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How to Find Inspiration as an Advanced Guitar Player

Stuck in a rut? Here are three ways to find inspiration

 

by Monique Hernandez-Fuentes

 

One issue all guitarists struggle with at some point in their career is hitting a plateau—where you just can’t seem to make any headway on obtaining more inspiration to play something new, or write new songs. It’s an unfortunate hurdle that a lot of musicians have a hard time overcoming, and is one that I’ve faced myself. You may feel like you’ve learned every trick in the book, every technique by your favorite guitarist, and that your creative well has finally run dry. But you might be surprised at how easily some very simple changes can kickstart your inspiration to get you playing again.

 

Problem #1: I’ve Learned Everything

 

It’s easy to get into this mindset when you’ve been playing for ten years or more.  Let’s say you’re a metal guitarist and have studied all the greats from EVH to Malmsteen. Shredding might as well be your middle name and you spend so much time at home practicing, that even your girlfriend forgets what you look like. The big reality here is that you simply have not learned everything – in fact, you have only approached the tip of the iceberg! Take a look back into the history of who inspired your favorite guitarist; you may be surprised to find that it all goes back to blues and jazz. Even if you hate these genres, there’s no denying their impact on music and what you can learn from them.

 

So how do you learn more? If you’re a self-taught guitarist, find a teacher. You don’t need to start from scratch but you are looking for an advanced, experienced teacher who can show you new techniques. If you aren’t comfortable with the teachers in your area, try an online guitar lesson platform like guitartricks.com, which offers an online guitar coaching program. There are also books for advanced players, like Mickey Baker’s Complete Course in Jazz Guitar. The point is to learn new techniques that you haven’t learned before so that you have an even bigger arsenal of tricks when playing.

 

You can also draw inspiration from other forms of music. For example, there are many varieties of African pop music that use guitar in unique ways—YouTube and internet radio are great for finding music from around the world. Caribbean music is a blend of musical cultures, because it reflects populations that come from different cultures. Even EDM has something we can learn from in terms of arranging, dropping out parts, and building to climaxes. Listening to other forms of music doesn’t mean you have to play like that kind of music—but you’ll find little nuggets that you can adapt to your own musical style. In fact, one of the best ways to develop new ideas is to try and play other types of music, not be able to do it quite right, and get into “happy accident” territory.

 

Problem #2: I Don’t Need To Learn Music Theory / A New Instrument / How My Guitar Works

 

Well no, you don’t, but chances are you’ve probably already learned a little music theory in your many years of experience simply through learning different songs. Why not take it to the next level and learn a bit more? For example, when I was in college, I took an introductory music theory course that was taught on piano. It was in that class I realized how much I don’t understand about some of the choices I make when I’m soloing on the guitar. I also realized how awful I am at playing piano. But a lot of the basics of music theory I learned in that class have stayed with me to this day and continue to help me in my songwriting endeavors. It’s the same concept as “the best way to become a better bass player is to learn a bit about drumming.”

 

Another way to find inspiration as an advanced guitar player is to either pick up a new instrument or learn more about how your guitar works. In his work “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind,” the late Shunryu Suzuki once argued that the beginner’s mind is the best mindset to be in because you are consistently trying to learn and improve yourself. What better way to be excited about something than to try something new? Whether it’s learning how to play a new instrument or even trying your hand at building a parts guitar, putting yourself out there again can really breathe some new life into your creative mind.

 

And think about all the guitar songs that use alternate tunings, like Kashmir and Brown Sugar. Try some different tunings, like open tunings (especially with a slide!), and you’ll almost certainly be inspired to come up with something new and different.

 

Problem #3: I Only Play a Certain Brand of Gear

 

Maybe you have gone through your entire gigging career believing only in archtop guitars through tube amps, using only the finest of analog pedals. But have you seen all the crazy cool gear out there right now? There are so many boutique companies creating incredible products; experimenting with something new can only be beneficial. Even bigger companies are creating smaller, more technologically advanced products that might be able to strike a chord with you.

 

Be sure to follow the NAMM write-ups that come out in January and the gear round-ups that happen usually in November. You can even sign up for a subscription pedal company to try new stuff!

 

Think about it for a second: would rock be where it is today if someone didn’t get the bright idea of distorting the hell out of a signal? Or thought it might be cool to slide a bottle up and down guitar strings? Different gear can get you thinking “out of the box,” especially with some of the fantastic boutique pedals you can find these days that almost turn your guitar into a completely different-sounding instrument.

 

Maybe some of these things seem like no-brainers but by doing a combination of all three, you are sure to bring the passion back to your musical world, and get inspired to take that passion further!

 

 

____________________________________

 

 

Monique Hernandez-Fuentes is a musician and guitar technician based out of the San Francisco Bay Area.

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AJ6stringsting  |  November 12, 2017 at 7:10 pm
I have over 14 guitars with different pickups, string heights and I listen to many forms of music and different instruments. Classical Guitar and Blues always breaks me away from my confines that two handed tapping, speed picking, legato playing traps me in. Lately, I've hanging out with one of my former band mates from my Metal years in the 80's, who is exposing me to County guitar techniques that are great.
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