Rut Busters. Part 1: Petty Thieves

We all hit walls. Some of us shouldn't. Like the major league pitcher who broke his hand in a fit of anger by hitting a door.

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We all hit walls. Some of us shouldn't. Like the major league pitcher who broke his hand in a fit of anger by hitting a door. But many of us also hit creative walls. A lot of my students ask about ways to get past a rut in their playing. As usual, I have more than a few answers. Someday, I might even have a good one! Let's take a look at a few ways to climb out of that cesspool of creative stagnation, and blaze fourth with....OK, already, here's the lesson!

Borrowing With Taste

If your playing lacks variety, try this: Quit playing guitar music! Put the AC/DC tab down, and try playing some music outside of your field. Let's take a look at a killer saxophone piece called Freedom Jazz Dance by the great saxophonist Eddie Harris. I'm always intrigued by the idea of playing music written by musicians who play a different instrument than I do. Each instrument has it's own comfort zone and hence, signature licks, and approaches unique to it. When applied to our own instrument, unusual and interesting sounds can result. The next time you pick up your guitar, try noticing how many licks are dictated by what's comfortable to your hand - and not the sound. Interesting, to be sure.

Set over a Eb7 chord, with frequent alterations, this particular piece uses the interval of a fourth quite a bit. (The interval of the fourth is the distance from C to F, for example.) Fourths present an interesting challenge on the guitar, as they can be played at the same fret on adjacent strings (right next to each other.) I know that sounds confusing - but check it out: From the 5th fret on the 6th string to the 5th fret on the 5th string is a fourth. Think Smoke on the Water. They sound easy - hey, they're right next door, right? However, I think you'll see, that's just the problem. Remember, though, discomfort can mean new sounds. Jumping outside our safe place of typical patterns, we find a new universe of ideas, concepts, and sounds. If you want less subtle, I'll paraphrase the Marines and say Pain is weakness leaving the fingers!

Practice Tips:

  • Practice with both clean and distorted sounds. Using distortion will help you practice isolating the notes, and playing them one at a time. You don't want the notes to overlap, or ring together, in this example.
  • Practice with a metronome. Start slow, and build speed.
  • Practice with a metronome. Start slow, and build speed.
  • Pay attention to where the phrases start in relationship to the beat. The first section starts on 4", the second on the And of 1", the third on the and of 4." Playing along with the song is a big help.
  • I've uploaded the power tab file to the Ultimate Guitar database. I highly recommend using it as a practice guide.
  • Have fun! Be sure to listen to the original song as well. Check out the Eddie Harris version, as well as the Miles Davis one. A bunch of people cover it, so take a listen!
  • Don't stop here! Look up some other tunes to apply to your playing Maybe try Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata next. Or how about the vocal line to a James Brown tune? I feeeel good!

    Best of luck, and as the great guitarist Frank Gambale would say...May the Fourths Be With You!

    Don't forget to check out my blog.

    Josh Urban (photo) is a musician with a unique perspective on music. Always a thinker, he gains insight wherever he can find it, be it in the clubs as a working musician, busking on the city streets, or teaching in the classroom. A naturally enthusiastic fellow, Josh is always fired up about bringing the lessons he's learned to his readers. Maintaining a website, a blog, and a monthly newsletter, he aims to make musicians stop, think, and play with a little more intensity, integrity, and inspiration. You never know who's listening.

  • 27 comments sorted by best / new / date

      Gopher1409
      Ummmm, when a Major League pitcher breaks his hand on a door it's because he's an angry moron. When a musician gets stuck in a rut it's because they have to find a new way to improve their skill level and /or you're bored. Not to be too much of a hater but... Try something new? Isn't that kind of obvious?
      vanceboy
      this is the millionth article on how to motivate yourself once you hit that creative wall....
      turtlewax
      Excellent Idea. Iv'e being doing a similar thing to this, play guitar parts on the piano. Check out the piano tribute to iron maiden
      Warpanda
      I tuned my guitar to the tuning of the first six strings of a japanese Koto.
      which is?
      Y0UNGBL00D
      good stuff. classic rut buster. but im curious, did josh write the little plug about him at the end of his stuff himself? just curious. hahahaha
      -Collapse-
      Actually in my case, pain is my tendon ripping because it only just got reconnected from when I severed it. Haha =D
      dimatrod
      This really helps. I've learned Miles Davis' and John Coltrane's styles and applied it to my metal playing, so it brings a lot of possibilities and people usually comment on my style. At first I did it since I used to do jam sessions in a Jazz club, but now I've found it useful. Nice article! Hope you keep 'em coming. I've often found myself stuck and the only way to come out is trying new stuff.
      strat0blaster
      If you're really in a busted rut, I tuned my guitar to the tuning of the first six strings of a japanese Koto. That'll really make you think differently.
      Millsz
      interesting to see how well people react to articles when the writer isn't trying to sell them something *coughcoughTomHesscough*
      Jonzors
      Ahaha Moonlight sonata.... i think starting on measure 170 or something like that, that's just amazing right there it gives me chills. though I can't quite play it at full speed yet
      ShredderOmega
      Moonlight Sonata... I've been looking at the tab for quite some time now... and I still believe it's a least a year out of my ability
      Greedy
      I play a little piano, a littel cello, a little baritone...the list goes on. but yes i play guitar more. I have found that taking other orchestral pieces, like Mars bringer of destruction, Hoedown, or halls of the mountain king to be useful in creating new ideas, or simply getting out of a funk on guitar. then again i also like to give a hard rock or metal sound to some of those pieces...because they just effing own.
      that_1_dude24
      # Practice with a metronome. Start slow, and build speed. # Practice with a metronome. Start slow, and build speed.
      I take it that was deliberate?
      dylanfromearth
      Like the major league pitcher who broke his hand in a fit of anger by hitting a door.
      You are skilled in the use of simile good sir.
      Freshnoise
      Interesting, I've been looking for ways to spice up my bland solos, this might help.
      Glen'sHeroicAct
      great tip, I know I always find interesting things when I try and play a bit with a piano over a piece I'm stuck on.
      DeathByDestroyr
      Guitar happens to be such a great instrument for imitating other ones too (such as violin or trumpet). Just those damned F chords...