How to Make Progress on Guitar When You Feel Stuck in a Rut

By Jason Stallworth

March 20, 2022

You’ve learned some killer riffs and have even written some of your own. But lately, you’ve felt stuck.

It seems like you’re just playing the same riffs and progressions, over and over. And you just can’t seem to get beyond a certain point on guitar.

This happens to ALL guitarists at some point, and at all levels. Even professional musicians with catalogs of hits can find themselves in that rut from time to time.

In this post, I’m going to share some methods that you can start using right now to break past your plateau and get to that next level on guitar.

4 Reasons Why You’re Stuck on Guitar

First, it’s important to understand why you’re stuck. Knowing this will help give you the path you need to take to experience that breakthrough, which we’re going to dive deep into next.

Here are some reasons why you’re stuck in that rut with your guitar playing:

  1. You’ve accepted the level you’re at and are not pushing yourself
  2. You typically only play one style of music on guitar
  3. You’re only learning other people’s music and not writing your own
  4. You’re not playing live or in front of people.

Now it’s time to address these reasons head-on. And I’m going to give you some practical ways to get out of that rut and start playing (and writing!) new riffs.

How to Change Your Mindset and Push Yourself to Get Better on Guitar

Oftentimes we say we want to get better at something but we don’t take the proper action towards making that happen. The core of this problem is our mindset.

This comes down to self-belief (or rather lack of self-belief). We want to get better on guitar but the truth is that we don’t think it’s possible. We set our own limitations.

How many times have told yourself one or more of these…

  • I’m just a rhythm player; I’m not good at playing solos.
  • Complex music is not my style.
  • I’ll just stick to playing regular chords; that’s what most hit songs are anyway.
  • I don’t have time to practice.
  • I’ll start my guitar practice routine tomorrow.
  • I’d rather just play songs, I don’t need to pratice.
  • I just play guitar as a hobby.

Some of these may be true. For example, you may prefer to play classic rock and roll and may not have any interest in music like progressive rock or technical death metal, which requires more movement on the fretboard. That’s okay!

But I want you to take another look at those reasons. Which one (or more) applies to you? Because at the end of the day, these are only examples of excuses that we make for ourselves.

Don’t allow excuses to limit your potential.

The real problem is that we get settled into our comfort zone. You may voice the fact that you want to get better on guitar but you also need to understand that there’s a reason why you’re not taking steps to make that happen.

How do you break free from this?

There are two powerful things you need to do (and do them right now!)…

  1. Make a committment to yourself right now that being a gutiarists is in your blood and you are going to make progress. In fact, say this to yourself out loud: “I am a guitarist, it’s in my blood, and I’m going to make progress!”

    Now repeat that three times (because, you know, three is a magical number…lol. But seriously, do it!).
  2. Act without hesitation. This is huge. And it also separates achieving success from not moving forward in all things, not just playing guitar. Whenever you have an idea or feel that urge to do something, do it!

    Don’t overthink it because you’ll quickly talk yourself out of it or find a reason why it’s not worth the effort. Act immediately!

Take these two concepts to heart. And keep reading for some actionable steps that will help you take your guitar playing to the next level!

Expand – Don’t Pigeonhole Yourself Into Playing Just One Style of Music

Jason Stallworth playing and singing live on stage acoustic

Note: Most know me as a metal guitarist but here I am singing and playing acoustic, probably an 80s rock or pop song (I’m also playing a live show here, which we’re going to talk more about that later!).

I almost made this mistake when I first started playing guitar but there was one thing that inadvertently saved me. And I didn’t even realize it until later.

I’ll never forget hearing Metallica for the first time and soon after, picking up my first guitar in 1989. As I progressed, my mentality was:
‘If it doesn’t sound like Metallica or Scorpions or Guns n Roses, I’m not interested!’

Because of that mentality, I missed out on listening to a lot of the awesome 70s rock that I later got into. Back then, I didn’t like it because that music didn’t have the heavy distorted guitar tones that I loved so much with 80s rock and metal.

Now, inadvertently, I did learn other styles of music. I also played guitar in my church, which was old gospel hymns. This obviously wasn’t my favorite style and most of the songs were in non-guitar friendly keys, like B flat and E flat.

Playing that music forced me to expand my knowledge of the fretboard and shaped my style for years to come.

If you’re a metal guitar player, especially into a particular subgenre of metal, you may be tempted to only play that style. In the long run, this may hinder your progress and you may find yourself stuck on guitar more than once!

I’m not saying that you have to start playing with a church band. I’m also not saying that you must learn how to play or even like every genre. There are certain genres I don’t care for and won’t play. That’s okay. But chances are there’s a genre or two outside of what you normally play that you’d probably like if you gave it a chance.

What I am saying is that it’s crucial to your progress as a guitarist to expand beyond just playing one genre or subgenre of music. Don’t be one-dimensional.

And this limitation isn’t limited to metal guitar players. I’ve heard blue players say they just want to play blues and acoustic players say they just want to stick with the one style they’re comfortable with (remember we talked about that comfort zone earlier).

We all have our favorite genres but only playing one can put limitations on your progress as a guitarist.

My challenge to you is to push yourself and expand beyond that. You don’t have to play every style, but if you play hardcore metal, try learning some classic rock. If you play country on acoustic, try learning a few progressive rock riffs. And so on.

Spend Time Writing Your Own Riffs and Music (I’ll Show You How!)

Jason Stallworth metal guitar Ibanez

Another possible reason you may be stuck in your guitar playing is that you’re learning other people’s music but not writing your own. Where it’s good to learn other songs (I do it all the time because I play 80s covers in my live acoustic gigs), writing your own riffs will help expand your creativity because that’s what music is about – creativity. And this is one of the fastest ways to get out of that rut.

Now, you may be thinking “Jason, dude, I’ve learned a ton of songs…is that not good enough?”

Learning to play songs from your favorite bands and artists is great. In fact, that’s where most of us start and that’s where we get our inspiration. And, again, if part of your gig is playing covers live, it’s expected.

Yes, learning new riffs can indeed help. But at the end of the day, that’s someone else’s song. You didn’t write it. So you’re missing out on that next level of creativity when you’re not spending time writing your own music and guitar riffs.

Of course, I can’t just leave you with that! I’m going to show you an example of how to write your own riffs below:

  • Play a riff that you know really well
  • Play that same riff at a higher octave (this may be a challenge, especially if the original riff has a lot of open-stirng notes, but take on this challenge).
  • Play that same riff in a different key, somewhere else on the fretboard (this will present a similar challenge as above).
  • Now, go back to the original riff and add 3 more notes to that riff. It doesn’t matter what notes they are. Just put them in there somewhere.
  • Go back to the original riff again but this time simplify the riff by taking away 3 notes.

This exercise forces you out of your comfort zone on guitar. You’re going to be experimenting with different notes and playing throughout the fretboard.

As you dive deeper into this exercise, the riffs you come up with will no longer sound like the original riff you learned. Before you know it, you’ll be writing your own unique riffs.

Play Guitar in Front of People

Jason Stallworth playing live guitar solo

There is a tremendous difference between playing guitar in your bedroom or home studio and playing live, in front of people.

Now, you may not have the aspiration to play live music. Playing guitar may be your hobby or outlet. And that’s perfectly fine.

But if that’s you, I’m going to push you a little here. There’s an entirely different skillset that you learn when you play in front of others and it’s one that will quickly make you a better guitarist and help you make progress, faster.

Here are two things I recommend doing (soon, like right now!) if you’re new to playing guitar in front of people:

  1. Start by playing a couple of songs or riffs in front of a small group of friends
  2. Play at an open mic

Of course, this is once you get comfortable with a few songs (I recommend having at least three songs to play). And I strongly encourage you to have at least one original song. If you don’t, it’s time to start writing one.

Why is playing guitar live so great for getting better and more creative?

For starters, the pressure is on! And the cool thing about that is that you’re probably going to mess up more than once when you start!

Hang in here with me because this is a good thing! Your level of musicianship is going to increase leaps and bounds every time you play in front of people.

You’re going to learn to tame that pressure and use it as fuel to perform. Just make sure that you put in the time practicing so that you can get up there and be confident. That’s the root of confidence.

Of course, if you already play guitar live, you know exactly what I’m talking about. So keep doing it and playing those gigs!

Final Tip for Getting Out of that Rut on Guitar

I want to invite to you check out my metal guitar course, Metal Riff Master.

This is an online course that I created for this specific reason of helping you take your metal guitar skills to that next level. I designed it to help you boost your progress, creativity, and help you get unstuck.

It’s specific to playing heavy metal guitar. But even if heavy metal isn’t your favorite genre, I’m confident that you’ll still get a ton of value out of this course.

Click here to learn more about my guitar course.

I hope these tips help you have that breakthrough in your guitar playing!

Keep it Metal,


Jason Stallworth

About the author

Jason is a melodic metal solo artist, songwriter, acoustic performer, and co-founder of Metal Mastermind.

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