If you've been playing and studying music for any length of time, there will be those inevitable periods when you find yourself in a creative rut. The challenge is knowing how to work your way out and get back to the business of making your art. These tips can help.
Bring in new collaborators
Find a friend or neighbor to practice or jam with. Make a new friend at school who plays. See if the studio you study at has a band program and join, today! Play music with other people!
Join another project
And then find another situation to make music in with even different people. Sing in the school choir or at your church.
Ease up on the pressure
Dr. Noa Kageyama, a performance psychologist on faculty at Juilliard School of Music says that a good way to break free from a troublesome rut is to “give ourselves permission to be bad on purpose and how the journey can actually lead us to discover something cool.”
Try a new instrument
If you find that your hands keep reaching for the same tired chords on the guitar time and time again, see what happens when you replace the guitar with a ukulele or mandolin. Similarly, if the piano isn’t speaking to you, find some time on a Hammond B-3 or Wurlitzer electric piano to see if something new sings out.
Try different classes of instruments, too — if you’re a drummer stuck in a creative rut, see what happens when you pick up a penny flute, or if you’re a singer, try your hand at the funkiest new synth you can find. Getting handy at a new instrument can open doors for you creatively!
Try a new hobby
“If you’re a guitarist, try taking a photography, painting, or paper-making class,” says Kageyama. “Learn something new like chess or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, even if it may not ever directly overlap with your music-making.”
The reasoning, Kageyama says, is that learning new skills stretches us to naturally find inspiration. “The goal is for musicians to evolve and not just get to a certain point and stay there,” he says. “If you cross-train and put yourself in situations where you’re a beginner again, it forces you to grow and evolve.”
Try drawing from a new genre
When you feel stuck in a place listen to a style of music you aren't familiar with yet. There is no such thing as "old" music - Bach and Beethoven are still pretty great, and always will be. Listen to some jazz, the blues, world music, Brazilian pop, whatever because one advantage we all have now is that just about every thing ever recorded is online to listen to for the low, low price of free.
Try a new identity
Some of the most iconic artists of the last century have regularly reinvented themselves. Don’t hesitate to follow their example and see where it takes you. At worst, you have an interesting experiment that’s led you to try new things, and you can drop it at any time. At best, you have a vibrant new creative direction that can push you forward in amazing ways.
Take a break
It may seem counter-intuitive, but putting down your instrument for a few days can ultimately be a good thing. When you pick things back up, you may well have new perspectives and ideas — and if you’re feeling burned out, a rest period from your music may be just what you need to come back ready to create.
Take a trip
New places, people, and experiences can change the way you see everything, including your music and music career. If you’re feeling stuck and have the flexibility to take that road trip, family visit, or backpacking adventure you’ve been longing for, give it a try. When you return to your music, you’ll have fresh inspiration to help you kick things into gear.
Even the most brilliant and accomplished artists hit slow periods when it comes to creativity. Keep calm and keep making music. Your next sonic experiment could be the one to rocket you forward in ways you never could have expected.