t get to play as much as I’d hoped this week.”

This is the most common thing any student says to me at the beginning of each lesson.

Seriously, this is said by almost every student that arrives at my studio. No one ever seems to feel they’ve done enough playing to justify the lessons. And this applies to everything we do.

We are in a constant state of guilt. Whether it’s to do with our careers, children, health, relationships… We never seem to match up to our own ridiculous expectations.

So how does this affect us as guitar students? (I’m still a student and always will be)

Our state of mind is so important and most of us never even consider it. It’s important for us to be calm and relaxed when learning. Also to be non judgemental. We allow ourselves to make many mistakes… We gently guide ourselves through. We take away the unrealistic standard of immediate perfection and simply observe our own practice. Think about it… Are we ever at our peak when frustrated? During that frustrated angry moment, are we able to perform better or worse?

For those of you thinking you use frustration to drive you, are you still in that feeling when you are getting results? Or did you snap out of it just before you started your session?

When you are completely relaxed, you are in ‘the zone’. This is the ultimate condition for playing and learning to your fullest potential.

When we are away from our guitar and getting on with our day to day reality, that nagging voice saying “you should really be playing more guitar” will pop into your consciousness and let you know how useless and lazy you are.

It’s important to have realistic expectations during the week, so you remain guilt free.

Now it’s worth mentioning here, I’m not advocating you don’t need discipline and self control… I’m actually encouraging more discipline and self control, but who ever decided it had to be hard work and not fun? Learning guitar should be fun and exciting, challenging but never ‘hard work’. If it’s hard work, you are doing it wrong!

Here are some easy guidelines to help keep you in a good headspace:
  1. Set realistic targets for practice time – example: pick it up everyday and play something.
  2. Observe yourself without judgement.
  3. When you feel the frustration beginning, stop! Breathe, play something different. Get into a calm zone.

Here’s to calm and relaxed guitar practice my fellow Guitar Freaks!


  1. Sven Schubert

    Hi Mark, just joined Jamorama. After creeping through the internet searching for a good page I saw one of your youtube clips. I like the way you teach – I had some lessons with a teacher but although he is a really great guitar player he is a lousy teacher so I stopped and I’m using your video clips instead now. I’m learning now for about six weeks daily so let’s see what comes out of it after half a year.
    Best regards from Germany

    1. Jon Coursey

      Hi Johnny, thanks for the request. I’ll put it to Mark… perhaps a harmonics lesson could fall into an advanced techniques course?

  2. erdogan

    thanks Mark i love your lesson’s i signed up for your site practice the strum in’g lessons it’s great stuff.

  3. Johanne

    Your pep talks come at a great time it seems. I practice every day, but it always seems that I never improve. I have been struggling with different strumming patterns and haven’t been able to switch from one to the other without a great deal of frustration. Yesterday, I finally was able to go through all the different strumming patterns that I have been practicing without missing a beat. woo hoo! Your lessons are great. Thank you so much!!

  4. Richard Morgan

    Excellent point, Mark.

    And do we ever congratulate ourselves when we’ve actually done more than we thought we would?

    I don’t know about other people, but I grew up in an environment where somebody was always ready to point out when something was wrong, but nobody seemed to give a pat on the back when things went well. It’s really important to change that, not only towards ourselves but towards other people too.

  5. Alex

    Mark, I signed up for your site hoping to motivate myself. I love your lessons and for the life of me I don’t understand why I don’t play more (I do love it after all). The more I berate myself the further disassociated I become. Thanks for the pearls of wisdom, I will attempt to practice with no expectations except enjoyment of the moment. Good on you!

  6. Gregory Smith


    Thank you for that lesson in self-reflection. It reads as if you are talking about MY guitar-learning experiences verbatim. I once had an instructor who not only made me feel guilty, but she would constantly berate me if I hadn’t learned and mastered a particular chord or measure from week to week. Mind you that I was a 58-year-old grown-ass man with a career and full-time responsibilities being made to feel like a 5th grader who hadn’t done his homework. Needless to say, I ditched her after a year and a half and found an old friend who had been playing for more than thirty-five years, and it’s been a joyful, albeit more challenging and relaxing experience ever since.

    It helps when you’re in a non-judgmental atmosphere when learning something new and challenging. And time seems to fly at lesson time now. I can say that I have progressed tremendously and practice and lessons have become more of a welcome habit now.

    1. Mark McKenzie Post author

      You’ve got it Gregory! You know the practice is good when the minutes just fly by like that. Thanks for sharing mate.

  7. Bruce Sutton

    Thank you Mark! You are right on every count!

  8. Terrance Smith

    This is pretty much what I’m dealing with right now. I’m always so busy with work and things so that I haven’t touched my guitar. What’s funny is when I am away from my guitar, my fingers are twitching for the fretboard. I’m constantly thinking of new ways to get over the clumsiness of my left hand. I finally did sat down to a dedicated practice session yesterday and then it hit me….my frustration comes from my lack of patience. I’m so eager to get it right that I don’t enjoy playing. My practice yesterday changed all of that. So now, I’m just enjoying the shimmer of the strings. Thanks for the blog, it confirmed a lot.

  9. Allan Hall

    truer words never spoken, but sometimes hard to heed, well done as usual Mark.

  10. kevin

    Great stuff,Iv’e been practicing the G chord,some times it rings out really well,I move to another chord go back to G and it’s rubbish, help……:-)

  11. Trevoulin

    I have that nagging voice everyday on the way to work in the car listening to my favourite music. But I try my best to pick up my guitar as much as possible. I found having it in an easily accessible place allows you to practice more.

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