You're standing in the practice room with your guitar, not knowing what to do. Meanwhile your band mates are blazing away on their latest creation, tighter than ever before. Regardless, you feel the need to contribute to the music and end up unleashing a completely soulless (though technically jaw-dropping) solo over their masterpiece, mediocre at best.
Can you relate to the story? It's not fiction, it's part of a bad day I had a couple of years ago. In fact, it used to happen to me all the time back then, until the point I started to doubt myself as a musician and considered to stop playing music altogether. It's a pretty daunting experience, feeling musically empty. It's like somewhere along the road a piece of you just disappeared. If you are in this situation then don't despair. I believe that losing your "musical mojo" is something most of us go through at some point through our musical journey, and I also believe that it can be found again. In this article I will explain some of the different steps I used to regain and strengthen mine.
Step 1 - Rekindle the FlameTake some time to think about how you feel when you play guitar, whether it be at home practicing or playing with your band. Does it make you feel good or has it just become a semi-tedious way of passing time? Do you get a sense of accomplishment and feel relieved of stress? Feeling good when (and after) you're playing guitar is very important. It's after all what compels us to continue learning and play our instrument.
It is very hard to enjoy yourself when you're playing if you have a negative attitude towards playing in the first place. Try to think back to when you started playing guitar. If you were anything like me you could sit for hours struggling with a riff or a new technique and have loads of fun while you did it. Now try to get back into that mindset. Put on that old song that you always used to play and try to remember why you started playing guitar in the first place. If it doesn't work then take a days or even a weeks break from music and try again.
Step 2 - Learn to Listen to Your Inner Voice (Again)This is probably the hardest step, especially if you haven't developed your improvisation skill very much. The thing is, many people who "improvise" just pokes around randomly in a scale that fits to a backing track. Now this is a good way to find new licks and improve technique, but it doesn't really help develop your improvisation skill that much. To really improve your improvisation skill you have to try to "hear" what you want to play over the backing track before you actually play it.
Put on a backing track, any backing track will do. Now try to whistle or hum a solo over it arbitrarily, all the way to the end. Then grab your guitar and try to do the same thing but play the things you whistle/hum slightly after you've whistled/hummed it. "Why should I do this?" you might ask. I assure you that there is a really good point to it, aside from making you look and sound like an idiot.
You see, when you look at the guitar neck while playing, your brain will start to recognize different shapes and patterns (not talking about scales). When you play along to a backing track or your band, you have to think really fast, so chances are that you will start playing in these patterns without knowing how the notes will sound together with the music, and your improvisations will start to become dull and repetitive. (You will actually not be in control of what you are doing). When you sing/hum/whistle however, there is no visual patterns for your brain to recognize and you will be forced to make a sound you think will fit with the music. In other words, you will be forced to listen to and express what I like to call your "inner voice."
Now keep in mind that the second part of the exercise is extremely hard to do without messing up just about every phrase possible (unless you have absolute hearing and knows how all notes on the fret board will sound before playing them) so don't feel discouraged if the actual playing sounds like s***. I guarantee that being able to make up music that fits perfectly with everything else while you are playing is just about the most satisfactory thing you can do musically.
Step 3 - Broaden Your Musical HorizonsWhen you can listen to your inner voice, my guess is you want to start developing it further. This is by far the easiest step and you are probably already doing it.
Listen to music, that's pretty much all there is to it. Try not to limit yourself. For instance, if you are in to metal, try listening to some jazz, if you are into jazz, try some rock 'n' roll. Make it your lifelong goal to listen to all kinds of music from all different kinds of bands of all different kinds of genres in the world. By listening to stuff you aren't used to, you're making your inner voice go out of its comfort zone and eventually you will "hear" different phrases while improvising.
Another great and fun way to do this is to listen to other parts than the guitar in songs you already know. You could for example try to play the bass part or song melody with your guitar, or even better, learn to play it on another instrument.
ConclusionI hope that this will help a lot of people who are in the same seat as I was years ago. It is however important to realize that like with everything else that's worth doing, this will take time. Don't give up after a week, stay at it and I guarantee that you will at least notice a difference in your playing and hopefully you will have gotten your "musical mojo back."