Overcoming Guitarist's Block

How to progress no matter what.

Ultimate Guitar
Overcoming Guitarist's Block

You've been caught up in a lot of stuff but when you find the time to play you find yourself playing the same songs over and over? Your growth from beginner to intermediate-beginner was exponential, but now it feels like you’re going nowhere and learning nothing?

While it is always a good idea in structured practice sessions to do certain exercises like arpeggios and picking pattern variations, you don't need to do ALL of them EVERY session or in the same order every time. Pick and choose. Throw yourself curveballs by randomizing them: put your exercises on a sheet and roll dice; put them on flash cards and draw them out of a bag.

But then go about trying new stuff. ANYTHING new will be a challenge to your mind and skills, even if only briefly.

Try new musical genres. I don't particularly dig country, but I did learn a couple of tunes by Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash...and grew to like playing them.

Try new tunings. I currently play in Standard and NST, but I'm considering DADGAD, and will probably try Open G if I try to learn slide. This also works if you try to relearn songs you already know in those other tunings.

Try learning a song back to front...or even turn your sheet music upside down. Pianist/comedian extraordinaire Victor Borge used to do the upside down thing in his act. He'd play for a while, then - "realizing his error" - would apologize, flip the music to the correct orientation, and start playing correctly.

Try playing songs in different time signatures. By that, I mean try playing a song you know in an unfamiliar beat. I know a jazz pianist who can play the song "Take Five" in its original 5/4, but also in 3/4, 4/4, 6/4 and 7/4. Each variant completely changes the feel of the tune.

Try mimicking song parts written for other instruments or even for singers. One of Prince's touring guitarists was struggling with learning to play a piece in a way that made his boss happy. Prince told him to learn to play the part as if it were being sung by Billie Holiday.

Take a break. Advice usually given to writers, painters, and other creative types, this works for guitarists, too. Sometimes, you just need to recharge your batteries. When you come back to the process, you may find you have a different perspective, a fresh view, and you'll make progress again. So, go for a walk, see a movie, read a book, go camping. Just forget the guitar for a bit, and come back to it.

7 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Try putting the tray of Coke down, we all know it started off as a possibly alright idea but now yer just sweaty n grinding yer teeth n you already put the guitar down 4 minutes ago!