Getting yourself out of ruts

Ever find yourself in a rut? I know I have, and way too many times. “Ruts” are when you play the same exact things over and over and you just can’t seem to come up with anything new. You might also feel as if you have hit a road block in your playing, writing, or mixing. I would say that my life has been either vast episodes of learning or a dead stop. I can’t remember anything but living in one of the two extremes.

But how do we get ourselves out of these ruts, and get to making new music or projects?

Recently, I found myself in a deep rut. Nothing new here, since I can be sort of a recluse at times. You see, I practice the same types of scales, all over the guitar neck, but I fail to learn any new scales. I practice the same guitar solos, over and over, without the drive to learn any new ones. The same exact songs get practiced, to no end, and the same can be said for my singing routine. I have about a half a dozen songs, all half recorded, because they start to all sound the same.

What can we do to combat this common issue?

 I have found a few ways to pull myself out of a rut. I will share some of my sweet fixes with you. These are just some of the things that have helped me break out of a rut, and pave new roads into the interesting and unknown. There are tons of ideas out there, and these are only the ones that I use.

I love to play with instruments that I know inside and out. I practice like a dog, and hence the ruts. I have an intense drive to get better and better, but I just can’t come up with new stuff sometimes. There is nothing wrong with any of this practicing, but it gets stale.

That is when I challenge myself. I will do a host of things. I will choose an alternate tuning and then make myself play around with it. I will try a new tuning and get more familiar with it. Some of the more popular open tunings are perfect for finding new runs, new sounds, and new song ideas. Everything might sound new and exciting when you play with an alternate tuning for a change.

When your playing is going in circles, a capo can be your best new friend. Sometimes, I love to record a capo’d guitar as a second guitar. No secret there. But have you ever just put a capo on a guitar and just played around with it? A ton of new, cool sounding song ideas will quickly come to your ears. Try combining both alternate tunings and a capo. Place the capo way up on the neck, like at the 10th or 11th fret. That is where a lot of the new music from the radio lives.

If that fails to stir up your imagination, a trip to the music store, for strings, might just help. If you string a guitar up with what they call “Nashville tuning”, and then give that a whirl, new ideas might just hit you with your first strum. Things can sound completely new and fresh with a guitar tuned to Nashville tuning. Your ears will be expecting the same old sounds but they get something new.

Recently, a new time signature broke me out of the deepest of ruts, and I am very excited about it. I have this chord progression that I have recorded a few times, in a few ways, but it just will not “sit right”. I just can’t get it to sound like it sounds in my head. This chord progression has a “reggae-like feel” to it, which is out of my comfort zone, by the way. I have been playing around with it in the same way each time. Then, out of the blue, I learned a cool new time signature while watching a YouTube video. Something just clicked in my brain. I played this chord progression, with this new time signature, and BOOM!!! I am out of the mud now!

Here is another solid gold idea for getting un-stuck. Get those effect pedals out. Move the knobs and dials into places they have not been yet. Play with those internal dip switches. Exchange the order of the pedals themselves. I find that playing the guitar, bass, and the piano, with heavy effects, can most often force me to try new things. This is a great way to get new song ideas, new lead lines, new sound scape ideas, and you name it.

The last idea that I will share today, is to go outside your comfort zone and play with someone new. Just the other day this paid off for me, big time. I was hanging with a neighbor/friend, and we ended up passing a guitar back and forth, each playing things the other would think of. I came away with a new chord that I quickly worked into a new chord progression. He walked away with some open tuning advice, and a new song to practice while in an open tuning. That was a perfect exchange, and I got out of a rut.