It’s happened. You’ve hit the wall, got stuck in a rut, going nowhere fast, up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Don’t worry – we’ve all been there, and we know how bad it stinks.

Today we’ll look at why we lose momentum with our guitar-playing progress and show you the best ways to paddle your way out of that creek. 🚣

Why am I not getting better at guitar?

There are loads of ways we can get boxed in as guitarists. Here are three potential reasons you’re not seeing progress in your playing.

#1 – Lack of inspiration

Practicing guitar should bring you joy. If you often feel reluctant to pick up and play then you may need a boost of inspiration!

Here are a few ways to bring the good vibes back to practice time.

  1. Listen to new music – Ask your friends, or other guitarists online/in your community.
  2. Experiment with new sounds and tones. It doesn’t need to be as dramatic as buying a new guitar – Something as simple as toying around with amp/pedal settings can get the creative juices flowing.
  3. Learn to play something in a totally different style – Sticking to one genre (no matter how much you love it) can leave you feeling a little bored.

#2 – Ineffective approach

No matter how inspired you are, you need to consistently approach a practice session with a growth mindset

  • Progress comes from a willingness to challenge yourself every time you grab the guitar and not being afraid of failing.
  • Just keep in mind that with hard work, what feels impossible now will soon be a walk in the park.
  • Another vital part of an effective approach is knowing what to practice before each session (more on this in a moment).

#3 – Lack of intent

If you had to travel somewhere, would you set off without fuel or a route planned?

Fill up your tank

It’s not only the time you spend playing guitar that’s important. You need to intentionally shape your lifestyle to help get the most from your practice time, make sure you

  • Get enough sleep 
  • Eat well
  • Stay hydrated 

They may be simple things, but they’re crucial for absorbing and retaining new information – give yourself the right fuel and you’ll go further.

Where’s your map?

There are a million places you can go, but you need to head in the right direction to reach your desired destination.

  • Without a good route, you’ll miss those important musical landmarks along the way.
  • Having a clear start and end point for each practice session makes your journey more intentional.
  • Learning Pathways remove the guesswork and guide you step-by-step through the learning process.

We’ve got some great tips to fix all these issues later in the article, so stick around.

Talent vs. work

Often people ask how important is natural ability when it comes to playing guitar – when we get stuck in a rut it can sometimes feel as though we just don’t have “it”. 

When you go online and see guitarists doing mindblowing stuff and think that’s just pure talent. Well, from our experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

  • There is no substitute for hard work.
  • Many of the best musicians out weren’t simply born to be great at guitar, their dedication to consistent practice made them great.

The greatest guitarists are the ones that become totally obsessed with the instrument and spend all their free time either playing or thinking about playing. 

So, no more using the “lack of talent” thing as an excuse!

How to get out of a guitar playing rut?

There’s a great book called Atomic Habits that lays out a set of rules to help build effective habits. This approach can be applied to anything and works perfectly for guitar practice.

Cue – Showing up is half the battle

  • Set up your space to inspire you to play.
  • Stack/attach the habit with something you already do.
  • Set time aside so you won’t be interrupted.

Fun – Make it something you crave

  • Make sure your gear is set up to play and sound its best.
  • Share your music and progress with others – non-musicians love hearing you!
  • Join a community, where positive practice and music are the norm – our community here at Pickup has a great vibe, or you could find a practice partner near you.

Focus – Follow a system

  • Don’t just jump between random YouTube videos.
  • Pick a Learning Pathway and stick with it.
  • Perfection is the enemy of good. Don’t be too hard on yourself – your aim is to improve steadily.

Reward – Enjoy your achievements

  • Celebrate every win!
  • It can be easy to always focus on what’s next, but take the time to give yourself a pat on the back.
  • Keep track of your progress – it feels great to see how far you’ve come.

Practice tips for guitarists

Pomodoro 🍅

Setting time limits and taking regular breaks helps with focus and reduces fatigue over long practice sessions.

There are apps you can use, but all your really need is a timer. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Set your timer for 25 minutes, which represents one "pomodoro" interval.
  2. Focus on a specific task during the 25-minute interval, and avoid distractions.
  3. When the timer goes off, take a short 5-minute break – stand up, stretch, and move around a little.
  4. After completing four consecutive pomodoros, take a longer break of 15-30 minutes.
  5. Repeat this cycle of focused practice and regular breaks throughout the day to enhance productivity and maintain mental clarity.

Intent 🎯

Intent is important for practicing guitar because it reduces that sense of uncertainty – tell yourself what you intend to achieve from your practice session, then go get it!

  • It improves efficiency by directing your energy towards specific goals.
  • Goal-setting becomes clearer and more effective with intent.
  • Practicing with intent promotes mindfulness, allowing for better identification and correction of mistakes.
  • It facilitates progress tracking and enables adjustments to the practice routine.

Routine ⏰

This ties into what we mentioned earlier and building those good habits. If you’re struggling to add something new to your routine, try ‘stacking’ it with something you already do every day, for example:

  • You (hopefully) brush your teeth around the same time every morning, right?
  • Connect a new habit to that preexisting one.
  • If you want to do 10 minutes of finger stretches or running through scales, do it straight after you brush your teeth.

Connecting habits in this way makes it far more likely that you’ll keep them going long-term.

Feedback 📝

Without seeking feedback or guidance from experienced players, progress can suffer. Regular feedback is vital for guitar players and will

  • Help identify weaknesses
  • Provide constructive criticism
  • Highlight pathways for improvement

Poor technique and bad habits often stem from a lack of guidance from more experienced guitarists.

Don’t worry! If you don’t take one-on-one guitar lessons there is still a way to get personalized feedback. At Pickup Music, every member can get personalized video feedback on their playing from professional guitarists.

Guitar goals for each skill level

Different playing abilities require different goals, here is a rough overview of what you should be aiming for at each level.

Beginner – Small steps = big wins

At this level, each new chord shape you master is a massive achievement. Getting to grips with the fundamentals should be challenging but also very rewarding.

Don’t run before you can walk, the quality of everything you play will rely on a solid foundation.

  • Finger strength
  • Open chords
  • Simple scales
  • Fun songs

Intermediate – Map out your fretboard

The CAGED system should be one of your main focuses – it's the fastest way to unlock the secrets of the fretboard.

  • Learn how to solo in any key and style
  • See the connection between chord shapes and their related scale patterns.
  • Gain a new sense of fretboard freedom

Regardless of what style you want to play, learning the CAGED system will be hugely beneficial. It's our #1 recommendation for intermediate guitarists.

Advanced – Self-analyze

At this level, you should be aware of where you need to go next. The journey as a musician becomes more personal at this point and so you should be choosing which direction to take yourself and developing bespoke plans to reach your specific goals.

Record your playing

  • This is going to help you analyze tiny details in your technique that need adjustment.
  • You should also consider sharing your recordings online to either develop a following or just teach others – teaching will also help you gain a deeper understanding of the material
  • Track your improvements over time – progress becomes less obvious at this high level, so being able to look back is a good way to see if you’re still growing as a guitarist.

Don’t give up!

We all have times when we feel like we’re not getting anywhere fast, but the worst thing you can do is accept defeat.

Getting stuck in a rut can often help springboard us into an entirely new approach to practicing/playing.

Turn a negative situation into a positive one and embrace the struggle. You’ll come out of the other side a stronger and more determined guitarist! 💪🎸

Author: Richard Spooner