In a Rut? Pick Up Another Instrument, Even If You Can't Play It

(Image credit: Damian Fanelli)

I’m sick of practicing. I’m in a rut. Nothing I do is original. I’ve played this a million times already. I don’t seem to be getting better. Where do “THEY” get all those good ideas, anyway?

Welcome back to the “Art of the Practice” series of articles, where we seek to interject your practice with some much-needed variety, novelty and fun. Which is exactly the way it should be.

Today we’re going to talk about the simple act of playing instruments other than your guitar.

1. First off, No, it doesn’t matter if you know how to play them or not. Knowing how to play an instrument other than the guitar is not my point at all. If you can play multiple instruments, good for you, straight-A student. The beauty of not knowing how to play them is that you're going into this exercise without any prior knowledge, constraints or theory. Embrace this.

2. Make noise. I’m an absolutely world-class suck on the drums. Terrible. On a good day, I can play the opening to “Paradise City,” and that’s being generous. Still, the experience of fumbling around on the drums periodically alters my guitar playing when I pick it up again. It’s hard to put my fingers exactly on how it’s changed; perhaps it’s a bit more overt concern with how I’m playing rhythmically. As guitar players, we tend to innately lock into the guitar sounds when we play or are listening to others play. Spending some time on another instrument helps spread out that focus.

3. Make noise, continued. There are a million ways to make noise these days. Electronic instruments are especially fun because they can cover such an insane multitude of different sounds and textures—especially those far different from any guitar sound. One approach is to come up with a melody on something electronic and then transcribe it to your guitar. Or to use the electronic instrument in a recording and develop a guitar part to accompany it.

4. Embrace technology. Try some of the new apps for iPhone or Android. Really fun Moog-like keyboards or even virtual guitars are available for free. The best of them have record functions so that if you come up with a little something, you can store it on your device for later recall. It's perfect when you’re stuck somewhere lame or inconvenient and can’t have your guitar in your hands: airports, subways, dates, family reunions, etc.

5. Embrace technology, continued. The opening track—"9-volt"—on one of my band's albums uses an example of idea No. 4 for its intro. Basically I used an app to dial in a sound I liked. Then I plugged it into one of my amps, added a little distortion and cranked it. The result, you ask? Awesomeness! Check it out if you'd like.

I was thinking about how EVH put his keyboard through one of his Marshalls on "And the Cradle will Rock." Why the hell not a cell phone? Take it out of your pocket and plug her in! Let me tell you: The gamut of sounds you can produce with this technique will floor you—no exaggeration. Again, it's another simple concept not enough players take advantage of.

Being in a rut sucks, but it doesn’t have to be hard to get out of. Simply adopting another form of noise-making can pay huge dividends while still giving you the musical/creative outlet you crave.

Brian is the guitar player in the rock band Captain Decibel, whose second independent release, The Dream Logic, is available on iTunes, CD Baby and via the Captain Decibel Facebook page.

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