Do you find yourself playing the same chords, licks, and scales over and over? 

Do you feel stuck and worry that your playing isn’t getting any better?

Feeling stagnant in your guitar progress is frustrating. Luckily, there are tried-and-true methods you can use to get inspired and make fast progress on guitar.

In this article, we'll review common reasons guitarists hit playing plateaus and how you can overcome those barriers.

Here's what we'll cover:

  • You're missing structure and consistency 
  • You're not aware of your progress
  • You need to switch things up
  • You're lacking music theory knowledge
  • You're not taking care of your guitar
  • You're in the trap of learning everything

Above all, this article will answer the question: what do you do when you feel stuck on guitar?

Reason #1: You're missing structure and consistency

Playing guitar is fun, but if you’re serious about improving, you need to commit to regular, focused practice sessions.

Even if guitar is just a hobby, developing a disciplined practice routine is important and will make playing guitar more enjoyable.

The phrase “practice makes perfect” is misleading. A more accurate statement is, ”practice makes permanent.” In other words, you have to practice properly to see improvement.

  • Practicing the same scales, patterns, songs, and rhythms over and over again won't make you a better guitarist.
  • Committing to a disciplined routine with an evolving practice plan is the best way to see improvement in your playing.
  • This means stepping away from the guitar to figure out exactly what you need to work on.  

Many guitarists claim that they don't have time to practice, but for 90% of people, that's simply not true.

  • Even 10 minutes of focused practice per day is better than just noodling on your guitar without structure for a couple of hours throughout the week.
  • If you're having trouble practicing, try practicing guitar for 10 minutes at the same time every day (like after your brush your teeth or get home from work/school).

Structure your practice

Often, the main hurdle standing between a plateauing guitarist and a successful practice routine is structure.

  • It takes planning to figure out what you need to work on, track your progress, and update your goals.
  • Try writing down where you are now in your guitar journey and where you want to be. 
  • Once you identify your weak areas and goals, you can start to identify what you need to work on.
  • Or, you could try one of our Learning Pathways so you know exactly what to work on at every step of the way.

Set goals and milestones for yourself and create a practice schedule to follow. For example, if you're working on increasing your speed:

  • Choose an exercise to work on, and find a slow starting tempo where you can play every note perfectly five times in a row.
  • Then, increase the tempo by 5 BPM – make note of this in a practice journal.
  • Once you can play the exercise perfectly, increase the tempo again.
  • Repeat this until you reach your target tempo (and don't forget to stay loose while you're playing!)

By tracking your progression you can clearly see how you are in fact getting better, even if you don’t feel like it. Writing down your goals and tracking your progress are great tools for staying motivated and disciplined.

If you're lost on how to set guitar goals, check out this article.

Reason #2: You're not aware of your progress

If you’re a relatively new player, keep in mind that what and how you learn will change after you’ve got the basics and a solid foundation of guitar skills. 

  • You might feel like you’re plateauing because you’re not learning as much or as quickly as you did when you first started.
  • This is normal! There's a learning curve in guitar where, you make fast progress as a beginner.
  • Once you reach the intermediate stage progress is more subtle and often harder to spot or pinpoint exactly.
  • You’re just adding to what you already know, rather than learning something completely new.
  • What you learn as an intermediate player may not be as obvious, either. Traits like playing with more emotion or better phrasing aren’t always apparent right away.

Our solution to this: start a practice journal. It'll help you celebrate the small wins and keep you motivated in your journey.

Reason #3: You need to switch things up

One reason you’ve stagnated could be that you’re experiencing boredom. You can get yourself out of a rut by playing something completely different.

  • If you’re a metal guitarist, try studying blues or jazz for a change.
  • Alternatively, if you’re a blues player, check out some metal or country guitar lessons.
  • We're not suggesting that you change the music you love. Rather, diving into a new genre will equip you with new techniques that you can adapt to your favorite style of guitar.

If you write music and find yourself often using the same chords in the same key, try playing and writing in a key you are less familiar with.

  • It’s no secret most musicians have a favorite and least favorite key to write in.
  • Forcing yourself to work in less-familiar territory can spark inspiration and make you hear and experience chords and scales differently. 

A great way to quickly do this is by playing in alternate tunings:

  • Drop your entire tuning down a half or whole step.
  • Experiment playing in open tunings like DADGAD.
  • Try learning a song in a different tuning and see how that makes the guitar sound and discover what you can do with it. 

Great guitar songs in open-G tuning:

Great guitar songs in open-D tuning:

Want to take the next step as a guitarist?

Reason #4: You're lacking music theory knowledge 

Many modern guitarists find that music theory is not essential. While you don't need to be a theory master to be a successful guitarist, a little music theory goes a long way when it comes to breaking out of playing plateaus.

Dedicating time to filling in music theory gaps will help you gain a new understanding of your guitar and get fresh perspective on rhythm & melody.

For example:

  • Learning how chords and chord progressions are built will transform how you think about songwriting.
  • Taking time to study fundamental rhythmic subdivisions will give you a rock-solid foundation in rhythm guitar.
  • Mapping out the CAGED system across your guitar will help you visualize your entire fretboard so you can solo in any key.
  • If you understand your basic major, minor, and pentatonic scales, try learning major scale modes next – it'll add a fresh twist to your lead-guitar playing.

Reason #5: You're not taking care of your guitar

You can find inspiration in unlikely places, and sometimes you just need to feel inspired again after a long time playing the same stuff over and over again. This inspiration can come from tending to your instrument.

  • Maybe your strings are old and sound dull. Changing strings can make the entire guitar sound and feel like a new instrument. 
  • Maybe your guitar has shifted over time and the strings are too far from the fretboard. You'd be surprised at how much more you'll want to play a guitar that's been properly adjusted (AKA set up) by a skilled technician.

When we constantly play our guitars we don’t notice all the wear and tear that comes from live shows or everyday usage.

  • For example, not washing your hands before playing makes the fretboard dirty, which can impact the sound.
  • Cleaning your fretboard will help you preserve your guitar tone and make your instrument easier to play.

Reason #6: You're in the trap of trying to learn everything

Being a guitarist means drawing inspiration and influence from many different players, which can create the sense that you need to be able to do whatever they all do in order to be considered good at your craft.

This simply isn’t true.

In fact, many great players are extremely good at just a few things they’re known for.

It's easy to listen to a player with crazy speed, one who plays with beautiful emotion, then to another with out-of-this-world technical skills and think that we need to be able to do everything as well as they all can.

The truth is that not even our heroes have mastered every single type of guitar skill. There are many exceptions, but generally, they’re only very (very) good at that one thing they do. 

Trying to learn everything will leave you frustrated and, more often than note, prevent you from practicing.

Focus on what feels good, and hone in on it until you master it or until it no longer gives you joy. Then move on to a new area.

Conclusion

When you find yourself stuck in your guitar development and feel like you’re not getting better,  take a step back for perspective.

Try to identify which reason (or reasons) is holding you up:

  • Need structure? Check out a Learning Pathway.
  • Missing fast progress? Learn to appreciate the small wins.
  • Bored? Seek out new inspiration.
  • Lacking ideas? Dive into a theory lesson.
  • Struggling to play? Give your guitar a tune up.
  • Overwhelmed? Narrow your focus.

Set up a challenge for yourself. Write down what you want to learn and set a deadline for when you should have learned it.

Finding some accountability buddies who will join you in your practice is a great way to hold yourself responsible for practice. (At Pickup Music, we run monthly practice groups where you can level up alongside fellow guitarists.)

Remember, development and improvement comes from being uncomfortable. If you’re stuck, step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself! Try exploring areas of guitar and music that you know little or nothing about.

If you're looking for guidance in your guitar journey, check out a membership to Pickup Music. We're a passionate group of guitar nerds who are obsessed with improving online guitar learning. Try our guide Learning Pathways free for 14-days - risk free!

Until next time... happy practicing.