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the dreaded musical plateau

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Joined: 16 years ago
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probably all of you will know what i mean,
but like when you're unable to improve or so to say, advance in your playing?
i thought it might be a good idea, that well we could share them and what has broken it for you in someway or form of this mental state.
chances are it'll help others alot if they dont already know?
i'm not talking about alot,
just some things like practicing something or learning about something new that you dont already know,

recently, i had one for a while too , but i found something to work on
i hadn't realized there was five different position's of scales up the neck
there was a total of five different scales that played all of this certain key's or scales notes
i thought it was interesting and i've yet to improvise smoothly and jumping around and such
it's helped me find something new to work on


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Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 10264

Yeah, that plateau's something we all hit - I imagine it's like hitting the wall when you're running the marathon. You get to a certain level and wonder where to go next......

Cure #1 - buy a better guitar. It'll raise your playing a level or two - if you can play well on a rubbish guitar, you'll play a lot better on a good guitar.

Cure #2 - work harder. Practise more, but make it quality practise - work on the things you're weak on, rather than the things you're good at.

Cure #3 - listen to the music. I mean REALLY listen - try and work out what the guitarist's doing, then try and work out how you can play what he/she's playing.

Cure #4 - keep playing. Don't be discouraged if it doesn't all come together first time you try something - it's took me two years to put a version of "Under The Bridge" together that I could do at an open mic.

Cure #5 - self-belief. Keep telling yourself, "I can do this - I WILL do this." And if someone says "you'll never do that," well - you've just got to prove them wrong haven't you!

Cure #6 - there's no such thing as a bum note. You played that note a semitone flat deliberately - it's all about variation!

Cure #7 - write more. Jot your thoughts down, try and come up with something original. Or if you can't manage originality, try and re-write a classic song in a different way - maybe play something like "Wild Thing," but play the riff backwards...B A and E, instead of E A and B.

Cure #8 - never be afraid to experiment. Try something dfferent - if you listen to a lot of Beatles albums, try Metallica. if you're into the Stones, try listening to Nirvana. If you grew up with the Kinks, try Metallica. Don't be afraid to try different genres.

Cure #9 - if all else fails, turn the volume up to 11, and play LOUD!

:D :D :D


"Sometimes the beauty of music can help us all find strength to deal with all the curves life can throw us." (D. Hodge.)

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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 78

I went through a plateau a few of months ago. Nothing was working out and I was getting fed up with this whole learning guitar thing.

There were a few posts around on the topic at the time and some of them said to stop playing for a week or two, "your probably burnt out, take a break".

This would probably be a good idea but I have a history of taking breaks that last years on end. I've still got the surfboard, skate board, snorkelling gear, fishing gear, golf clubs got stolen (at least somene might be using them). :(

I decided I REALLY wanted to play because up until that point I was enjoying myself heaps. I decided to ONLY play for 15 minutes a day and I only did a couple of easy exercises and songs. After about a week I started to lose track of time like I usually do while practicing and the 15 mins turned into 60-90 mins :) Everything was back on track, and I swear during that week of hardly playing the things I was having trouble with were easier, and I hadn't even looked at them in that time.

Or just try Vic's Cure #1. Sounds like a lot more fun :)


Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 4472

If you think about it seriously, there should never be "plateaus." We tend to see them as such because we want to see improvement and we don't always understand or acknowledge how improvement works.

That's part of how we look at life. You see someone every day, especially a child, and one day we notice that the child is markedly taller. We react as if it happened overnight, but in our heads we do know better.

Same thing with plateaus. What tends to happen is we wake up one day and can play something we've been working on a long time and we think that it's magically come together overnight and nothing could be further from the truth. It's all the time we put in and perceived that we were on a plateau when in reality we were inching our way up a big slope, a micron at a time.

If you look at it this way, plus give yourself several slopes to be working on, you'll never find yourself bored or frustrated. Yes, it's terribly trite and cliche, but if you look at your musical adventure as a race, you're already not in a frame of mind to play. To compete, sure, but compete for what? If you look at is as an ongoing, lifelong trip, you'll better appreciate that there aren't any plateaus, just some places where progress is going to take a lot more effort than others.

Okay, rambling done! :wink: Now I've got my own "plateau" to crawl through!


Illustrious Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 5381

David has a good point. I don't think of them as plateaus really. I like to think of those lulls as more of a mountain climbing base camp. You've got some things to learn about where you are, check your route, pack, etc. and then you start climbing the mountain again. If you are making a long enough trip you may have several camps along the way.

Estimable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 103

i think it might be good to differentiate between boredom with playing and hitting a plateau. i re-read the op's post, and when he/she said

"recently, i had one for a while too , but i found something to work on
i hadn't realized there was five different position's of scales up the neck
there was a total of five different scales that played all of this certain key's or scales notes
i thought it was interesting and i've yet to improvise smoothly and jumping around and such
it's helped me find something new to work on"

i get the feeling that he/she isn't talking as much about a plateau as boredom or "lack of fun/enjoyment" with playing. I hope i'm not stepping on any toes by saying this, but i thought it was something worth noting, b/c sometimes i need to differentiate between the two in my own playing so i thought it might help others too (i've only been playing for 1.5 years so maybe i'm not the most experienced to give advice on this, but thought i would add my limited experience to this thread).

there are times when i get bored with my playing as i maybe working on something for a long time and not making any progress, and it has an impact on the enjoyment of guitar in general. while it is often b/c i don't seem to make any progress that i might think that i'm at a plateau, i think that the problem is more that i'm focusing too much on one song or getting too frustrated with something specific, and i end up bored/frustrated with it. usually i end up getting out of it by thinking of another way to play the hard parts, or going onto something different, or just spending some time goofing around with the guitar. often i come back to it later (if i left it for say a week) and i can play it better.

as an example, there are a few bends in the song "baby please don't go" by lightnin hopkins, and i thought they were fine until my teacher heard them and said that i'm letting the bend come back down so the release of the bend is being heard. he described how to "choke" the bend so you don't hear it, but you have to be able to do it in time with playing the next note so that there is no silence in between. i spent so much time working on that and just couldn't "get it". even a couple weeks later, my teacher said that we should move on to something else. that really helped. however, during that time, i was getting frustrated with guitar in general and bored with it. i still have problems with this technique, but i'm focusing on other things now that keep guitar playing fun and interesting. that i couldn't/haven't been able to get something to work that, in my mind, should be simple could have easily crept into my mind making me question how much i'm improving, leading to thoughts of a plateau.

frustration/boredom can be a real problem with progress, and that is one thing that i've had to work on (not only in guitar) in order to improve. as the op said, finding something new to work on is a good thing, and i'll add that it's not just b/c of hitting a plateau but to improve the overall enjoyment of your playing.

this is the end of my babbling here. hope this helps.


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Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 5480

Lots of good advice already. Learning does come at varying rates of speed. Even if all's your doing is playing the same 20 songs over and over again, you're still practicing and working on motor skills. PLUS, you might still be having fun. In the end, that's what it's all about.

I'll also echo what others have said. Learn different things if you've got the time. I've got time these days, so I'm learning lead (my week point), some new songs, some blues and continuing to play some songs I've already learned.

I'll repeat myself too. Have fun. At some point, it's GOT to be fun, right?

"I wonder if a composer ever intentionally composed a piece that was physically impossible to play and stuck it away to be found years later after his death, knowing it would forever drive perfectionist musicians crazy." - George Carlin

Illustrious Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 8184

often, plateaus are only in your head. you may actually be tightening up your technique or rhythm as you think you're stuck, or possibly your brain is just gathering all this new information together for the next creative burst, like in a video game where you have to hunt for experience or gold so you can take on the next dungeon.
in my case, there's always something out there that i can't do yet, or don't do well yet, or could do better, and this will continue to be the case until i am *the greatest guitar player in the world*. when that happens, i'm sure there will be more challenges as well.

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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 3454


Here's a cut and paste of a post I put up on piano forum, including some suggestions that originally came from here at GN:

Hitting The Wall

I'm sure that it will have been talked about before, but it's always worth discussing again.

At some stage(s) we'll all experience that numbing feeling of having "hit the wall". Progress slows to a crawl, some aspect seems impossible to master, or playing somehow just seems to have become stale and unsatisfying.

So - if you'll excuse the pun - how do we scale the wall?

Off the top of my head, here's a couple of things that I can recall from other forums that people said helped them when motivation, progress or enthusiasm seemed to be flagging. (No particular order).

  • 1. Change genres. Some people found that switching to another style for a while juiced up their interest again. Try a little Jazz, Latin, Folk, or whatever you don't usually do In some case even changing instrument style helped (i.e acoustic to electric).

    2. Playing with somebody else. Almost everybody seemed to agree that, if you could find the right musical buddy, that exchanging ideas and enthusiasms was a great booster. Some got a push from a more experienced player, some found that mentoring a newbie brought their own passion flooding back, and others got rejuvenated by swapping enthusiasms with somebody at a similar level.

    3. Going back to basics. Some people benefited from getting off a self imposed treadmill that required continuous progress, and going back to an easier stage and just having fun playing familiar work without pressure.

    4. Changing focus. Similar to point 1, but some reported success with (for instance) switching to studying theory or composition for a while instead of concentrating on building repertoire. Some even switched instruments (I put down guitar for several months and learned clarinet for a while. When I picked the guitar up again I was interested to discover that I had not gone backwards with it, but felt refreshed).

    (4a. David Hodge's point above -"give yourself several slopes to be working on". I never work on just one song, only one page of a book, or a single exercise or aspect of music. So there's never really anything that seems like a 'plateau' because I'm always climbing in more than one place.)

    5. Other life change. Sometimes other aspects of our lives can spill over - for better or worse - into our music. So refreshing other parts of our lives can sometimes help. We can't all organise a holiday or a blazing new love affair, but there are other options too...

    6. Bulldogging it. Some people said that the only thing that worked for them was to just stubbornly bulldog through until they knocked the wall down or pushed through to the sunlight again. (If I remember rightly that was from Vic here at GN)

  • Additions From Other Posters:

    7. Don't overtrain. Back off for a while if you feel you've lost focus (From Mullyman)

    8. Treat yourself to a new instrument... you know you deserve it... (From LoftyGoals)

    9. Free up more time for practice, if other events have been squeezing it down. (From Monica K.)

    10. Get a teacher, or change teachers. (From Monica K.)

    11. (this is perhaps a version of #5 and #7 above) Rest and refresh yourself.

    "The quality of your work corresponds directly to the quality of your rest." From JoyOlympia
    "The quality of your piano playing corresponds directly to the quality of the peace of your quiet mind." From Betty Patnude
    And Signa notes that even Horowitz took a long break.
    Perhaps the last word on taking a break should go to Lizzy's dad who said:
    "I suggest trying to find a distraction, even if you have to put the piano away for awhile. Divorce yourself from the relationship. Whoops, terrible way to put it. Take up the cello... Point is, spend the time to look at it from a different perspective. Take enough time away as you can. Try and rediscover the joy, why you started. Eventually, you'll return, with a fresh perspective and a renewed vigor ...or a new hobby... "

    Lots of ways of hitting a rough patch. Lots of ways to overcome it.



    Trusted Member
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    Topic starter  

    those are all quite some good things to consider,
    originally i had meant that well over time you come to a point with your playing that just doesn't advance or change
    as once you've learned something, you can feel thats ultimately changed and feel anew with playing again

    and i'm definatly going to try and work on that bend thing you were describing aswell, somehad before for a lightnin hopkins song,
    maybe it would be good if this thread could if possible, become ongoing and thus when someone figures out something new to themselves no matter what it may be, if it's worth sharing, then to share it