Getting Out Of The Rut

Here is a snippet from an email I received recently from a good friend that has been playing guitar for a couple of years and is passionate about improving:

So I keep practicing the guitar and I've totally gotten stuck in a rut. I think I've learned a lot of bad habits in regards to muscle memory, tension, correct posture, etc - things are just falling apart. I'm WORSE than I was. I've stopped even trying to play scales, etc I've decided to go all the way back and just practice fundamental exercises, etc - I've learned about half the fretboard pretty well, I know that is BIG. Any ideas or suggestions you have? Man, I'm really serious about the guitar, but it's so frustrating too. I'm not one to give up, but I don't know what to do.

Does this sound familiar? It did to me as I have been in exactly the same place, hating the way I sound, hating the way I play, hating what I play, feeling like I'm getting worse, not knowing what to do to improve yet trying harder and harder all the time. Everything I pick up the guitar it becomes a reminder of being in the rut and the enjoyment is sapped out of playing.

The first step in getting out of the rut is to recognise that it happens to virtually everyone, and it is a good sign because:

Let's look at the vicious cycle of events that lead you to the rut in the first place:

but then:

And therein lies the problem. The cycle of playing harder to improve only fans the fire and makes things worse. The cycle repeats Things do get worse and worse until you hate to play, get frustrated and sound like my friend above.

There is hope

You have to refresh your ears, your mind, your fingers. You've been playing the same scales, chords, songs, licks and riffs over and over and over for ages and they are starting to be the same because they are the same. Try listening to your favourite song over and over and over for a period of 3 months and you will soon be sick of hearing it. The same goes for guitar however much you love to play, but we beat ourselves up over this and expect otherwise.

As with all players of musical instruments it is common for players to equate 'Playing the Same Thing to No Improvement', which our unconcious mind equates to 'I should be improving, especially since I practice all-the-time', and it comes out in our concious minds (which tend towards the negative) as 'I'm gettng worse - I can't play for toffee - I sound just awful'

Even in the darkest moods, remember that the same skills that got you to the rut will be the same skills that see you improve once the freshness is restored. But think of this as being a good sign - hard as that may be. You only get into the RUT when you practice a lot, and when you get out of the rut you will find yourself a better player for the experience. This is an opportunity to broaden your horizons and learn! You got into the RUT because you care!

OK - Enough about how we got into the rut - what can be done about it. Well, it's really quite simple and all revolves around changing things up, refreshing your ears, blowing away the staleness and opening up new possibilities. Above all, stop beaing yourself up and see the longer term big picture.

In short, change your playing and listening environment. Chagne everything or as much about it as you can. Change the guitar, the amp settings, the overall sound, the amp, your playing style. Play at the bridge if you play at the neck, play at the neck if you play at the bridge or switch between both. Play with the lights off, play with the lights dimmed, play softly, play without an amp. Get creative!

Also, take a rest for a few days or even a week (if that seems like a shock, then it is really time to take a week off).. It'll do your fingers good (you can overtrain your fingers and tendons just as you can overtrain your body training for a marathon). It'll do your head good to do other things - there can be life other than guitars.

Try out different tunings.

Then you would do well to get away from the songs you have been playing now; you have taken as much out of them as they have to offer for the time being.

Change your modality i.e., if you play minor blues, learn the major pentatonic scales (listen to BB King)
Did I mention to THROW AWAY THE PICK? (for a bit at least)

I hope you will find the frustration of being in a RUT is replaced by the frustration of knowing there is still SO MUCH TO LEARN :-) Then you'll be in a much better place.

Copyright Dale Churchett © 1995. All Rights Reserved.