Today’s lesson is a guest post from San Francisco guitar teacher Jeff Feldman from www.CreativeSparkGuitar.com. Check out Jeff’s blog for more articles on beginning guitar, troubleshooting problems, and songwriting tips.
It happens to everyone sooner or later—one day you realize you’re playing the same old stuff, aren’t making progress, and feel uninspired and bored.
The good news is that it’s easy to get re-inspired by throwing something new into the mix. Mixing up your approach will also increase your general knowledge of music and give you countless more ways of expressing yourself.
So let’s get out of that rut and start having some fun again! Try these quick and easy methods to revitalize your technical, improvisational, and songwriting creativity.
1. Change equipment
It’s easy to get so used to playing your one, favorite guitar that you take it for granted. If you mostly play electric, try spending more time on acoustic. Try a nylon-string guitar. Try a 12-string guitar. Try different models and setups if you have access to them. Try playing the ukulele, the 5 string banjo, the mandolin, the banjolele—all of these “lute” family instruments will be easy to pick up if you already play guitar, and each will teach you new licks and transferrable techniques.
2. Try a different tuning
This is a guaranteed rut remover. Once you retune your guitar you’re guaranteed to do something new—even if your fingers are playing the same old licks. Different tunings make certain things easier and other things more difficult. There’s a good chance you’ll stumble across licks you’d never be able to play in your previous tuning. Who knows? You might love your new tuning so much you decide not to go back!
3. Switch styles or genres
This is a great one if you’ve been playing the same couple of songs over and over. Tired of playing the intro to “Stairway to Heaven” for the millionth time? Try injecting it with a ska rhythm, or mixing up the picking pattern to sound like driving bluegrass. Take a low-key song and amp it up. Take a loud, powerful song and tone it down. Make an upbeat song sound sad, or a sad song sound like a party anthem. Have fun with it! By the way, this is also a great option for covering songs.
4. Jam with new people
The people you jam with can influence and inspire you personally, and help you create something truly unique. Many great bands developed a sound and delivery from just the right combination of people working off each other. Try jamming with all kinds of other musicians, with all different influences. You might be surprised who inspires your best playing, improvising, and/or songwriting.
5. Music binge
When I’m feeling uninspired, this is one of my go-to methods for songwriting inspiration. Give it a try: Spend a day or two listening to hours of new music (having it play in the background is fine, as long as you can hear it). It can be from the radio, Pandora, your local library, anywhere. It’s more important that the music is new to you, rather than your favorite songs.
Then sleep on it. During the night your subconscious will sift through everything you were exposed to, and you’ll pick up inspirational bits that worked well in those songs, while also getting a better sense of what makes a song boring, disappointing, or trite. You may wake up the next morning with a great tune already in your head, or find that writing a new song is faster and easier than normal.
6. Take a lesson
Shameless plug from a guitar teacher? Maybe. But taking even just one or two lessons during those plateaus in your playing can be just what the doctor ordered. A good teacher can often hone in on your sticking points, and help you move past them and keep making progress. They can also expose you to new techniques and influences that can inspire your playing.
7. Change your approach
If your songwriting or soloing is feeling staid, sometimes all it takes to get re-inspired is to change the order in which you do things.
All songwriters have strengths and weaknesses, and most tend to write songs around their strengths. For example, I feel my strength is melody, and therefore tend to write songs melody-first. One of my weaker areas is lyrics, so I don’t often add them until the end. One way I’ve gotten my creative juices flowing is by going a bit outside my comfort zone and writing lyrics first, and melody after. Try writing a song starting with whichever following area you feel is your weakest: Melody, Harmony, Rhythm, Lyrics.
In soloing and improvising, we likewise have strengths that we gravitate towards, and weaker areas we avoid. Take a moment to really think about what you’re doing in your improvisation, and see if you can’t find any patterns, and any techniques or areas you aren’t including.
For example, do you tend to solo in one scale in only the first position because it’s the one you’re most comfortable with? Even just learning ONE additional scale position will open up a world of new options. You could also see what other scales would fit besides your first choice.
BONUS TIP: The 2nd Right Answer
In his classic guide to unlocking creativity, A Whack on the Side of the Head, Roger von Oech mentions an incredibly easy way to be more creative: Find the second right answer.
Most problems we face have more than one solution, but we usually stop looking after we’ve found the first thing that works. In music, this could mean choosing to develop a song idea or solo in one specific way, or learning how to technically play something (a chord progression, scales, rhythm, etc.).
But the next time you’re writing a song, developing a solo, or figuring out new playing techniques, see if you can figure out TWO different ways to make it work. Not only is this a great way to discover more material, but it will also help you realize how many options you have with a musical idea, and help you choose the best one.
So the next time you’re feeling bored or uninspired with your playing, give one or more of the above tips a try, and see if they don’t unleash a gusher of creativity. Sometimes it just takes a tiny nudge of effort in the right place to move up past your plateau.