From time to time it happens to just about everybody from writers to Olympic athletes, and guitarists are no different. For no apparent reason we can sometimes find ourselves feeling demoralised and unhappy with abilities that we used to be proud of. Practice can feel like an unwelcome chore instead of something that we look forward to. Worse still the whole idea of developing our guitar skills can begin to seem a little pointless. We are stuck in a rut.
First and foremost, know that you are not alone. There are many incredibly successful and highly regarded people in every walk of life that have gone through bouts of disillusionment or even full-blown depression, including many world class musicians and composers. If you think you might be suffering from depression then the best things you can do are acknowledge it, get educated about it and go to see your doctor.
If you think you are just in a short-term guitar playing rut then you may only need some fresh inspiration, a lifestyle change or a change of musical direction. Consider the following:
What is it that you want to achieve? Sometimes we can get so bogged down with ‘practising’ that we lose sight of what it is that we are trying to achieve. Take a quiet moment to sit and think about where you really want to take your guitar playing. What steps are required to get there? Which of these are most important? Do you need help from someone in order to achieve these things?
Enjoy the journey. Being miserable because you haven’t reached the level of musicianship you want to is no way to live your life. It’s important to enjoy the experience of learning and to acknowledge the abilities you have and that you are continuing to develop. Focus on the journey, not only the destination. After all, most of us move the destination as soon as we start to get close to it.
Go to a gig. A good live gig can do wonders to inspire you. Even if the band is not world-class, simply being in a live music environment as a member of the audience, rather than a performer, can help remind you what music is all about. It’s not about being locked in a bedroom shedding wood and beating yourself up.
Listen to an inspirational album. Most people have one particular musical hero that inspired them more than any other. If it’s been a little while since you did nothing but sit and listen to music by this person or band, try it. Get out of that practice room, head down the park with your iPod with nothing else on your mind other than that you are going to enjoy listening to music.
Go to see a great guitar teacher. This could be an inspirational teacher that you’ve learned from in the past or maybe a new guitar teacher. Go to them with some ideas about what you want to achieve rather than just turning up to see what happens. This alone can do wonders for getting you moving again and feeling good about music.
Take a long weekend away. Seriously. Put that guitar down, arrange a few days away from it all, preferably without access to the internet or a mobile phone, and just take some time out. Every time I go away – without fail – I come back with renewed enthusiasm and fresh ideas about what I want to achieve and how I’m going to do it; not just in the field of music but in life in general.
Meet other musicians. Music is not something that should happen in a bubble or behind closed doors. Meet with another musician for a coffee to have a chat about music or career paths, or to arrange a practice session with them. If you arrange a practice session, agree beforehand what you would both like to get out of it so you get straight down to it on the day.
Talk to some non-musicians. If you feel stuck in a rut, sometimes a fresh perspective on life, ambition and priorities can be very helpful to refocus you on what really matters. Priorities in particular should be reassessed from time to time, rather than ploughing on relentlessly with a punishing practice regime at the expense of other important areas of life.
Take a dip into a different style of music. If you’ve been working on your rock playing for a long time, try delving into jazz, funk or classical music. Even if rock is your passion, a slice of another style can present you with new approaches and interesting ingredients to throw into your musical mix.
Getting stuck in a rut is normal. It happens to us all and it will probably happen to us again. Consider the above as a starting point but also have a think about what might work best for you personally.
Feeling stuck in a rut from tim to time is normal. Most guitar-playing ruts are short-term, but the sooner you get out of them the better. There are no fixed rules for doing this but taking some kind of positive action is far better than no action. Capitalise on this with more positive steps and before you know it you’re back in love with music, feeling good about your skills and hungry for more.
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