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7 Tips to Get You Out of that Guitar Rut

[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?


17 Responses to 7 Tips to Get You Out of that Guitar Rut

  1. mike martinez May 26, 2011 at 1:15 AM #

    I agree with all your tips and thanks for sharing, I usually listen to classical music and it gives me a lot of inspiration, also hear some radio programs with music from all around the world it make me see how diferent people from very diferent places connect with music and share feelings very similar with all of us.

  2. Wilms May 26, 2011 at 3:10 PM #

    Thanks for your thoughts John. It’s such a pleasure to read this blog. This is pretty off topic, but I just got a ipad2 and this blog looks so good and is just the thing to go with my early morning cup of coffee.
    Thanks again

    • John Tuggle May 26, 2011 at 3:46 PM #

      Thanks alot! I’m glad the site looks good on the iPad. Just got an iPad 1 myself and it’s a really cool device.

  3. Kyle June 20, 2011 at 4:04 PM #

    2 and 5 are the two that i use the most….not playing guitar for a week would just end up driving me crazy.

  4. Eapen August 24, 2011 at 7:41 AM #

    Truly inspiring tips John ! Enjoyed reading them.

  5. unknown June 28, 2012 at 6:15 AM #

    These are truly inspiring tips for playing the guitar! These ideas are indeed helpful in performing better. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Tom Farr @ My First Axe March 22, 2014 at 2:20 PM #

    I’ve found learning vocal melodies on guitar to be very helpful. It’s also been helpful to learn other instruments because it gets me thinking outside of just the guitar box. I’ll definitely have to try some of these others. Thanks.

  7. Michael Fisher March 25, 2014 at 5:55 PM #

    Back when I was a working man, I would sometimes hit the road…on an out-of-townj job…I usually would drag my Tele and noodle in the motel room of an evening. Sometimes, I wouldn’t take a guitar. Those breaks in playing always made for a very pleasurable reunion…
    I also enjoyed the new clubs and roadhouse experiences…a chance to here guitar players I wouldn’t have normally heard. But all of your tips are great…And I have been exposed to nearly all of them to some degree. Thanks for bringing them to our attention…and a great trip down memory lane!

    • John W. Tuggle March 26, 2014 at 9:46 AM #

      Thanks Michael! That’s a cool story.

  8. Sean Harold April 23, 2014 at 6:25 PM #

    Hey John! Thanks again for all you do. Learned a ton from you! Any tips on lifting vocal licks from your favorite singers? Do you do it by ear?

    • Sean Harold April 23, 2014 at 6:26 PM #

      Sorry hit send too quick. Are there other methods you employ to quickly learn them?

    • John W. Tuggle April 27, 2014 at 8:36 AM #

      Hi Sean. Yes I do it all by ear. One thing is that you have to be able to sing the vocal yourself before you can learn it on guitar. Hope that helps. Thanks

  9. Robert May 1, 2014 at 11:57 PM #

    John, I just want to thank you for the effort you put into this. I am learning everyday, and look forward to soaking up some blues. As I was reading #6, I was reminded that I played trumpet in school since the 4th grade. It brings back a lot of memories about how scales were manipulated in solos and the rythm sections. I am excited to see what I can learn here.

    Thansk again

  10. Geiger May 22, 2014 at 1:10 PM #

    I have been in a guitar rut for a long time, so much so that my playing has actually suffered. I regret this and know that if I ever stop playing guitar my life will not be the same. I love music but being able to create amazing music on the guitar is something I have been working towards since I was very young. I have recently found an amazing song that I would like to cover and I have been practicing the riffs everyday but some of the parts are very difficult and I know I could have played it a year ago.

    This article helped to remind me what used to inspire me and I feel inspired again. Back to practice :)

  11. Josh September 9, 2014 at 5:25 AM #

    Excellent article, John. I’ve been stuck in a rut quite a few times and used many of these techniques.

    Another technique that I love to use is a looper pedal. It’s something that gets my creative juices flowing and gets me excited about playing again. You can never create the same thing twice!

  12. Dave Ellis November 9, 2014 at 8:50 PM #

    Nice list, I particularly like to listen to different types of music as inspiration. Here’s one more – teach someone what you know. I’ve found that teaching people really forces you to fully understand what you know and kicks you on a bit.

  13. sang March 31, 2015 at 8:28 PM #

    Nice 7 tips, really excellent article which help a lot.

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