What to do when you've reached a plateau?

Discussion in 'General Music Discussion' started by dbrozz, Apr 6, 2021.

  1. dbrozz

    dbrozz SS.org Regular

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    Looking for some advice!

    I'm feelin' like I'm plateauing and not quite sure what to target to get back on track..

    Essentially my dilemma is two-fold. I'm in dire need of a practice routine, but I'm not entirely sure on what to target and how to reach my goals. I've been thinking of jumping off the deep end into jazz to really understand chords and the fretboard. I am not oblivious - my knowledge level is decent - but I definitely have relied more on my ear than getting to really understand the fretboard over the years.

    Beyond that, I feel like I'm coming up short of writing what/how I really want to write. I'm a metal, progressive rock, 60s/70s laurel canyon folk-rock guy but I love jazz fusion as well and I feel like there's a substantial gap in levels of harmonic and rhythmic complexity on average between those things. Songwriting and composing is my main focus so I want to find ways to practice bridging that gap. In my mind I guess it's a blend of progressive rock/metal, jazz, folk and cinematic music that I want to bring together.

    Some examples of the music I have in mind:











    Anyway, it's tough to put into words. I want to get from A to B and am not sure how to approach it.

    I guess I want to know what you guys think are the most important musical tools to develop in order to write music like this and how to formulate a practice routine around those things with a primary focus on songwriting/composition.

    Hope to hear your input! (and some recommendations from teachers too.)
     
  2. Hollowway

    Hollowway Extended Ranger

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    I don’t have super specific info for you, other than to say:

    1) when you’re learning, it’s sometimes important to take time away, so your brain has a opportunity to solidify what you’ve learned. A day or two away from an instrument sometimes does more good than practicing for a couple of days.
    2) a longer time away (more than a couple of days) helps not the technique part, but the creative part. The more of a rut I’m in, the longer I take off. A couple of weeks without playing, and when I come back I’m a creative machine.

    Neither of these suggestions help for writing a specific sort of genre. I think that comes from just learning a crap load of those songs, and playing them a lot, until it becomes ingrained.
     
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  3. Robstonin

    Robstonin SS.org Regular

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    Transcribing.
     
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  4. RevDrucifer

    RevDrucifer SS.org Regular

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    Pick up a different instrument.
     
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  5. feilong29

    feilong29 SS.org Regular

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    I'll echo Hollowway with the "taking time off" part. It is easy to become burnt out and overwhelmed and sometimes, your brain and fingers need time to heal and digest. Particularly when it comes to branching out to a new genre, just dive in! Find something you dig, learn it, study how and why things work and you'll add that knowledge and technique to your repertoire. I dived into thumb-thumping and it was really frustrating, but I got it down and I was able to produce some newly inspired tunes for a while. I'm a metal-head at heart, but I like lo-fi/prog-hop stuff, so I will dabble in that and when I'm bored, I can then incorporate techniques from those genres into my metal playing and things just have a different flavor due to that.

    Robstonin mentioned transcribing: I do that a lot and I think it also helps get the creative juices flowing. One challenge I took upon myself was a to transcribe a non-guitar driven song and create a fingerstyle, acoustic version. It was challenging but fulfilling. I never understood how people managed to created fingerstyle songs that incorporate the lead melody/vocal lines within a chord, but I figured it out and made sure that it was not only coherent, but feasible/logical to play.
     
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  6. budda

    budda Do not criticize as this Contributor

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    Do something else for fun for a bit. Then, find a teacher who works with your learning style and understands your goals - this will probably take a bit.
     
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  7. Demiurge

    Demiurge Intrepid Jackass

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    I have to agree with others, it seems that 'contrasting' activities always seem to help more with creativity than immersion. Perhaps working with other instruments or transcription help see the music as something more than the vessel that we fill with guitars. In making music, we're always looking for something memorable and that holds interest, and I think the only true test of that is to spend time away to find what ideas stay in your head when you're not playing.
     
  8. dbrozz

    dbrozz SS.org Regular

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    Thanks everyone for the responses so far!

    Yeah, I am going to guess that a lot of musicians feel crazy guilty when taking too long away from their art and instrument.. but on the flip side, it's about having fun, being creative and making music, and if that's not happening then I think you're right about taking a break.

    I needed this reminder. I was doing this, and then I stopped.
    Just curious, would you consider mapping out an existing song completely in a DAW equivalent to the traditional pen, paper and staff transcription method?

    Good idea :agreed:

    Thanks for the insight! Transposing parts of one instrument onto another is a great way to get in the groove, I agree. I'll see what I can do.

    I've been thinking of this lately. Might have to look around.

    Interestingly put: "help see the music as something more than the vessel that we fill with guitars".
    Often times it can feel like way too much focus is being put on guitar rather than the music as a whole.
    Got to try and not lose sight of that fact!
     
  9. Robstonin

    Robstonin SS.org Regular

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    What's great about transcribing on staff or even with software like Guitar Pro for that matter is you get to visualise notes and time in a standardised manner. Obviously you can visualise time and notes in your DAW but using standard notation sort of reinforces what you learn in a very academic way, which works for me. It's also a good idea to transcribe with a (virtual) keyboard as opposed to a guitar in order to think in terms of notes and not just fretboard areas.

    Oh, another piece of advice for overcoming a plateau: get yourself a bass and learn to play other genres of music than metal - I assume this is what you play primarily. Guitar will always be my favourite instrument but the bass is the one I find enjoyable to play regardless of the genre and regardless of my inability to play anything fast on it :)
     
  10. nightlight

    nightlight SS.org Regular

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    Another vote for a teacher for maybe a month or two of classes. Find a guy who knows exactly where you want to go and gives you the building blocks on how to do that. For me, that was a guy who taught me a few things about constructing chords and how that could be applied to triads and how to make inversions of those chords and things.

    I then decided to take a break to internalise all of that. Spend a lot of time making notes and mapping out how chords are formed and it actually gives you some interesting ideas on how two notes will sound together and what a third note added to it will give a different sound to the chord.

    I also subscribed to TrueFire guitar lessons. It's kind of interesting, tonnes of videos by expert instructors on how to play jazz and sweep pick and things. I actually found this very difficult to grasp when I first started out, because I didn't understand how the chords were constructued. That's why I'd suggest going to a teacher first.

    Probably when I have used what the teacher showed me and then gone beyond that, I'll go back to him for more lessons. They aren't cheap, that's for sure.
     
  11. BMFan30

    BMFan30 SS.org Regular

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    I hate to say the thing you probably don't want to hear but you need to take a break to enjoy life around you. I'm better at preaching it than following it at times.

    A good break does wonders however, you will come back more refreshed somehow. That's a promise. Nothing is worse than sitting a studio for hours while being unproductive.

    Taking a beer + my guitar outside has helped me lots, so I'm not worried about recording but jamming and having fun like when I was a teen. Taking the paperwork out of having fun with music always takes the load off for me.
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2021
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