7 Things to Try When You Feel Stuck on the Guitar
Over the course of 15 years of playing the guitar, I’ve found myself stuck on plenty of occasions.
What works to break us out of our stuckness on the guitar? Here are seven approaches that have worked for me.
1. Get Organized In Your Practice
When our practice becomes less regular, stuckness is often the result.
Which comes first–the irregular practicing or the stuckness? Hard to say, but I’ve found time and again that when I get back into a regular rhythm of practicing, I usually come unstuck quite quickly.
If you’ve lost your regular practice rhythm and you’re feeling stuck on the guitar, maybe it’s time to settle back into a regular practice schedule. Commit to it even if you don’t feel like it and notice if you’re still feeling stuck three weeks from now.
2. Learn Some New Music
Sometimes, we fall into musical ruts.
And there’s nothing like new music to catapult us back out of whichever rut we’ve fallen into.
I recently connected to Chet Atkins’ music and started learning a few of his songs. It’s a win-win — not only do I now have some amazing new music in my repertoire, but I’m looking at all the other music I was already playing with new eyes thanks to this foray into the world of Chet Atkins.
Tackle something new and notice all the fresh ideas you start developing for your guitar playing.
3. Take a Lesson
A great teacher can jolt you out of stuckness faster than almost anything.
If you feel like you aren’t making progress on the guitar, maybe it’s time you contacted a new teacher and took a couple lessons.
I had been out of touch with my teacher for a few months up until this past December, and now that we’re back on track and working regularly, I’m already feeling much more secure in my progress moving forward.
4. Practice Scales
This one isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you’re looking for a technical exercise that will help you more than almost anything else you could do, it’s time for some scales.
Scales are great for the way they compress technical challenges, music theory and fretboard mechanics into one high-value activity.
If you’re feeling stuck and haven’t practiced scales in a while, well, perhaps there’s a correlation.
And remember–there are tons of different scales and ways to practice them. Look around for ideas that can jolt you forward while helping you deepen your relationship to the guitar.
5. Go See Live Music
Nothing motivates me like an amazing concert.
A single night spent staring at the fingers of a world-class guitarist gives me enough juice to blast out of any amount of stuckness that has grabbed onto me.
If you’re feeling stuck on the guitar, ask yourself: When was the last time you went to an incredible concert? It might be time for you to get out there and see someone light it up on the guitar.
6. Bring Back the Fun
Sometimes, stuckness happens because we’ve become too serious about our guitar playing. It’s all practicing and no playing. All serious and no fun.
So, bring back the fun.
I’m not you and I don’t know what you think is fun, but for me, when I need to have fun again, I can do any number of things.
I can play along with my favorite music and work out fun new leads over the chords of the song.
I can structure my practicing so I get rewards–five minutes of scales means I get five minutes of strumming one of my favorite simple songs like crazy.
The sky’s the limit, and remember: it’s called playing the guitar for a reason.
Finally, if none of those other approaches have managed to get you unstuck, then maybe it’s time you got out in front of an audience and performed your music.
Without the living breathing feedback that comes from an audience appreciating what you’re doing, it’s easy to get lost in your own “stuff.”
Nothing clarifies why we do this like sharing your music with others.
Performing takes many forms. At its most basic, it means scheduling a private house concert and inviting a few friends over to hear what you’re doing on the guitar. Other options include playing at open mic nights, booking a gig at a local coffeeshop, volunteering to play at a nursing home (or nursery school), etc.
If you haven’t performed in a while, then it’s easy to become disconnected from the point of all your guitar practicing. So get out there and share your music with the world!
The Silver Lining of Stuckness
One of the most helpful attitudes you can cultivate in your guitar playing is the happy appreciation of that feeling of stuckness that comes for us every now and again.
Instead of making stuckness the enemy, take it as a friendly reminder that you need to mix things up and get back on track.
Stuckness tells us to reconnect to our dreams and to that passion that led us to start playing guitar in the first place.
And also: Stuckness is never a good reason to quit playing the guitar. Remember that. It’s just a wake up call that you need to do something new and different. Whatever you do, don’t succumb to stuckness by giving up the guitar altogether. The world needs your music.