A recent forum post on GuitarGeek.com essentially asked the question “How do you get out of a rut in guitar playing?” In particular, this user was in a rut in guitar lessons and was having difficulty incorporating new techniques. This is something that every guitar player experiences at one point or another, but it’s something that can be extremely frustrating to someone who is new to the instrument. I’d thought I’d describe some of the things I do to overcome the feeling of being in a rut in my guitar playing.
First, let’s define the phrase “being in a rut” in relation to guitar playing. The feeling of being in a rut can occur for various reasons. Perhaps you’ve been trying to learn a song with no visible progress. Or maybe you’re trying to learn a specific technique and are not able to incorporate it into your playing or master the technique. Another example might simply be becoming bored with the music that you’re playing. There are other examples, but I think the examples I’ve given help describe some of the situations that lead to the feeling of being in a rut. Essentially, I equate being in a rut with becoming frustrated with playing the guitar, which saps my desire to pick up the instrument and play.
So, how to go about getting out of the rut? I will usually completely drop whatever it is I was working on, be it a technique, a song, or just a riff, and I’ll start up something completely different. For example, I took two years of classical guitar when I was in college. As anyone who has studied classical guitar knows, classical guitar playing is very difficult, and technique is extremely important. In fact, technique-building pieces comprise most of an early classical guitar curriculum. As a result, for someone coming from a rock background, classical guitar playing can at times seem too rigid and it’s easy to become frustrated. So, when those moments would occur, I would stop playing classical guitar and move back to learning a rock, blues or jazz song or technique. I might not pick up the classical guitar again for a few days or even weeks. Sometimes, I might completely put aside the guitar for weeks at a time. Consequently, when I went back to the classical guitar, I was rejuvenated again and ready to tackle the task that seemed so daunting before. It might still be a daunting task, but at least I was able to come back to it with a renewed excitement.
Another technique I’ve used with some success in the past is to break down whatever is I’m trying to learn into smaller pieces. For example, if I’m trying to learn a song and am having difficulty with a portion of it, I might focus entirely on that portion of the music until I’ve mastered it. Or, if there are multiple bars of music that I’m having difficulty with, I might focus on one bar at a time until I’ve mastered that bar and then move to the next bar.
Sometimes, it’s just important to realize that what you’re trying to learn is difficult, may at times feel tedious, but continue to work through it. If you’re trying to learn a song for a recital or concert, then you can’t always push the difficult parts to the side for later. Instead, you just have to persevere through the difficult parts and really focus your attention on those parts until you’ve sufficiently mastered them. Again, I’ll emphasize that breaking down these difficult parts into smaller tasks may help you work through them and give you confidence as you tackle the next part.
I hope that some of the techniques that I use to overcome the feeling of being in a rut help you when you get into a rut with your playing. What do you do to get past a rut in your playing?