How to Avoid Feeling Bored and Stale With Your Acoustic Guitar Playing - Part 1

This article will get you on your way to playing your acoustic guitar more creatively with two unique ways to approach your guitar playing.

Ultimate Guitar
A very common frustration for a lot of guitar players is that we seem to hit a wall with our playing at times, becoming bored and stale with it. Progress grinds to a halt as we continue to play the same old stuff, the same way we always seem to play it. The good news is that this is quite normal and that rejuvenating your creativity with your guitar playing is not hard to do at all. You can totally reinvent the way you play your acoustic guitar, if you want to, through the different elements, techniques, and innovative tools that are available to you.

While your aim is not to try and do everything under the sun, you still want to be open to other approaches to your acoustic guitar playing, especially when you are feeling stale with it. Don't become someone with the attitude of:

"Hey, I don't need to improve anymore with my guitar playing. I'm happy playing the same old things, the same old way, with the same amount of creativity."

This is the last thing you want as a guitar player who is striving to get better every time you pick up your acoustic guitar to play.

Part 1 of this article will get you on your way to playing your acoustic guitar more creatively with two unique ways to approach your guitar playing. A further three will follow shortly in part 2.

Over the years, there have been several times that I have hit a dead end with my own acoustic guitar playing, leaving me feeling unmotivated and uninspired. Everything I played was the same old stuff I always played. Progress was very slow, if there was even any progress at all. However, I found that discovering new players that I had not come across before, introduced me to new approaches when it came to my acoustic guitar playing. This really reignited my motivation and inspiration and set my guitar playing creativity on fire!

I'm not suggesting at all here that you forget everything that you have learned with your guitar playing to date and start again with some other style. I'm saying that you need to be open to other styles of playing because within them are many very cool and unique elements and techniques that you can inject into your own guitar playing. This will not only get your creative juices flowing but you will also be totally inspired and motivated to take your acoustic guitar playing to a whole new level.

On the flip side, if you ignore the signs of getting stale with your guitar playing and simply put up with the frustrations that come with this, the likely scenario is that you will quit playing altogether. I'm sure this is the last thing you want. You need to view your guitar playing as something that is continually evolving, where you are always striving to get better and discovering new ways to do things. Staying engaged with your instrument like this will have your creativity, inspiration, and motivation going in an upward trend. Even though I have been playing guitar for 25 years, there have been many times when the acoustic guitar has felt like a totally new instrument to me simply by having the attitude of always wanting to improve and evolve with my own playing.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying to go and learn a bunch of new songs and riffs from tabs you find on the internet. There is nothing wrong with this, however it will do little to reignite your creativity and is more of a short term fix to distract you from the greater problems and frustrations that plague your playing. Rather, I want to introduce you to some unique ways and approaches to playing your acoustic guitar that will have a long lasting effect on your overall playing.

The approaches that we will cover in parts 1 and 2 of this article are simply an introduction. I want to make you aware of them, if you aren't already, and encourage you to explore further the ones that appeal most to you. I could literally write hundreds of pages on any one topic, but that is of course far beyond the scope of this article, so for now lets get started with some cool ways you can play your acoustic guitar and what you can do right now, today, to start integrating them into your own playing.

Creating With Open and Alternate Tunings

There are many open and alternate tunings that are available for you to use when it comes to playing and creating with your acoustic guitar. These tunings can make it feel like you are playing a totally new instrument. By "new" I don't mean to imply that it will feel like you are right back at the start, clueless, trying to figure out how to play a guitar again. Rather, alternate and open tunings force you into playing your guitar more creatively. Things that are at least awkward, if not impossible to do in a standard tuning, become not only possible but easy to do in open and alternate tunings.

It's best to work on one alternate or open tuning at a time, getting familiar with its nuances and character. Switching back and forth between various tunings when you are first learning them will most likely confuse you more than help you.

Here are some tunings for you to consider creating with:

Open G Tuning (D G D G B D): This tuning is great for playing slide on your acoustic guitar. It is both different and similar to standard tuning as the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings are unchanged, yet changing the 6th, 5th, and 1st strings is enough to create many cool possibilities for your guitar playing.

Lets look at a couple of slide guitar licks in open G tuning:

In the examples above I am only targeting the unchanged strings of the tuning, however when using a slide you will also hear the overtones of the other strings which add to the over all sound of this tuning.

DADGAD (D A D G A D): This tuning is called "DADGAD" in reference to the open strings. Strumming these open strings will give you a Dsus4 sound. This tuning is great for open, moveable chord shapes on your guitar.

Here is an example:

The chord shape used above is mostly open and gives a very rich sound as you move it down the neck of your guitar. 

Here is another example. I am playing the notes of each chord separately for a different effect:

Csus2 Tuning (C G C G C D): This tuning will give you a Csus2 sound when strumming the open strings. Due to it's symmetrical nature, this tuning will allow you to play runs and melodies in various octaves across your strings without changing position.

Here are some runs in Csus2 tuning for you to play around with:

How to Get Started Creating With Open and Alternate Tunings on Your Guitar Now

Learn songs that are in alternate and open tunings. This is a great way to gain an insight into the particular tuning used for the song.

Take a song you already know on your guitar that is in a standard tuning and create a version of it in another tuning such as one of the ones above. This will again give you a great insight into that particular tuning.

Write a song in an alternate or open tuning.

The Magic of Harmonics

In a nutshell, a harmonic is sounded by lightly touching a vibrating string directly above the fret at specific points along its length.

This explanation doesn't quite give justice to the resulting sound you get when doing this. It is amazing what you can do with harmonics on your guitar. Studying players who have taken them to a very high level will really open your eyes to a whole new sound and way of playing your guitar. This one approach alone will have your creativity sky rocket!

Lets take a look at what's known as the octave harmonic. This is when you touch the string with your picking hand, as it is vibrating, directly 12 frets above where you sounded the note. You need to make sure that the point of contact with the string is directly above the fret, not in between as you would do when sounding regular notes on your guitar.

The picture below will help show you what I mean exactly. In it you can see my index finger is touching the string, as explained above, while my thumb plucks the string from behind to sound the actual harmonic.

Here is an example of open string harmonics. Remember that you must maintain a distance of 12 frets from where you are sounding your notes, so open string + 12 frets = 12th fret:

In the above example, the notes in the brackets show which fret my index finger is above when touching the string to sound the harmonics. The p indicates my thumb and the i, my index finger, both of which are used to sound the harmonic.

This sounds great over an Em chord or the key of Em in general, however open strings are just the very beginning when it comes to this awesome technique. As long as you maintain a distance of 12 frets between both hands you can sound a harmonic from any note not just open strings.

Here is an example of a G major scale played with harmonics:

Again, the notes in the bracket in the example above indicate where you need your index finger to be touching the string. Remember to be touching the string directly above the fret indicated.

Apart from the technique of playing harmonics, you also need to visualise the scale shape that your fretting hand is playing, one octave higher.

How to Get Started Creating With Harmonics on Your Guitar Now

Using a backing track in the same key, take the G major scale from above and play it on top sounding out the harmonics. Mix the order of the notes up and extend into other octaves/positions of the scale.

Sound out existing melodies you know, or learn some, in the major scale using harmonics. This is a great way to reinforce the technique as well as your visualising skills needed to play the harmonics accurately.

Do the above but change key.

I have barely touched the surface with harmonics here. There is so much more you can do with them if you want to take them further. Harmonics alone will dramatically increase your creativity on guitar as they are a whole new sound waiting to be explored and integrated into the things that you can already do with your playing.

Now Is the Time to Start Creating on Your Guitar

Many hours can be spent on just the two approaches presented in this article, so don't be impatient wanting results instantly, because it doesn't work that way. The good news is that you will have many small victories along the way. The key is to get things going right now, today.

To further explore your creativity on the acoustic guitar, download this free guide on how to use a guitar capo in creative ways. If you think a capo is all about avoiding bar chords, think again!

About the Author:
Simon Candy is a professional musician and guitar instructor specialising in the acoustic guitar. He is founder of Simon Candy School Of Guitar based in Melbourne, Australia and also offers acoustic guitar lessons online.

29 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Actually, the author is right: you should get on this right away. The author is addressing people who are already bored or about to reach that point in their playing. He's not addressing inspired players who can, like you, play whenever they feel like it. The players he's addressing are not beginners. Players already feeling stale are already echoing "I'll play later." Again the author is correct to say "right now" becuase bored players don't need inspiration. Instead they need to play "right now"to get the inspiration back.
    I can't play whenever I feel like it, that's the point. And when I do hit that wall, I need to stop playing. I get my inspiration back by taking a break, sometimes even a long one. Of course it's all individual, and I could have chosen my words better, but in my opinion and experience forcing and rushing things isn't a good idea. Thanks for your insight, I do get your point, and I am sure that there are a lot of people who fall into your school of thought. Cheers.
    Can I agree with both of you ? I really like this: "As a guitarist you are in no rush. If you don't feel like playing guitar today, don't play it. " but this is also true: "Players already feeling stale are already echoing "I'll play later." Again the author is correct to say "right now" because bored players don't need inspiration. Instead they need to play "right now"to get the inspiration back." I usually get in phases that I don't play guitar for weeks, then switch to playing every day. Sorry, my comment is meaningless
    Get into guys like Andy Mckee and Jon Gomm, and acoustic guitar will never be boring again.
    Get into classical guitar, and any guitar will never ever be boring again.
    great lesson. I am more towards classical guitar style wise, but these tips will help me in crafting some new compositions. It's like Andy Mckee said, "when you have all those other tunings on guitar, it's like having many instruments in one".
    Chris Zoupa
    Awesome article man. Can't agree enough with your points on harmonics and alternate tunings! Thanks for this!
    The work of John Butler is a testament to the magic of Open C tuning. Seriously, fool around with it and you won't wanna stop.
    Solid article! A year ago or so I started getting into DADGAD tuning, which has fired up my acoustic playing greatly. It translated to my electric guitar and standard tuning playing as well.
    Open G tuning is a helluva lot of fun. I first started playing slide in Open D and I picked up licks almost immediately! I do agree with guitar/bass95, some times you just need a break, to recollect, regroup and basically see the big picture of what you're doing. So either trying different stuff from this article, or not playing for a while can be just what you need. TO THE AUTHOR: Great lesson, hands down! If you're knowledgeable about slide guitar, please post some lessons on that! I can't seem to find good slide lessons anywhere...
    I found learning finger style bass helped me a lot on acoustic as I started using my right hand fingers to play instead of using a pick or using a combination of picking + my other free right hand fingers. Incorporating your other fingers helps so much with ideas as well as making pieces sound more interesting.
    Agreed. Learning the bass improved my fingerstyle dramatically, though I play rather unconventionally.
    I think it was an okay lesson for the most part, but the very last sentence kind of ruined it. "The key is to get things going right now, today." Well, no, it's not. As a guitarist you are in no rush. If you don't feel like playing guitar today, don't play it. The very last thing I'd advise a beginner to do is to hurry up, I think that you should just rather work at your own pace and according to your own goals.
    I think that sentence was meant as motivation. Having the drive to play, practice and create makes a huge difference. Maybe that sentence got some kid to play his guitar for one more hour today... I think that's great.
    Great article. I can play Andy McKee's pieces with alternate tuning like Drifting, For My Father, Rylynn, etc. . And right after reading this article I realise I've been doing octave harmonics all wrong. Thank you for pointing it out. My mistake right here is a good lesson to fellow intermediate guitarists out there who have gotten to the point where they feel like they can't be bothered with reading 'basic guitar stuff'on the internet. . . it's like Kurt Cobain said, "I'm worse at what I do best". Happy practicing
    Great Article! I myself began my guitar journey with open E tuning. I'm glad I did as I learned there are many ways to play the guitar to get different voicing other than with standard tuning. Thanks for sharing & Jam ON!
    reverend kletus
    horses do not drink from rivers they are not thirsty at so don't try to play at times the vibe aint there. any questions? no,,, i thought not.
    I did not understand this maybe because I do not understand tablature. I am fine in changing the tuning of the guitar. Can I just play the chords of a song I already know using the different tuning or am I supposed to form new (to me unknown) chords etc
    Do I need to understand tablature to use this lesson? I would love to eliminate some of the bar chords I use all the time because they put a strain on my injured wrist