It’s a common scenario.
You’ve been playing guitar for a while, you’re making good progress and then out of nowhere, all of a sudden, it doesn’t seem to matter what you do—you just can’t seem to make any progress!
You practice, practice, practice, but don’t see any results.
This is really frustrating.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way anymore.
In my 25 years of teaching guitarists just like you, I have found 21 great ways to break through ruts and get the fire and inspiration back into your guitar playing.
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So here are 21 rut-busting tips that will help you get your guitar playing back on track.
1. Put the guitar away for a day, week, or even a month.
Go for total and complete abstinence from guitar. You might even want to take it a step further and also avoid listening to music as well.
When you take a break from playing guitar and music, you will usually start to get those strong “gotta play” urges.
When you resume playing guitar you can look at it with fresh eyes.
2. Learn a song from a different style of music.
Let’s say your favourite style of guitar playing is rock. Learn to play a jazz guitar song, a blues song, a country song, a reggae song, or a classical guitar song, etc.
You can either find something in a very different style than you normally play or you can learn something that is in a similar or related style.
If your ears are in good shape learn the song by ear. Otherwise, find some sheet music for the song.
Bear in mind that a great underutilized source for sheet music is your local library. If you live in a small town visit the closest major city’s library. Also don’t forget about college and university libraries.
3. Learn some guitar theory.
I remember when I first started to play guitar. You couldn’t have paid me to learn guitar theory. All I wanted to do was learn my favourite songs and improve my technique. But then I realized that my playing could only go so far if I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing.
After more than 25 years of teaching, I can safely say that for most guitarists, the biggest breakthroughs and rut busters come from learning some guitar theory.
The great thing is that you don’t have to go hardcore on this. Just learning the basics of guitar theory will have a huge impact on your playing.
When you don’t know guitar theory, it’s like wandering around inside a huge mansion with the lights off. With knowledge of guitar theory it’s like you’ve found the switch and turned on the lights!
4. Focus on guitar technique.
Another great thing to do to catapult your guitar playing to the next level is to focus exclusively on your guitar technique.
What you do is set aside either an entire practice session, or a whole week of practice sessions and do nothing but work on technique.
So you would work on alternate picking, hammer-ons and pull-offs, tapping, sweep picking, finger-picking and stretching exercises.
You don’t work on any songs, or anything else—you just practice technique. After you have done this you return to your regular practice routine.
5. Do some string skipping exercises.
Still in the technique area, a great rut-buster is to work on string skipping exercises. These are exercises that most guitarists seem to forget to use.
String skipping exercises will improve your pick-hand technique, fret-hand technique and coordination.
6. Learn to play horn parts on the guitar.
This is a great one. I’m not talking about learning to replicate the sound of car horns on your guitar, I’m talking about learning to play sax, clarinet, oboe, or trumpet parts on the guitar.
This is a total eye-opener.
The first thing you’ll discover, especially if you learn some jazz pieces, is that most horn lines don’t sit very well on the guitar. What I mean by this is that they don’t sit very well under your fingers. So when you play a Charlie Parker sax solo on the guitar you really have to work!
The other cool thing to do with horn parts is to try to match the phrasing as much as possible. This will give you all kinds of fresh ideas for your lead guitar playing.
7. Learn a piano piece on guitar.
You have three options with this. You can learn the chords or melody for the piano part and arrange it for guitar, or you can create an arrangement in which you do both.
When you do that later you are doing what is called “chord melody” style. You create an arrangement in which you play both chords and melody together. Classical guitarists do this all the time and you will also hear solo jazz guitarists use this technique.
It’s kind of like the “one-man-band” approach to guitar playing. It’s fun to play and always sounds cool!
8. Learn a violin piece and arrange it for guitar.
This can also be lots of fun. Take a Bach, Mozart, or Paganini piece and arrange the violin parts for guitar. These pieces sound really cool on guitar and you’ll get a great guitar technique workout.
9. Learn some new guitar scales.
If the only scale you know is the minor pentatonic, it’s time to look at the larger world of guitar scales. As you learn new scales you will give your fingers some new challenges and most importantly you will give yourself some new tools for creating killer guitar solos.
When you think about it, a guitar solo is just a melody that uses one or more guitar scales that work well over the chord progression.
So if you want more variety in your guitar solos, learn some new guitar scales.
Also be sure to learn multiple fingerings for these guitar scales. Different scale fingerings will give you different melodic ideas. The other cool thing is once you know multiple ways to play the same scale on the guitar, you can link them together and cover the entire fretboard in the key. This is one way to create those long fretboard-burning licks.
10. Practice guitar scales new ways.
Yes, learning new guitar scales is great but just practicing them forwards and backwards is pretty boring. Practicing scales in thirds, fourths, fifths, and sixths is good. But you should also practice scales using different and more elaborate melodic patterns and sequences.