I haven't hit a musical rut for a few months now
And I don't intend on hitting one ever again
I’ve observed at least two approaches to learning guitar:
Structured and organized
Exploratory and whimsical
One isn’t better than the other, but being able to balance both is probably ideal for having a good guitar playing experience.
To illustrate, let’s first talk about Structured and Organized Thomas.
He undergoes slow and deliberate practice to master techniques. He learns the right way from the beginning. He doesn’t give a chance for bad technique to emerge. He follows a program set out by a teacher or instructor and does what they say, in the order they say, for how long they say. He likes the control he feels while practicing guitar and understanding the theory behind it. He doesn’t want to waste time with practice so the thought of freely exploring the instrument without a goal seems pointless. He’s getting good at the skill of guitar playing, but feels like he isn’t doing that much music making.
Now, in contrast, let’s talk about Exploratory and Whimsical Jane.
She spends a lot of time freely associating musical ideas while improvising. She doesn’t really have a plan to improve or progress. She just follows her nose based on what’s interesting today. As a result, she can play a few complete musical pieces, but mostly prefers noodling around. She doesn’t know or care about theory. She’s not anti-theory, but she just doesn’t care about that kind of thing when she can just use her ears to do what sounds good to her. She’s getting increasingly bored with her free improvisations and doesn’t pick up the guitar as much lately.
Thomas could take some advice from Jane, and vice versa.
To use language from the literature on psychology, Thomas is probably high in conscientiousness (self-discipline, acting dutifully) and low in openness (intellectually curious, open to emotion). Jane is probably the opposite: low in conscientiousness and high in openness.
It can be hard to fight against your own nature, but knowing where you fall on this spectrum and being able to find a balance goes a long way toward a successful guitar playing experience.
Luckily, I’ve managed to strike a balance and stay out of musical ruts for the last little while.
Just until recently, actually, I lived pretty much perpetually in musical ruts.
It always happened the same way: I got excited about something new, learned it, played it all the time, got bored of it, then rarely touched it again. Then I found myself at the bottom of another rut. After a period of time (sometimes short, but sometimes long) I’d find another thing to get excited about and repeat the cycle. But for all this time and learning, I had very little to show for it.
It’s funny how I never learned.
The last time I got out of a rut was because I came up with a fun arrangement of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel. Just for fun, here’s a shitty version:
I was on the verge of going through the cycle again: I got excited about it and played it all the time. However, even though I don’t bust it out as much as I used to, I haven’t descended into a musical rut since.
I figured out a way to have a constant stack of projects to work on that keeps me at the top of the cycle - I’m always excited about something new, learning it, and playing it all the time. But now I don’t get bored of it and lose direction. Instead, I keep a record of it to referenced at a later date, then start a new project that is within my zone of proximal development, interesting, and keeps moving me toward my specific musical goals.
I am planning on showing this process - how I collect project ideas and organize them so I always have something fresh, interesting, and personalized to draw on - in a live session in January.
Some people have expressed interest and I’m excited to present it.