Episode 1 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast covers an issue that happens to every guitarist: getting stuck in a rut or hitting a plateau.
In this short episode, I’ll explain what causes ruts, how to tell if you’re in a rut (it’s not always obvious), and how to get out of a rut. You’ll be able to use this information any time you feel lost or stuck with your guitar playing.
Listen to the podcast using the below player or search for Bite-Size Guitar Podcast in any podcast app.
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If you have a question about this episode or any other question about learning or playing guitar, ask it here and I’ll answer it in a future episode.
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If you want to send me a question in text instead of voice, you can send it here.
Here are some helpful guides to help you take action on what was covered in the episode:
- How to Break Out of the Pentatonic Box: as explained in the episode, this one of the most common ruts guitarists get stuck in. If you feel like you’re always playing the same things over and over when trying to improvise with the Pentatonic scale, read this guide
- Not Getting Better At Guitar? Avoid These Traps: this guide covers some common issues that hold guitarists back and can cause you to fall into a rut
- How to Practice Guitar Chords: guitarists often fall into plateaus when it comes to chords due to how they practice them. Read this guide to learn chords effectively
- How to Practice Guitar Scales: a lot of guitarists put off learning scales and end up plateauing really quickly. This guide explains how to practice scales in a way that won’t make them feel like a chore
- How to Memorize the Notes on the Fretboard: gaining freedom over the fretboard is an important milestone for all guitarists. If you haven’t reached this level yet, check out this guide for advice on how to do it
- How to Find a Good Guitar Teacher: while you don’t have to get a teacher, a good teacher can help you avoid plateaus and keep you on the right track. If you want to find a good guitar teacher, use this guide to make sure the teacher you go to is actually a good teacher
- How to Plan a Guitar Practice Routine: your practice routine plays a massive role in your progress. Read this guide to make sure your practice routine puts you on the right path
Podcast Episode 1 Transcript
Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 1 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast.
In this episode, let’s look at something that will happen to every guitarist at some point. I’m going to talk about getting stuck in a rut and how to deal with it.
You’ll learn three things in this episode:
- How to know when you’re stuck in a rut. As I’ll explain, not all ruts or plateaus will be obvious
- You’ll learn what causes plateaus and how to get out of any rut. I’ll go through an example to show how to get out of a rut
- How to avoid plateaus or ruts in the future
Let’s get started.
Getting stuck in a rut or hitting a plateau is pretty much a given for learning any new skill. When you learn something new, like guitar, there’s the initial phase where you’re rapidly learning new skills, understanding basic principles, and getting better.
At some point, everybody gets stuck. Some people might get stuck within a few weeks, while others may not get stuck until a year or longer of learning.
Sometimes it’s obvious when you’ve hit a plateau. You get frustrated because you can see or hear that something isn’t quite right, but can’t push forward. It might be frustrating when you know that you’ve hit a plateau, but it’s actually a good sign.
If you know you’ve hit a plateau or you’re stuck in a rut, you can seek out ways to deal with it.
The real problem is when it’s not obvious that you’ve hit a plateau. Some guitarists hit a plateau and never realize it.
If you don’t know you’ve hit a plateau, it’s going to be pretty much impossible to push past it.
Here are some common signs to look out for if you’re stuck in a rut.
I’ll go through the signs and just think to yourself how many of them apply to you right now
- You play the same things every day
- You don’t feel motivated to try new things
- You spend less time playing guitar
- You don’t know what you should be doing or feel bored with guitar
- You haven’t learned anything new on guitar in the last month
- You spend your time listening to guitar podcasts
Okay, so that last one’s a joke, but you get the idea.
The key point to note with these signs is that they don’t make you feel frustrated with your guitar abilities. That’s why it can be hard to tell when you’re in a rut because these signs don’t make you feel like you’re in one.
Even worse, it’s easy to come up with excuses for why you’re not in a rut, even if you relate to these signs.
If you’ve spent less time playing guitar lately, your instant reaction might be that’s because you’re busy with work or school. You tell yourself that you’re not stuck in a rut, it’s just that other areas of your life are impacting your motivation with guitar.
Now sometimes that’s true, but we want to watch out for the times when that’s just a cover-up for being in a rut.I know from my own experience that it’s hard to make sure you’re not just finding excuses for these signs.
If you’re playing the same things over and over on guitar every day, is it because you really enjoy those songs and don’t want to play anything else? Or is it really because you’re stuck in a rut and don’t know how to push forward?
This is what I mean when I say it’s good if you know you’re stuck in a rut. It’s so much harder to get out of a rut if you don’t even know you’re in one.
I know this probably all sounds very serious, but hitting a plateau or getting stuck in a rut gradually leads to giving up guitar. It starts off with spending less time trying new things. Then you gradually lose your motivation. Over time you spend less and less time playing guitar. Then eventually you realize you haven’t picked up the guitar in weeks or months.
The reason people sometimes give up the guitar as adults isn’t because they’re too busy with work or being a parent, it’s because they didn’t realize they hit a plateau and it drained their enthusiasm for guitar.
As a guitar teacher, I take plateaus and ruts seriously because I’ve seen how they can trap guitarists.
So the key point to take away from this is that even if you don’t feel like you’re in a rut right now, be careful.
Plateaus can hit you over the head, or they can creep up on you and gradually drain your motivation.
Now let’s look at how to deal with plateaus and how to break out of ruts.
Identify the rut
The first thing to do is to identify where you’re having problems. What area of your guitar playing is in a rut? You’re unlikely to ever be in a rut across the board, so take a look at each aspect of your playing to work out where the problem is.
For example, you might be doing fine learning to play songs, but when you try to improvise over a backing track, you get stuck for ideas or you end up playing the same licks over and over.
Or maybe you’ve been trying to write songs, but all the chord progressions you come up with sound the same.
Try to narrow down what you’re stuck with.
If you feel like you lack motivation for playing guitar at all, what do you play when you first pick up your guitar? Do you find that you always start off by playing the same things? Think about what you normally play at the time when you notice your motivation drops.
If you feel like you’re bored with guitar, go through all the different things you play and think about which ones interest you and which ones don’t.
The clearer you can identify what problems you’re having, the easier it will be to deal with them.
Change your routine
Now, to get out of a rut, it helps to understand what causes them.
Plateaus and ruts happen when you stop noticing your progress. As a beginner, the progress you make week to week is usually obvious. You can suddenly play something that seemed impossible a week ago.
As your skills improve, your development becomes less obvious. The finger dexterity exercises you’ve been practicing for a month will definitely be improving your skills, but you might not notice the slow and gradual improvements they have on your skills.
Eventually, the day to day or week to week improvements you make won’t be noticeable. You might still be improving right now, but those improvements may not be noticeable.
Part of your brain sees this and loses motivation. Why bother practicing if you’re not improving? You end up in a plateau because part of your brain doesn’t see any benefit of continuing to put effort into something where the results aren’t obvious.
To deal with this, we need to mix things up. Plateaus happen when your brain stops feeling challenged and doesn’t notice any improvements in what you’re working on.
So give your brain something different to work on.
Changing your routine or branching off into new areas is the best way to break out of a rut. Your brain may resist this idea, but if you give it a go, you’ll see why it works.
As an example, one of the most common ruts I’ve seen guitarists deal with is improvising with the pentatonic scale. What normally happens is a guitarist will start by memorizing the first box shape, then they’ll gradually memorize all five pentatonic positions.
Over the next few weeks or months, they’ll memorize a few dozen licks and scale runs, and have a lot of fun jamming over backing tracks.
Eventually, they start noticing that they’re playing the same things over and over. It doesn’t matter what style of backing track they put on or what key they play in, they’re playing the same licks and ideas every time.
They struggle to find inspiration while improvising and fall into a rut.
Have a think about how you might deal with this example? What would you do to break out of this rut.
The most common answer people will have is to mix things up by learning a different scale such as the blues scale or the major scale.
But can you see the problem with that approach?
The problem isn’t with the scale the guitarist has learned. There’s nothing wrong with the pentatonic scale. Adding another scale to the mix isn’t going to solve the problem. The guitarist might feel like they’ve broken out of the rut and they might feel some inspiration for a little while. But they will quickly fall back into the same problem.
This is the key point I’d like to leave you with when dealing with plateaus and ruts. To properly break out of a rut, you need to really understand what is causing the rut.
In this example, the problem doesn’t have anything to with the scale used. The problem is the guitarist doesn’t know how to come up with interesting ideas.
Instead of learning another scale and falling into the same rut with that scale, the guitarist needs to learn how to come up with interesting ideas. Then they can use any scale and never feel stuck.
The guitarist should spend time learning to create melodies, study solos from different guitarists to learn how other guitarists improvise, or even look at how musicians improvise using other instruments. They can work on challenges such as only using three notes to improvise to force themselves to make the most out of every note.
As I mentioned, feeling stuck while improvising is a common plateau.
I talk about this specific problem in this guide, so if you’re experiencing this rut, check it out for more advice.
Once you properly identify the problem causing your rut, it’s pretty easy to work out what to do. That’s why most of this episode has been focused on identifying a rut because that’s the hard part.
If you can identify the problem, you can start looking for solutions to that problem.
When you’re trying to find a solution for your rut, challenge yourself to really mix things up and be open to trying things you wouldn’t have considered before.
I’ll talk about this more in future episodes and give you plenty of ideas to try, but the key to breaking out of a rut is to push yourself to work on something completely different than your usual routine.
If you can push past the hesitation you’ll definitely feel at first, you’ll break out of the rut.
Preventing future ruts
Once you figure out how to break out of one rut, future plateaus or ruts suddenly seem less intimidating. By now, you understand the psychology behind plateaus and how they can creep up on you. You know to break out of a rut you need to properly identify the problem and you need to mix things up and break your routine.
To prevent plateaus in the future, keep an eye on your routine. Keep asking yourself if you’re trying new things or open to new ideas.
If you ever feel like you’re treading water or you hesitate to try something new, take that as a warning sign.
Make sure your practice routine isn’t the same every day and that you’re not just going through the motions.
Mix things up and challenge yourself to try something new every time you sit down to practice.
Whether you know you’re in a rut now or not, I recommend checking out the page for this episode on guitargearfinder.com/podcast. I’ve included some more tips on breaking out of plateaus as well as links to a few relevant lessons and guides.
Even if you’re not in a rut now, have a read through those guides to better prepare yourself against plateaus in the future.
Remember that every guitarist experiences plateaus and ruts, so don’t feel bad if you’re ever stuck. If you ever feel like you’re losing motivation for guitar or you’re stuck for ideas, listen to this episode again or check out the guide for advice on what to do.
This week, I recommend taking a look at your practice or playing routine and adding one new thing to it. Learn a new song, try working on a new technique, try writing a song, or anything else you’ve never tried before.
That hesitation or resistance you feel when you change your routine is a sign you’re doing the right thing. If you never feel any resistance while you’re practicing, take it as a warning sign.
You want your practice sessions to be challenging, but never overwhelming. You also don’t want them to feel too easy, or you’ll lose your motivation.
I hope you found this episode helpful and I’ll talk to you next time.