[Updated March 2014]
I have heard so many people tell me that they feel like they are stuck in a rut with their guitar playing and they don’t know what to do to get out of it.
In this blog post I want to give you 7 tips to help YOU start getting out of that guitar rut so many people seem to end up in.
Before I go into these tips, let me just say that I find myself in these ruts as well. I know how frustrating it can be, and I think that all players eventually find that they are in a rut of one form or another at many times during their lifetime.
Knowing how to get out of these ruts can be a determining factor in whether or not you keep advancing as a guitarist.
Here are my 7 Tips to Getting Out of a Guitar Rut
1. Start Listening to Different Styles of Music
Sometimes when we want to learn a particular style of music, we immerse ourselves in that one style completely. This is a good thing, but at some point you may feel tired and uninspired from learning and listening to the same stuff all the time.
I have read that Jimi Hendrix was a big fan of classical music, and I think it really shows in his songs. His compositions are very well arranged and have many creative guitar parts. It seems that all these guitars naturally just flow together like a guitar orchestra so to speak. Hmmmm…
If you’re learning blues guitar, try listening to some country, classical, or pop. You may find inspiration through these genres that will give you some new ideas for playing the blues. I guarantee you will find that blues scale in every type of music. I often made a game out of it and even remember hearing the blues scale in a Jennifer Love Hewitt tune. Oops!! Did I just say that?
2. Take Some Lessons
It may seem obvious, but an easy way to get out of a rut is to take some private guitar lessons, or find some video guitar lessons online. Just watching someone play and explain something can unlock so many new ideas.
Everyone has a unique way of playing, and seeing someone else’s point of view that you value can really help you to see things in a new light. As a guitar teacher, I can usually listen to someone play and give them recommendations on how to get more out of their playing. Sometimes you may think you know everything, but having something explained in a new and different way can open up an entire new way of viewing the guitar.
3. Stop Playing Guitar for a Week
If you’re constantly learning new things, practicing hours a day, AND playing gigs, there will come a point in time where you just get overloaded and cannot move forward. At some point, I think it is a good idea to just stop playing for a bit and get out and enjoy this life. These life experiences, and the emotions that come from living are what fuel the music in our soul in my opinion.
Without emotion in your music, what is it good for? Music is not supposed to impress, it’s supposed to make you feel something. Even with great solos, the best ones are not only impressive, but they evoke emotion upon the listener.
The solos that are just technically brilliant don’t seem to engage the emotional connection that the listener is usually waiting for. ALL of the legendary guitarists that everyone constantly talks about, lived very interesting lives.
Without these life experiences, I don’t think they would have been as legendary.
Clapton, Hendrix, Page, and Beck lived very interesting lives which contributed to the amazing quality of material that they put out.
4. Try to Learn Vocal Melodies on Guitar
If you’re caught in that pentatonic rut, and feel that you just end up playing the same old tired blues licks all the time, then you should try to start learning some vocal melodies on the guitar. Vocals have such amazing phrasing. By learning these melodies on guitar, you will start to think differently about the licks you’re playing.
Yes it will be hard, but it will be worth it!!
It will give you a whole new approach to playing guitar that will make your playing much more melodic.
5. Go See a Live Show
I cannot tell you how many times I have come out of a show that was simply amazing and became truly inspired to pick up my guitar and start woodshedding. Seeing a great band with amazing tunes and musicianship can light a fire underneath you to get out there and create something amazing!
So go out and see a show this weekend!!
6. Start Learning a Different Instrument
About 10 years ago, I wanted to start learning how to play more instruments. Sure, I could play a little bass, but I played bass like a guitar player for the most part.
So I decided to start learning how to play some piano. In particular, blues piano. I spent countless hours listening to piano parts, studying books, and practicing.
While I’m not the most brilliant piano player, I can play a little bit of blues piano.
I also took a bass lesson from an amazing bass player named Russ Rodgers at GIT in Atlanta. He really changed the way that I play the bass after just one lesson.
Doing these two things, also opened up my mind to how the guitar could work and gave me a fresh new look at how I played guitar and what was possible.
I also tried to incorporate things I learned on these new instruments to my guitar playing. I’m not saying you have to learn a bunch of new instruments, but it may be helpful if you picked up another instrument and started learning a bit about it.
I think it will greatly help your understanding of the guitar by learning about other instruments as well. It will no doubt help you to understand music that much more.
7. Start Learning a Different Style of Guitar and Open Tunings
This is a big one for me. A long time ago I decided to start learning slide guitar, and I’m so glad I did.:)
These days when I get in a rut with by blues guitar playing, I just start playing a little electric slide and I feel very inspired again, and vice versa.
I also have a Dobro tuned to Open G Tuning to turn to if both of those types of guitar playing are not inspiring me.
I also feel that learning new tunings can open up an entire unseen landscape of unfamiliar territory. My Dobro is tuned to Open G, my SG is tuned to Open E, one of my Strats is tuned to Eb, while all my other guitars are in standard tuning.
Having many different tunings available, keeps the music fresh for me. To me each tuning sounds different and has many unique attributes that you can do with them.
Sometimes I think guitarists can get into a mode where all of the standard tuning licks on guitar can become so well known, that it may be hard to see anything new because it’s so familiar.
Throw some open tunings into the mix and it starts to become unknown territory. This is good!
Some of the best things I usually do are on accident because I didn’t know precisely what I was going to do.
Me and my former band mate Jason Fuller got into a discussion about this one night after a gig we did at the Georgia Theater in Athens Ga. I remember him saying this:
“Sometimes people play their best solos when they are a little unsure of where they are going and just try to play in the moment”.
The uncertainty and searching can create an exciting blend of tension and emotion that can grab the listener. I think Duane Allman called this “Hittin’ the Note”.
Granted this doesn’t always happen, but being aware of this phenomenon helps very much in my opinion.
I think some of the concepts will really work for you if you try them. All of them might not work for you, but these are techniques that I feel have helped me to get out of my guitar playing ruts when they come about.
Are you currently in a rut? What steps are you taking to get out of it?