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Avoid the Rut | 10 Boredom-Busting Tips for Guitarists

You’re not alone. It happens to every guitarist at some point or another. Some call it guitar fatigue; others say practice boredom. The bottom line is that you’ve lost your motivation, your passion for playing guitar.

This happened to me and luckily I can pinpoint exactly why it happened. Throughout high school and the first part of university, I had explosive, noticeable growth in my guitar abilities. The world seemed to be an endless possibility of sounds and songs waiting for me to conquer.

And then in order to continue my growth, I reset my goals to keep up with my abilities. That’s when IT happened. The skills I was aiming to acquire were harder and required a lot more time to master. Growth was now measured in months, not days or weeks like I was used to.

It was a textbook diagnosis of guitar fatigue.

I still fight this today, but I’ve developed a few tactics to combat the boredom bug. These are tips I wish somebody had shared with me a decade ago, so hopefully at least one of them will inspire and equip you for when those moments come and you say to yourself:

What can I do to motivate myself to keep practicing guitar?

1. Give Yourself Permission to Take a Break

It’s often true in relationships and can be applied to guitar: absence makes the heart grow fonder. Give yourself permission to stop playing for a week.

At one point I had disciplined myself to practice guitar for an hour each and every day. It wasn’t a bad habit but I always felt so guilty if I missed a day.

I eventually realized I needed more than just a short break. I had to convince myself that I needed a more meaningful rest. When I did this, I felt refreshed and ready to tackle whatever technique or song I was trying to learn.

2. Pick up Another Instrument

Aside from the piano that I grew up learning, I also keep a mandolin and a hammer dulcimer in my home. I don’t excel at these instruments, and I probably never will, but that's entirely okay.

These instruments are my inspiration. Every once in a while I’ll pop in a Chris Thile CD and pick out what he’s doing on the mandolin just for fun. It’s nearly impossible to do…but that’s the point.

The mandolin isn’t my “main instrument.” Psychologically my mind cuts me some slack if I can’t get it perfect. Compare this to the guitar, where I have such high expectations that anything less than perfect just isn’t good enough.

Bottom line: Remember what it feels like to really suck at an instrument. You'll appreciate what you’ve accomplished so far.

3. Cross Musical Styles

I’m a finger-style guitarist. I can play for hours within the framework of this style without repeating a single song.

While the majority of my practice focuses on the finger-style, I love taking time to expand my horizons and shift to a different style: blues, jazz, rock, slap. You name it. I’ve tried it.

Something weird happens when you stretch your mind to consider scales or general styles that you’re not used to – any trace of boredom is wiped away and replaced with intense concentration. It’s a lot of fun!

4. Learn a New Solo from Ear

Speaking of new styles, why not just find a popular song from a different genre and try to pick it out on your guitar?

It’s not as hard as it seems. For novices there are programs on the computer and certain guitar pedals that can slow music down without affecting the pitch. Before you know it, you’ll have spent a couple hours picking out the song by ear.

For advanced guitar players, ditch the speed reduction and see how well you can replicate what you hear. It may not be note-for-note but it’s still an excellent creative exercise.

5. Join or Host a Jam Session

Did you know that the average Top 40 hit is now co-written? Most publishing houses strongly encourage their writers to collaborate because of one simple reason: collaboration breeds creativity. And creativity kills boredom.

I’m always amazed at how many guitarists never leave that one room in their home where they practice. Perhaps it has to do with time or perhaps it has to do with a fear of comparing your skills with others.

But if you can swallow your pride, you'll discover how rewarding it can be to jam with other musicians – especially if they are better than you are.

Based on my experience, guitarists as a whole aren’t a discouraging bunch. On the contrary, you’ll probably walk away inspired, encouraged, and armed with some new songs.

6. Buy and Use a Looper Pedal

Don’t have access to a local jam session? Never fear, the looper is here!

The day I bought my first guitar looper pedal is the day that a new form of creativity fell into my practice. This one tactic alone has inspired me more than any other tip I share here.

For the novice guitar player, a looper pedal allows you to create infinite loops on top of another, which essentially allows you to be your own band (for further explanation, read my guide to guitar looper pedals). It takes a bit of practice to learn how to use one, but once you do the possibilities are endless.

Create a simple back track and then solo over it. One of my favorite improvisation exercises is to lay down a relatively slow back track and then push myself to solo over it by hitting a string on every quarter note without pausing. It’s harder than it sounds but is so much fun!

7. Write a Song

It doesn’t matter if you’re a lyricist or not, creating a new melody – one that sticks in your head even when you’re done playing – is a simple way to beat boredom.

Once you’ve got something down, even if you don’t think it’s great, record it. You’d be surprised how many times you come back to these old recordings for inspiration. Try stepping away from your melody for a week or more and come back to it. See what happens when you revisit your tune with a fresh set of ears!

8. Watch a Concert on DVD

You know that feeling you have after you attend an awesome concert? It’s almost like you can’t wait to get home and pick up your own guitar. If only there was a way to recreate that experience at home. Hmm….

While you’re in the midst of taking a break (remember tip #1?), grab a copy of your favorite guitarist doing a live concert. Find a time when the rest of your family is out of the house – if possible – and pump up the volume

Don’t know where to start? Here are a few that I recommend:

  • Tommy Emmanual – Live at Her Majesty’s Theater
  • Dream Theater – Live from Boston Opera
  • Led Zepplin DVD

Editor’s note: Music Vault recently released over 2,000 hours of concert footage on their YouTube Channel.

9. Try an Alternate Tuning

This boredom-busting technique is geared more toward advanced guitar players, but intermediate guitarists might have fun with this as well.

There are numerous alternate tunings that are being used today. The crazy thing that happens when you use an alternate tuning is that all of the chord shapes and scale patterns you’re used to go out the door. It’s almost like starting over.

As scary as this might sound, it can also be incredibly exciting. I recommend finding a song you like that uses an alternate tuning instead of trying to create something from scratch on your own.

10. Visit a Guitar Store

This seems like a no-brainer but it really is an effective means of killing any boredom you might be experiencing. Not only does a guitar store provide you with other guitarists to jam with, it’s also great fun to mess around with guitars that are way out of your own budget.

That song I had been practicing for the past month? For some reason when I play it on that $3,000 all-Koa wood Taylor guitar it Just. Sounds. Better.

About the Author:
Josh Summers has been playing guitar for over 25 years and currently runs the site GuitarAdventures.com. You can also connect with him on Google+ and Facebook.

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