How Ruts Form
Ruts form when you over-emphasize certain skill sets while neglecting others. It’s like a weightlifter working only his chest and not his arms. He looks funny with giant pecs and tiny arms, and doubtless you feel a little out-of-balance yourself if you can recite all the major scales forward and backward but can’t play a single song in totality (or vice versa).
In the past, I didn’t always handle ruts very well. Alright, alright, I’d totally freak out. By now, though, I’ve weathered dozens of plateaus, and I’ve learned that there’s always a way through. And freaking out doesn’t help.
In the past, if something in the house was distracting me from guitar studies—say, a video game or something—I’d allow myself to get more and more irritated with my lack of productivity and finally let the irritation motivate me to uninstall the game. When I moved into my current home, I left my television behind. After a short withdrawal period, I rarely miss any shallow, ephemeral “entertainments.”
Sabotaging Musical Habits
You can use a similar tactic to try new musical things. Most recently, I started getting impatient with my usual busy fingerpicking routines, so I cut off all the fingernails on my picking hand, forcing myself to use a plectrum for the first time in maybe two years. I was also hoping that it would motivate me to practice more piano, as the nails had always gotten in the way—but I guess I haven’t quite managed to do it all this week. 😉
This all applies to lyric writing, too! If you always write love lyrics, go on a love lyric fast: no songs about relationships for ten days. If you always write songs that are gloomy, write something carefree and summery-sounding.
And as always: listen to lots and lots of new music, listen outside your usual comfort zones, learn everything you can about music, your chosen instrument, songwriting, and writing in general.
- 33 Ways to Make More Time in Your Life for Music-Making
- Book Review: Popular Lyric Writing
- How to Finish Writing the Songs You’ve Already Started
Nicholas Tozier is an independent singer, songwriter, private music instructor, blogger, and recording artist centered in Gardiner, Maine. His first album, A Game with Shifting Mirrors, is slated for self-release in Fall 2010.