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Are you in a slump. Lets talk about breaking out of it

December 14, 2012

Do you sometimes feel like you’re not getting anywhere with your guitar playing?  You can play all your tunes and licks pretty well, but you’re just not making any progress?

Granted, if you’ve just started guitar recently, you haven’t had time to experience a slump yet.  Beginning is really the toughest stage of guitar playing.  It’s new and exciting, but it’s a time when you really have to force yourself to work hard, because you’re building a foundation.  Slumps can be compared to beginning, because after you’ve mastered a certain level of guitar playing, you have to force yourself to start work on the next level.

Unfortunately, there aren’t really any defined levels of guitar like there are “belt ranks” in Kung Fu, but when you’ve mastered a few dozen tunes and licks, and you’re starting to get a little bored, you might start to realize that you’re ready to move on to the “next level.”

So why not celebrate your slumps…  Hey, if you’re tired of your skills, then you must have mastered those skills!  This means that you’re ready to begin your next adventure.  In other words: being burned-out is a sure sign of mastery!

Throughout the 1970s, I carried on a periodic dialog with the great Dobro master Jerry Douglas, regarding plateaus in our progress.  Each time I’d run into Jerry at a festival, he’d mention being in a rut or having just broken out of a rut.  Boy, when he was in one of his productive times, it was inspiring for me to witness.  Being his protégé, I somewhat depended on him for inspiration when I was going thru a slump, and he always delivered.  He always seemed to be very enthusiastic about music when he was in one of his upswings and I was always excited to see it in his playing.

Whenever I’m going through a slump, it makes me feel like a one-trick-pony.  I worry that people will notice that I’m playing the same old stuff and I’m afraid that they’ll think I haven’t been growing.  In most cases, I’ve probably imagined it, but whether they notice or not, I sure notice and I think music is a lot more fun when I’m growing.

So don’t feel alone.  It happens to the best of the pros.  All you need is the occasional stimuli to help break the monotony and get you back on the road to progress.  Go out and buy a new CD of your favorite artist.  Go see a concert of your favorite artist.  Nothing is more exciting and inspiring than live music.  Assign yourself a project like a new solo, a new scale or mode, or some new chords.  Some people switch instruments when they feel like they’re in a rut.  Try piano or harmonica for a while.  Switch to electric guitar.  I’m a diehard acoustic guy, but switching to electric for a change of pace will give you more sustain, more volume, different tones, effects, and just something different to play with.  Believe me, when you go back to your acoustic, you’ll appreciate it even more, simply because you have taken a break from it.

You could say, gosh, I know a Country Song, Rock song, or a Christmas song, or a Jazz song that might make a good bluegrass song.  You never know what interesting discoveries you might make till you sit down and give it a try.

Some people change to a special tuning when they feel like they’re getting into a rut.  Joni Mitchell used to just start randomly turning her tuning keys till she heard a sound she liked.  Fiddle sometimes changes tuning and the same for  Dobro, Banjo and Mandolin.

Another thing you can do if you feel like you’re slipping into a rut is to go back and review old material that you may have forgotten about.  You might have a new lick that you can use in one of your forgotten tunes.  This could bring that old tune back to life.

I really like the idea of competition.  Guitar contests are everywhere and some are less competitive than others.  You might think that you’re not ready to compete, but you might be surprised that a regional or local contest draws a little less intimidating competition than a national contest.  I recently coached a first time triathlete for the Danskin Women’s Triathlon.  My protégé had never been involved in any competitive sports and had never exercised at the Triathlon level, but signing up for the event gave her a project to work towards.  Signing up forced her to push on to the next level.  Out of 120 in her age division, she was 4th out of the water and 15th over all.  She sat a goal, she practiced daily, and she succeeded.

The main thing to realize is that slumps happen to the best of us, and there are so many things at your disposal that can pull you out and take you to the next level.  Life is what happens while we’re busy making plans, so when you feel you’ve hit a slump, get busy and make some plans.








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