Are You Stuck in a Rut?
This article is written primarily with beginners in mind, but anybody stuck in a rut could derive some benefit from it. I’m convinced that every guitar player has at some point been in a rut and faced what people call “hitting a wall”.
It’s what happens when you feel like you don’t know what else to learn. You can spend days, weeks and even months playing the same things all over again. Being stuck in a rut can be frustrating and in the worst case scenario, it may even lead to people quitting guitar altogether.
The origin of this article is my own experience as someone who has been there in a rut and successfully managed to move past that stage. In this article I won’t be discussing technique or music theory but rather something very important that is often overlooked:
The mental aspect of being a guitarist.
The following tips will hopefully help you find some new inspiration.
HERE’s 4 WAYS TO GET OUT OF THAT RUT
1. Set new goals
I like drawing parallels between a musician’s path and that of a sportsman. Common to them both is the pursuit of a goal greater than one’s self. Let’s say you’re obsessed with becoming stronger. You wish to bench 140 kg, which may not be all too difficult for a professional lifter or a strong man.
Nevertheless, it’s a weight that only a select group of people get to bench during their lifetime. Your goal will have a major impact on the way you approach your diet and training. You won’t just go to the gym, curl some dumbbells for 10 reps and call it a day. If you’re realistic in your goal, you’ll pay special attention to the muscles involved in the bench press and keep track of improvements.
Similarly, if you want to play something beyond your current technical level, you’ll approach that piece or song in a conscious manner, by means of a strategy. But before you have a strategy, you need to know what you want to achieve.
Perhaps you don’t just want to master that one song which makes your fingers burn, but you also want to be a faster player, or become more fluent in improvisation. Maybe you just want to write better music.
Perhaps the best thing you can do to avoid being stuck in a rut is to set new goals across three different fields:
1-Repertoire: learn more songs
2-Technique: reach higher levels of technical proficiency
3-Theory: learn more about music theory and integrate it into your playing
2. Work for it
Now we move on to the practical aspect. It’s safe to say that different people approach the same thing in their own ways. Some strategies to avoid being stuck in a rut do happen to be more effective than others. Here are some pointers that can hopefully stop you wasting time.
If you’re obsessed with mastering difficult music, start by printing out a score or tablature of the pieces in question. Use a marker to identify spots that you can’t play well (yet) and focus on them. There will be parts that won’t need much practice, but only require work on phrasing and expression (slower parts, for instance).
I personally highlight the measures which require special attention and intensive practice in green. Ask for advice from players who exhibit a great deal of proficiency in the technique that is giving you trouble (don’t take advice from people who are at your level or just slightly above it). You will notice more improvements by means of this approach than just by noodling around, which is a surefire way to avoid improvement and stay stuck in a rut.
3. Actively seek inspiration
One of the most effective ways to get motivated and get out of being stuck in a rut is to inspire yourself from people who are doing what you want to do. For me, it’s hard to watch a video of giants like Steve Vai, Guthrie Govan, Jason Richardson or Michael Romeo playing and not feel the intense need to pick up the guitar and practice. Try it out yourself: watch (don’t just listen) to what your idols have done, and let the inspiration come.
Here’s one solo by Jason Richardson I find particularly inspiring:
4. Make it happen
Relying upon a mix of patience, motivation and focused practice, you will find yourself achieving your goals and out of that rut sooner than you thought. Remember to set yourself new goals every now and then, lest you hit another wall. All of the ideas I’ve explained in this article are clearly nothing new or revolutionary. Sometimes however, even the most obvious solutions elude us. I do hope that these words will help you in becoming a better player.