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Top 5 ways to get past feeling stagnant

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

Adam, a self taught and experienced drummer, was feeling stagnant with his playing and contacted Greater Toronto Music School . Once in a while he would try to learn a new song or search YouTube for a new fill idea, but more often than not, when he would sit down behind his kit found himself playing the same things that he already knew well. Although he still loved playing the drums, he started to feel as though he was stuck in a rut, his playing was stagnating and he just wasn’t seeing any progression. Adam noticed that one of his favourite drummers was touring through Toronto and he decided to send an email, inquiring if it might be possible to arrange a private lesson. Luckily, there was time the afternoon following the show and Adam was able to learn a lot and gain some much needed inspiration. He enjoyed his class so much that he considered what he might need is regular lessons, so he contacted us. If you're feeling stagnant on your instrument, know that this is a normal part of the process. Here are Adam's top 5 tips to get past this.

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Try online music lessons or music lessons in Toronto

Mastering your craft takes patience, dedication and a lot of time. It is important to note that it is completely normal to feel stagnation at times on your musical journey and even though it can feel frustrating and discouraging, remember that all the best musicians have felt and still continue to feel this way at times. Try to use this as motivation to keep pushing and get to the next level. For Adam, beginning lessons helped him carve out a path and stay focused. Through the online music lessons, Adam gained valuable insight and was shown new exercises, given practical and attainable goals and developed a run, rewarding and effective practice routine. His instructor helped him to understand the difference between playing and practicing. When you practice, your focus should be on material that you still have not mastered. If you are sounding great during your practice time, you might want to work on something else! Playing time is still a valuable and fun part of being a musician and we encourage you to play the material that you have practiced with other musicians, along to your favourite recordings or just by yourself. Once the pandemic has ended, you can sign up for our band program if you would like to meet likeminded musicians looking to play together.

Neil Peart, from legendary Canadian rock band, Rush, is widely renown as one of the greatest rock drummers of all time. He was feeling like his playing had become stagnant and had this to say, “I was frustrated with my musical improvement and I said I wasn't willing to sit in the basement for hours every day to develop a faster paradiddle. And that remains true. but at the same time to sit in the basement every day and explore a whole new time sense and a whole new approach to rhythm is much more value-packed for me.” That’s why he started taking lessons with Freddie Gruber. Even the most successful musicians find benefits in taking lessons, Peart was able to find new ways of thinking about his approach to drumming through taking lessons.

Take a break

The next tip is to step away from your instrument and take a little break. This might sound counterintuitive, but clearing your head and finding new inspiration can get you out of that rut. In fact, between 1975 and 1980, Miles Davis barely even touched his trumpet. When he started hearing new sounds coming from bands like Sly and the Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix, he felt inspired to get back into composing music again and picked his trumpet back up.

Although it worked for Davis, a five year break is a bit extreme. For most people, a break can be as short as a few minutes. If you are struggling with a difficult part, taking a walk around the block or a minute to grab a glass of water can be just what you needed. This short break can provide you with the inspiration you were lacking and coming back to your instrument after taking a minute to relax and clear your head will help your progress.

Try a new instrument

In acclaimed jazz pianist and author Kenny Werner’s book Effortless Mastery, which discusses effective practicing for musicians, he writes, “Have you ever played an instrument other than your own, whether it be a

saxophonist playing piano, or a pianist playing drums? Didn’t you have a ball

doing it? Playing the drums and thinking to yourself, ”Yeah man, I’m cooking!”

Bashing the cymbal, you feel like Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, and Max Roach

combined. You’re having a great time, and you sound terrible! You were able to

let go and feel benevolence towards your playing because you don’t call yourself

a drummer! ’You are free to have a good time.”

Just learning a new instrument for fun can be a good way to give you a new perspective on music. It will also provide you with a fun and fulfilling experience and a productive way to spend your free time. A drummer learning to play bass might get new ideas on ways to approach rhythm. A guitar player trying the piano might find new ways of thinking about how to arrange chords. A saxophone player might even try going from a tenor sax to an alto sax as a way of exploring different timbres with the instrument. As Kenny Werner discusses, many musicians allow their level of proficiency on 'their' instrument to dictate their sense of self worth. This is a terrible practice and when you are able to detach your value from your level of proficiency on your instrument, you open yourself up to having more fun and not taking everything you do as seriously. If you’re thinking about trying a new instrument, Greater Toronto Music School offers music lessons in Toronto and online music lessons for students of all ages and skill levels.

Try a new genre

Staying focused on the same type of music for too long can create tunnel vision. You might be a jazz musician and focused only on learning to swing and transcribing solos or maybe you’re a classical musician focused on your Royal Conservatory of Music curriculum. While we encourage people to follow their passion, well rounded musicians are often quite versatile and find inspiration in all styles of music. Try learning a new genre and you will find new and interesting vocabulary and compositional techniques that you can borrow to help you create your own unique voice. If you’re a rock guitarist, you can try unplugging for a bit and trying to work on new voicings while playing acoustic or if you’re a bass player, try learning some funk and improving your slapping skills.

Different genres often employ different techniques. Learning a new genre can open you up to new ways of approaching your instrument and you will find yourself incorporating those elements into the genre that you like to play the most. Exposure to other styles of music, even simply as a listener, can help fuel your creative output and will likely lead to you finding new favourites and expanding your musical horizons.

Join a jam session or band

Playing with other musicians can help spark that creativity that you feel has been missing from your playing. Working together to write a song or to just hang and improvise, might give you the inspiration you need to get back into a good practice routine. Although in these times, it is difficult to have a typical jam session, there are tools that you can use to have virtual jam sessions.

Finding other musicians to share in your creativity can help it grow. If you aren’t able to get together in person, getting on Zoom and just talking about music, the things everybody is working on, or some new bands that people are listening to can help break that rut.

Falling into a rut is something that happens to everybody. The important thing is that you do not get discouraged and work to stay inspired and find your way out of it. We hope that these tips will help you if you’re feeling like your playing is getting stagnant. They certainly worked for Adam! When you are looking for your way forward, you can contact the Greater Toronto Music School to book your online music lessons or music lessons in Toronto.

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