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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

Rut Busters!

"I've been playing the same damn thing for years and I'm sick of it!"

This is one of the things I frequently hear as the primary reason from someone inquiring about guitar lessons.

I'm going to be writing some blogs I call, "Rut-Busters." They are little tricks and pieces of theory that will help knock you out of the rut you're in.

But first, I want to suggest that the rut you're in is a good thing. It's only a rut - to you!

About the time you get sick of playing the same lick or the same solo or the same scale over and over is about the time that you are doing it well. It takes a lot of repetition to do anything well.

So if you're sick of playing the same thing over and over, that's great! You can do it well. That thing you're sick of is now a good foundation to start building on. We won't have to worry about that. One less thing.

Consider: the thing you're sick of is not a rut to the person in the audience. They haven't heard it 10,000 times; you have. It's only a rut to you.

I have people tell me that they heard me play somewhere and it just confirmed to them how stuck-in-a-rut they were,

"That stuff you were playing was awesome, man! It was different and fresh! I want to learn how to do that!"

"Yeah, well," I say, "I'm just as stuck-in-a-rut as you are; maybe my rut is a little more complicated than yours, but it's still a rut. 99.9% of what I play I've played 10,000 times."

I'm thankful for the ruts I'm stuck in because that's what enables me to maintain a professional level of playing no matter how bad of a gig I'm having or how bad I feel. It's my default mode - and my default mode is at a high enough level that even when I'm having a bad day people still think my playing is worth spending money to hear. They don't know, because they haven't head that lick for the 10,000th time like I have.

Of course, no matter how good you are there will always be people who don't like what you do but that's a different subject for a different blog.

The trick is to nurture and accept your rut, your default mode, and use it as a jumping-off place for further progress and growth. When understood this way, that rut that you hate is actually a beautiful and necessary thing.

You need to change your mind and attitude about your rut.

In fact, growth and progress as a musician involves accumulating ruts. I have many ruts, and each rut is the result of massive repetition. I'm always working on a new rut.

Creativity involves, among other things, stacking and combining ruts in as many ways as you can think of - keeping in mind that each rut is only a rut to you. To your listeners it's something they might have never heard before.

So "Rut-Busters" is kind of a misnomer - but I'm going to use it anyway because it's catchy. We're not going to be busting ruts, we're going to add to them. We're going to morph those ruts into new ones. "Rut-Clusters" as it were ("Cluster-Ruts"? LOL!).

So here's the first lesson - it's psychological/philosophical;

Question: If it's all ruts, how do I keep it fresh? How do I stay interested?

Answer: In my experience, if you've got ruts established, you don't have to think about the physical aspects of your playing. Technique issues, fingerings, theory concerns (keys, appropriate scales, chord voicings etc) and things like that are second nature and only pop up on the periphery of consciousness unless there's some kind of train wreck going on onstage.

Precisely because I have my default mode established I can direct my attention to other things; interpretive issues, emotional content, spirituality. Consider:

  1. In many of my blogs I've discussed integrating meditation or prayer into playing and performances; see, Shakti: My India Connection.

  2. I've talked about how music can transcend what it's being used for (eg. selling drinks) and can have life-changing therapeutic value for the listener even in a most depraved environment. See, Staying Sane in the Music Business. Maintaining the awareness of this possibility while playing relegates the fact that you're "stuck-in-a-rut" to a pretty insignificant status.

  3. I've written about how I've integrated my hallucinogenic experiences from my past and my imagination into my perception of the music itself as I'm playing and how I make decisions about what and how I'm going to play something with all that in mind. See, See the Sound!

  4. Also, especially in an improvisational context, I focus on the other players and engage in a musical conversation, a give-and-take that sometimes will lead me into playing something new and fresh - to me! That's part of the .1% of my playing that's not a rut!

None of these activities are possible unless you are stuck-in-a-rut! You have to have a default mode in place in order to be able to focus on these more esoteric concerns - and it's the more esoteric concerns that compensate for being stuck-in-a-rut.

So...with the philosophy out of the way, I'm going to get down to some nuts-and-bolts in some future "Rut-Busters" blogs. These blogs will be based on the premise that the reader has enough guitar playing together to even have a rut.

The first one will be for those who are stuck in, and sick of, the Minor Pentatonic Scale. The rut we are going to bust is what I call, "Pentatonic Purgatory."

Stay tuned! Sign up if you haven't already so you won't miss it!


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