"I've been playing guitar for about ten years, and I can honestly say that I've been in a rut for more than half of it. "
Does this sound familiar?
"I've been playing a good long while but I don't feel that I actually know anything."
How about now?
Its sad but true: so many guitar players excitedly pick up the guitar as a beginner only to encounter "the wilderness years" as an intermediate where nothing really seems to change.
It's a massive problem but not one that gets talked about much. Take a brief scan of guitarists comments on discussion forums and you'll see the majority of them have hit some kind of wall. This "forgotten" tranche of guitar players are desperate to find something that will start them moving forward once again. But what's on offer?
Not much. The guitar teaching world seems focused on indoctrinating complete newbies and taking them to the point of nailing their first barre chords but very little beyond that.
Oh sure, there are endless technical exercises for intermediates but something else is missing. Where's the magic?
Stuck in a guitarists limbo of sameness and boredom
If you’re one of the guitar players trying to dig yourself out of a rut, this is a difficult time for you. You’re looking to improve but none of the things you did before seem to move you forward these days - it's like they’ve lost their effectiveness.
As each day passes your passion and patience for practicing the guitar diminishes like that dark jazzy chord you didn't learn how to use yet.
You feel like you’re treading water because everything you play sounds alright, but in general, it's pretty bland.
LITTLE SolACE FOUND in LEARNING theory
"I think I feel like this because I don't know much theory, I'm gonna learn some."
Often players suspect their lack of music theory knowledge to be the culprit and launch into heavy sessions of music academia.
For some, this helps but for many it's ultimately another dead end, only briefly alleviating the symptoms of a larger problem.
"I took the time to learn music theory which was good. I now understand how chords are constructed, but this only helps so much."
So what to do?
If you're serious about getting over this hump, its time to take some serious action to interrupt the pattern of safety and blandness in your guitar playing regime.
Radical steps, like a 40 degree plunge pool for your guitar playing frame of mind.
It's the guitarist’s version of the sky-dive, the bungee jump, the cliff-hop, the free climb.
The sum of all fears: it’s time to play live in front of an audience.
If you are already thinking: "fuck that, I'd never have the guts to play in front of people", that’s a perfectly natural response. ( I know because I help guitarists find the guts).
But if you never do this, it’s like learning how to drive but then being too scared to take your car out on the road!
As a long term intermediate player, you've learned lots from YouTube, Guitar Hero, Songsterr, Justinguitar and JamPlay. But at the same time, you’ve learned nothing outside your 4 walls or away from your apps.
So stop with the excuses, I don't want to hear them. It can be done. It should be done. You need to get it done.
Its time to take off the training wheels
If you are desperate to get out of this guitar playing rut (I know you are cos you're reading this) then playing live is the only logical conclusion to what you've been practicing all this time.
Practicing without practical application is pointless. And that's the conclusion your brain has reached but it can't tell you explicitly, instead it makes you feel bored, listless and frustrated with your guitar playing. IT'S TRYING TO TELL YOU SOMETHING!
That stuck-in-a-rut feeling is your brain saying: THIS ISN'T WORKING ANYMORE, TRY SOMETHING ELSE!
the safest and easiest FIRST live performance you can try
The things that make us most uncomfortable are the very things that provide the most opportunity for growth and learning.
This first step doesn't have to be the Madison Square Garden of gigs because I know you're scared, and that's okay. You can start small, that's totally allowed. But you do need to start.
So, you should look for a tiny, casual and friendly spot with a supportive audience. A local blues jam is perfect place for you to start. Because:
- You'll only get up to play 3 songs [not a whole 2 hr gig]
- There's only 3 chords in blues [I know you can cope with 3 chords]
- The start and ends are obvious and will be signalled
- You already know the minor pentatonic blues scale and a few licks
Although, I can tell you're still finding reasons not to do this. You can't deny that you've got all the above - and that's all you need.
Playing at a jam is not about becoming a guitar virtuoso before you ever decide to attend. Its about learning as you go from the other musicians, its on-the-job-training, its your real musical apprenticeship. A few hours with other musos will teach you more than a year in your bedroom.
You'll feel safe in the simplicity of the 3 chord framework and the rigid song structure (the 12 bar blues). You might not be a massive fan of the blues but when you play blues you know what's coming, everybody does. No surprises.
You'll learn from players better than you. In your own mind you'll be nervous because you'll think that everyone will be better than you (they won't be, it'll be a mix of abilities) but that is one of the reasons you go – to learn from more seasoned musicians.
be more than just a bedroom guitarist
QUESTION: If you want to be a successful athelete, do you train on your own or do you surround yourself with other successful atheletes and coaches who have trained successful atheletes?
Of course, you know the answer.
Learning from people who have already done what you are trying to do, is the fastest, most efficient way to your success in any field.
Your perception currently is that only top talented musos go to jams but that's because you've never been to a jam to know what they really are or what really happens at them.
Over the next few posts I'l be telling you exactly and smashing some of the commonly held myths about jams and jamming. I'll also giving your guidance on how you can make the transition from bedroom guitarist to live performer.
5 reasons why you should get TO A JAM
You’ll begin to understand how musicians talk about music and how to communicate with them as the music unfolds.
You’ll meet new people with the same interest as you: learning, playing, performing
You’ll learn things you never even thought about before - like don’t put your tiny amp on the floor.
You’ll develop listening skills
You’ll learn to adapt and change