What to Do When You're

What to Do When You're "Stuck in a Rut," Part 1

December 05, 2018 8 Comments

One of the most common frustrations most musicians experience is the dreaded "Stuck in a Rut Syndrome" (I just made that up, but you get the idea). Because of the incomprehensible amount of time one must invest to master a musical instrument, it is easy to work your way into practice habits that can interfere with your advancement. You worked so long at getting it right, that it became a habit. But even though you have mastered it, you continue drilling the exercise. Worse yet, this can even happen with exercises that you haven't yet mastered, locking you into endlessly practicing badly. You know you need something fresh, but it can be hard to know what to change. So, the next time you find yourself stuck in a rut, look to one of these easy techniques to help you get back on track fast.

If You Move, You're Bound to Go Somewhere 

Rule number one for getting out of a rut: anything different is better than staying put. Avoid the mental anguish of pondering what you're doing wrong and set aside your fears of making the wrong decision. Just do something different! Continue to apply this principle until you find a new challenge you're excited to work on. Don't worry if you find yourself tempted to go back to the familiar, simply change something else and move onward. By avoiding the rut where you were previously bogged down long enough, you break the habit that led you there to begin with. It's not really important what new things you do, so much as it is to avoid the rut. Let's look at some common examples of "switching gears" in order to break free.

Change of Venue: Move to a New Environment

Whether you normally practice in a state-of-the-art studio, or you ended up in the garage or basement just because there was room, getting out into a new environment can put a different spin on your music. You may not be able to bring your Legacy amp stack to the beach, but maybe you can find a portable battery powered practice amp. Maybe all you need is the sunrise and your trusty old acoustic. Take a trip to the park and play your whole set; which songs do people respond to? Sign up for the singer/songwriter showcase and get out in front of an audience. Move your rig from the basement to the den and hook up a good stereo to jam with (make sure you run this by your spouse, if it applies, to avoid an argument later spoiling your newfound inspiration).

Get Lessons!

Anytime you find yourself running out of ideas and feeling stifled, remember that a few good lessons can inspire whole new avenues for your playing. If you've been taking lessons and still feel jammed up, a new instructor might make a big difference. Advanced players can often get an entirely new practice regimen out of even a couple of lessons, leading to months of productive work. If money is an obstacle, try dropping $5 in a jar each week so that you'll have the lesson money when you need it. If you have a sudden epiphany and become an overnight virtuoso, at least you'll have money to celebrate!

These are just a few ways of changing up your routine and injecting new life into your playing. In Part 2 of this article, we will learn four more valuable techniques that can help break you out of your rut and get excited about your playing once again. What do you do to get out of a rut? Let us know in the comments below.



8 Responses

David Kelley
David Kelley

May 22, 2020

Just break out your comfort zone. Play a style of music that you know less about. Lose your preconceptions of who you are, what type of musician you are. The music that got me started playing, is slowly fading away. That’s a tough pill to take. So you either have to move on, or something different. An instructor told me once that you can practice your golf swing for weeks, but if your technique is wrong, your practice will only dig you deeper into a hole.

Alan
Alan

May 13, 2020

Glad you guys reposted this article to email, good gouge, thanks

Robin Snyder
Robin Snyder

May 13, 2020

First a qualifier – I am 64 and have been playing and writing since I was 10. I have been published, I did quite a bit of session work in the 70’s and 80’s, and I made a living at music performing live for 2/3rds of my working career. I have three tips to offer. The first is to explore open tunings. The second is for writers – pick up a new instrument. You don’t have to become Herbie Hancock on the keyboard to write with one. I personally would not perform live on keys, 5 string bass guitar, or harmonica, but I am good enough to record with them. The important thing is to do what inspires you to make more music. Third I want to reiterate to listen to all kinds of music especially if you don’t care for it find something you like, a guitar sound or technique you are not familiar with is just a start. Don’t worry that you will end up sounding like everyone else. That is virtually impossible if you play what you feel. All music is derivative anyway so the more you throw in the blender the more words you have to tell your story.

scott howell
scott howell

May 13, 2020

Your not even close to making up the “stuck in a rut” tag. Let me refer you to a song by the Bottlerockets from the album The Brooklyn Side many years ago. Probably in the mid 90"s. The song is entitled STUCK IN A RUT. This song is a wonderful journey into feelings every person on earth has at one time or another. Two verses, and a chorus says it all. " I’m stuck in a rut, the feelings strong. That I’ve been doing the same thing for way too long.
I need a change. To make this end, I’m stuck in a rut again!" This group is well worth delving into. They never got the widespread air play they deserved. Many of you might have heard the song RADAR GUN. It charted in the 90’s also from the album The Brooklyn Side. It was not even close to the best cut on the album. This album in its day was on the cutting edge of the coming change in how music would be produced. The tracks were recorded on a four track tape machine, home studio style!

DARYL HANSEN
DARYL HANSEN

May 13, 2020

Pick a chord you normally dont play then write a tonic you think might be interesting. Ex . I ii vi V IV . Then apply it to the chord(and hence) the key you normally dont play. You’ll find new sounds and patterns while improving your musical understanding.

KEVIN M HARTIGAN
KEVIN M HARTIGAN

December 06, 2018

That is really good suggestions and couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Thankyou.

Al Musitano
Al Musitano

December 06, 2018

One of the things I do is go back to theory. I know its boring and, like a tough steak, is difficult to chew, but new stuff awaits in that muck. Plus, I reinforce my basic music understanding and experience different music (e.g. classical). Even if I emerge in the same rut, I find I’m a better player for the effort.

Dave Proctor
Dave Proctor

December 06, 2018

Switch instruments, acoustic for electric or vice-versa… Or one that helps me, change your electric effects. Clean it up if you normally play distorted, add some filth if you usually play it clean. Opening a difference in the way your instrument sounds and responds lends inspiration to try different techniques and approaches to your playing.

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