Beyond the Fretboard: Finding Inspiration in Unlikely Places

Most musicians, including me, have gone through that occasional rut that seems to stifle motivation and creativity.

It's almost as if the steady momentum of our progress slams into a wall of stagnation. We might not even notice it at first, but as time goes by, our optimistic attitudes slowly erode and metamorphose into musical cynicism.

In my opinion, a key symptom of this cynicism is when the listener starts to gloss over the finer details of a song, a band or a whole genre. Failing to realize the subtle yet important variations in music can further contribute to a person's indifferent mindset. Reactions toward specific bands or styles become over-generalized and less insightful.

So the question is, how does one get out of this kind of rut? The first option would be to take a break from music. I know that might not have been the answer you were looking for, but it can be very beneficial. Sometimes we're just so consumed by a specific musical pursuit that we get burned out.

Practicing several hours a day, seven days a week, can definitely take its toll on someone. So don't feel guilty if you want to just unplug for a few days, or even a week or two. Maybe you could pursue another hobby you enjoy during your break, something that will recharge your batteries.

Conversely, you might be barely playing or practicing as a result of your rut. In this case, the solution could be to find a new source of motivation and inspiration. Step outside of your comfort zone and listen to genres of music other than those to which you're accustomed.

For example, you might not think anything else of significant originality or relevance can be squeezed out of the minor pentatonic scale. But then you hear an amazing pentatonic passage coming from a saxophone instead of a guitar. That unique difference in timbre or the way the saxophone player phrases his notes might just trigger a wave of rejuvenation in your own playing.

I recently went to see a Dave Matthews Band concert with my girlfriend, and I was skeptical to say the least. I've always tried to be a well-balanced music fan of heavier rock/metal and lighter, more melodic music. But I suppose I've always been a little too critical of vocalists. Unfortunately, this has probably caused me to gloss over the finer details of many bands, simply because I didn't like the singer. This was the case with the Dave Matthews Band.

However, after seeing him and his band play live, I must say I found myself enjoying it. I wouldn't say I'm a converted DMB disciple or anything, but the high caliber of musicianship impressed me. Almost every song they played was extended by a three- to five-minute jam session. The violinist, lead guitarist, saxophonist, trumpeter and drummer each brought something interesting and fresh to the table. Collectively, their improvisational chops inspired me with my own creative ideas. Even Matthews' voice seemed stronger and more energetic in person than on any of the albums I've heard.

This is just one example of how you can dig your way out of the much-dreaded musical rut. Maybe it's time we all think twice before pre-judging certain genres of music simply because they don't appeal to our general tastes. If we dig deeper into a certain band's catalog, we might find that sometimes-elusive moment of inspiration where we least expect it.

That moment could be buried within an eight-minute song that you find to be 80-percent boring but 20-percent amazing. Hold on to that 20 percent and use it as your motivation to move beyond your slump. All you need is an open mind, and you just might find inspiration in an unlikely place.

Chris Breen is a New Jersey-based guitarist with 14 years of experience under his belt. He, along with his brother Jon (on drums) started the two-piece metal project known as SCARSIC in 2011. Due to a lack of members, Chris tracked guitars, bass and vocals for their self titled four-song demo (available on iTunes, Spotify and Rhapsody). They have recently been joined by bassist Bill Loucas and are writing new material. Chris also is part of an all-acoustic side project known as Eyes Turn Stone. Chris teaches guitar lessons as well (in person or via Skype). If you're interested in taking lessons with Chris, visit for more info.

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