7 Secrets to Break Out of Your Guitar Rut

It's easy to fall into a guitar rut.

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in a guitar rut? Your practice sessions might be few and far between. Your songs might not be as fun to play as they used to be. You might feel like you haven’t improved in a while. Worst case scenario: you’re even thinking about quitting guitar altogether.

Never fear! You may be in a rut now, but you won’t be in one forever. Every guitarist goes through these challenging periods. The key thing is to persevere, knowing that your guitar life can change for the better.

I’ve been playing for a little over four years, and I’ve had my share of low moments with the guitar. As a matter of fact, I almost gave up completely once or twice. So, you can trust me when I say that if you’re struggling out there, I can totally relate. You don’t have it easy, but you’re not alone.

Take these secrets to heart, and I bet you’ll break out of your rut in no time!

1) Slow Down, You Crazy Child

1) Slow Down, You Crazy Child

OK, you’re probably not a child. And you’re not crazy. But that doesn’t mean slowing down isn’t the best thing for you.

Here’s one thing that’s probably keeping you in a guitar rut: your default playing speed is too fast. I can make this prediction with a lot of confidence because, frankly, most guitarists play too fast, especially beginner to intermediate players.

Sure, playing fast can look flashy for an audience. However, effective practice should be slow and accurate, never faster than the speed of total comfort.

You should try thinking of practice as “slow-motion” playing. Focus on the sound of every note you play, and make sure both of your hands are working efficiently. Once you master the movements of a song or riff in slow motion, you’ll naturally speed up in time. Eventually, you’ll be playing fast and accurately, rather than fast and out of control.

Here’s a golden rule for you: if your guitar playing ever feels difficult, slow down. Never force speed. Trust that it will come in time.

I’m well aware that we live in the age of Youtube and TikTok, where all you see are short clips of random guitarists shredding like rock gods.

Remember that the internet creates this illusion: all of these guitarists, faced with a difficult piece they’ve never practiced, would have to take it really slow at first, which wouldn’t make for much of a 15-second video.

Be patient! For guitar, the slowest road is the shortest road. And if indeed you’re not a child, your maturity should help you find the discipline to practice effectively. For more info on slow practice, check out this post.

2) Devote Yourself to Music You Love, No Matter What

2) Devote Yourself to Music You Love, No Matter What

My favorite steel-string guitarist is Sungha Jung, who I discovered a couple years ago. I was completely blown away by his fingerstyle cover of “Let It Go” from Frozen. Watching his playing completely reinvigorated my own relationship with the guitar. Suddenly, I realized what was possible. Sungha Jung was a bright light in the darkness.

Any guitarist reading this probably has their own idea of what they’d like to play, or whose sound they’d like to emulate. The big mistake a lot of players make is to set their sights too low. If in your wildest dreams you’d like to play “Eruption” like Van Halen, then don’t compromise until you get there (hint: learn to play it very slowly, then gradually speed it up).

Children often improve quickly because they allow themselves to have crazy aspirations, and they actually pursue them. Adults, on the other hand, already burdened by life’s harsh realities, tend to give up before they even try. Your inner child can be a great resource for your guitar playing, so be sure to listen to that part of yourself.

In short, don’t ever settle when it comes to music. Setting your bar too low may well be the cause of your guitar rut.

3) Change Your Practice Time

Try practicing earlier in the day to break out of a guitar rut

If you feel like you’re in a rut, then it’s time to mix things up.

Suppose you normally practice 3 times a week, and always from 8-9 in the evening. I would experiment in a few ways here. You can adopt different practice times, such as squeezing in a morning session before the workday, or you can practice on different days.

If you seldom play on Sunday afternoons, see if you can’t fit in a little session on that day. Or if you only play on the weekends, see if you can’t make a few weekdays work.

I would also experiment with the duration of your sessions. I highly recommend shortening your sessions. Many guitarists shoot for an hour at a time, but honestly, not many of us can stay focused for that long.

I would try going down to 30 minutes or less. You might have heard some elite guitarists say they practice 4-6 hours a day, but they’re usually breaking that up across many shorter sessions.

Personally, I rarely practice for more than 15 minutes at a time (more on my practice habits here). You’ll find that short sessions tend to have an intensity that longer sessions lack; you won’t get bored, and you won’t slack off.

4) Learn a New Style of Guitar

learning a new guitar style could break you out of a guitar rut

I know that learning a new style can seem like a lot of work. But if you’re really struggling with your current material, then starting over could be just the ticket.

If you’re a fingerstyle player who never uses a pick, then maybe you should use one for a week and work on your strumming. On the other hand, if you’ve been playing with a pick for years and can’t play fingerstyle, then maybe it’s time you learn. There’s never harm in broadening your knowledge of the guitar.

Although challenging yourself when you already feel vulnerable may seem counterintuitive, I’ve found that it’s just what you need to feel strong again. When you tackle a new technique, every little bit of progress will feel like a big leap. After all, you can go from having zero experience with fingerstyle to learning the ropes in just a few days!

If you’re a dedicated jazz guitarist, then maybe it’s time to explore some classical, and vice versa. If you’ve never improvised, then maybe it’s time to start!

All told, getting out of your comfort zone is exactly what you need right now. Plus, there are so many awesome styles of music, who doesn’t want to branch out sometimes? Nothing crushes a guitar rut like learning something new!

5) Take a Listening Day

listening to music can cure a guitar rut

It may be time to lock the guitar away for a day. I don’t usually advocate this, but if you’re truly in a bad place with your playing, then you’re in a desperate time. Why not take a desperate measure?

Your goal for the day is pretty simple. You’re going to listen to music you love all day, as often as possible. Ideally, your listening day falls on a weekend, and you really do take the time to listen to all of your favorite music.

Listen especially to music featuring the guitar, reminding yourself of why you play in the first place.

Although this may seem like a day off, it might just be the “on” day you really need. After all, what is a guitar rut but a mental block that’s keeping you from making progress?

At its best, listening to music can be just the sort of purifying experience you need to reshape your perspective.

Also remember that listening is a legitimate form of guitar practice. The better you can hear a piece played in your head, the sooner you’ll be able to reproduce it on the guitar.

6) Clean Up Your Act

6) Clean Up Your Act

Although we don’t always realize it, our entire lives are connected. This means that guitar practice doesn’t simply start when you pick up the guitar and end when you put it down.

Rather, you’re always practicing, and the quality of that practice corresponds to the quality of your life as a whole.

If your love life is a mess, you’re going to bring that energy to the guitar. Or suppose you can’t stop yourself from drinking in the evenings—you either won’t be able to play guitar at night, or you won’t be practicing soberly and effectively.

Basically, regardless of the nature of your personal problems, they will certainly leave some kind of stamp on your playing, including keeping you in a guitar rut.

One of my problems is that I can be a slob if I’m not careful. Yet, I personally find that a clean house really improves my mindset and fosters a positive attitude. When I’m practicing in a clean space, everything about my playing feels cleaner as well, and the imperfections tend to stand out.

Of course, I’m not saying that you literally need to clean your home every day to be a guitarist. However, I think you’ll find that if you solve various other problems in your life, the difference will be reflected in your playing.

7) Play With Someone Else

making music with others can cure a guitar rut

Many guitarists play alone most of the time, rarely enjoying the social dimension of music making. Yet there’s almost nothing more fun than jamming with a friend, and in fact, this experience may be just what you need to break out of your rut.

You may only be a beginner, but if you can so much as strum a few chords, you can definitely find another musician to jam with. Most of us aren’t so lucky as to be living with another musician, but if you are, take full advantage! The key is to choose music that’s easy even for the lower-level player, and then build from there.

If you’re having trouble finding a playing partner, don’t be afraid to head to a local music store and ask around. Chances are, they’ll know of someone else at your level who’s looking for the same thing.

And as a last resort, you can even play along with recorded music that you like. Try accompanying James Taylor, or strum along to a popular Taylor Swift song.

Less common is the opposite problem: someone who mostly practices with other players and isn’t taking enough time for themselves. If that’s you, I suggest you start setting aside time every day to practice alone, even if it’s only 15 minutes.

If you’re always collaborating, then you might not get a chance to further develop your technique and explore new terrain on your own. There are definitely many different kinds of guitar ruts, so be sure to tailor your solution to your specific issues.


No one becomes a good guitar player without facing down some adversity. You might feel as though things won’t turn around, but if you put in the effort and keep the faith, I promise they will. Stick with it, and your sure to break out of your guitar rut before long.

All of these secrets have helped me in the past, so I really hope you’ll find them useful as well.

One bonus tip: I don’t always recommend this, but sometimes it can help players to buy a new guitar book or some accessories in order to feel rejuvenated. If you’d like to see all of my favorite products, head to my recommendations page!

If you can only take one of these secrets to heart, let it be #1, hands down. Play slowly! I can’t say it enough. Not only will your practicing be more enjoyable, but you’ll find that the slower you go, the faster you’ll improve.

Best of luck breaking out of your guitar rut!

Are you looking to upgrade your gear or browse some awesome guitar learning materials? Check out my recommendations page to see all my favorite stuff. 

Want to streamline your fingerstyle guitar progress? I just released my new ebook, Fingerstyle Fitness, which presents 10 easy exercises to quickly develop your fingerstyle chops. Grab it today!