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).
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.
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