by Jamey Mann
Often students and professionals find themselves at a plateau that can be difficult to work out of. Just like athletes need to change up their workouts to make gains in sports, musicians need to get out of comfort zones to make gains musically. At a certain point everyone’s routine begins to get stale which in turn, is mentally exhausting. Doing the same technical studies or repertoire starts to have diminishing returns as your body and mind get use to what you play daily.
The following are few tips to help break out of your comfort zone.
- Variations on scale practice– Scales practice is an essential part of every musician’s routine. However, many get stuck in a pattern of using them for warm ups, or simply practice them ascending and descending without further variation. Students should learn different scales systems and practice them with varying articulations, dynamics, intervallic patterns, and tempos. Scales are used to aid in the development of numerous musical skills. Students should explore all the possible ways they can be used to advance their musical ability.
- Explore different styles of Music and Techniques– Often when some of my classical guitar students are hitting a wall in their speed development, we turn to flamenco guitar techniques (there is a difference in technique and instrument construction). Classical guitarist get a lot of practice using the flexors muscles of the hand but not much using the extensor muscles. Flamenco guitarist get a lot of practice using both muscle groups which is partially why they play with such speed.
You can apply new techniques to the music you already play as well. For example, after studying flamenco guitar I rarely use a guitar pick. Instead I use a variation of rasgueado strumming which gives me a better sound and more versatility when playing rock, folk, and other styles of pop music.
- Join a rock band or classical ensemble – This is advice I often give my classical students. It surprises me when I have an excellent classical student playing advanced music but will struggle to read a basic rock chart. These students generally spend so much time reading notes written for them that they have a hard time recalling basic chord progression and scales when they are not written out.
On the other side many rock students may know dozens of scale and chord patterns but will not be able to read music well or struggle to find notes on their instrument. In both cases students will benefit from breaking out of their normal routine.
- Don’t avoid the hard stuff- Students at an intermediate level will start to flounder because that want to avoid the more difficult techniques. On guitar techniques such as barring, slurring, or shifting, are all difficult at first but make playing and learning better in the long run. Students that avoid these techniques don’t just hit a plateau but will tend to go backward. It is important that these students understand why these techniques are so important and how they will benefit their playing in the long run.
- Go after the hard stuff- While it is important that students are working on music that is appropriate for their level, I think that is a good idea to have them working on something that might be a little above their ability too. Students consistently working on music that is at their level or below will start to get bored. Letting them work out a few phrases from a piece they like or work on some hard rock riffs will help keep their interest. This also helps students realize the importance of mastering techniques they might be struggling with.
So remember, if you feel a little stuck or in a rut and want things to change musically for yourself, stop walking the same tired path, try something different and gain a new perspective!