Getting Past the Plateau

Guitar Practice: 12 Tips for Getting Past the Plateau

We all get stuck on a plateau even as we realize the source of the problem: playing the same songs, scales, and exercises. In this article I’m going to offer 12 tips for getting past the plateau. Obviously, keep doing the same thing and progress will grind to a halt. Worse than that, you’re going to become bored and unmotivated. The joy and enthusiasm that you have experienced in the past are gone.

If you’re experiencing a plateau, we’re going to help you get out of the rut. Here’s the concept. I’m going to list ideas that will get you moving. Download and print the list here. Look the list over and put a number by each of the ideas. Rank them from one to four:


  1. Love it. I would be glad to try this.
  2. Less interest but I would be willing to try it.
  3. Not interested.
  4. Sorry, that’s just not me.

So, print the pdf. Read each of the suggestions. Evaluate and rank them from one to four. If you’re reading this on your phone, just check out the list below and evaluate – no need to print the list.

Here’s the method to my madness. I’ve already explained how we get stuck on a plateau by doing the same thing over and over. How do we get out of the rut? By doing something so far outside of our comfort level that we are in a position to learn from exploring unfamiliar territory. And yes, learn as much in a week as you did last month, maybe even last year.

Three years ago, our neighborhood decided to have a little neighborhood party. Sounds like it would be easy for a big shot like me. Right? Our song list was all Classic Rock. I really don’t play that much Classic Rock. Most of the songs had leads in the Major Pentatonic scale. I seldom play Major Pentatonic leads. I play minor leads and typically, heavy stuff. I hadn’t done this type of music since the mid seventies and I wasn’t good at it then. We all have our sweet spot. Trust me, if David Gilmour was to perform Sweet Home Alabama it wouldn’t be as breathtaking as Comfortably Numb. Not even close.

Friends, relatives, and the entire neighborhood were coming to the event which created the necessary pressure to motivate me to practice. Over the course of a month I was immersed in this stuff. It was interesting because I was able to apply what I know about music theory that I didn’t know back in the seventies. I absolutely saw the light. I would have never chosen to do this on my own. I seriously think that experience taught me in a month more than I had learned in years. That’s what happens when you step outside of……. The Comfort Zone.

So, did I amaze the audience? I’ll answer that in two parts

  1. Absolutely
  2. Thank God the video never made it to the Internet. So, I’ll stand by 1.

12 Tips to get past the plateau

From this list, pick something way out of your comfort zone rated 3 or 4. Begin working on it today and continue for a week (or more).

1. Record and review your playing daily.

2. If you sit in a chair when you’re playing, put a strap on, stand up and practice in front of a mirror. Don’t just stand there. You can play air guitar. Right? Make it real. Play as if you’re entertaining an audience. *

3. If you usually practice with a metronome, practice with a drum machine, drum loops, or a drum app. Really listen to the drums and play with them. Don’t just play a stiff, clock like beat. Listen to the kick and snare and “lock in” to the groove.

4. Write and record a song with a melody and lyrics.

5. Download a digital audio workstation, purchase an audio interface, and learn the basics of digital recording. It’s okay to wait for the arrival of the audio interface before beginning your week.

6. Already there? Learn something about the DAW (digital audio workstation) that you’ve wanted to know how to do for a long time like applying effects or creating a drum track. For example, learn to use a plug-in like EZDrummer 2 or emulate guitar sounds with a plug-in like Bias FX.

7. Not a shredder? Take a shred lesson.

8. Work with tab all the time? Learn part or all of a song by ear. It’s incredibly difficult the first time but it becomes easier with practice. Use the DAW to slow it down to half speed.

9. If you sit very still and practice parts to perfection, let go. Listen, feel, and move with the rhythm of the music. *

10. If you don’t try to play anything with super accuracy, try to learn something difficult. Be accurate with perfect technique.

11. Bonus points: You’re not a dancer? You’ve heard the suggestion, “Dance like nobody’s watching.” Try it. Playing music is a dance. Watch yourself dance in a mirror while listening to your favorite music. Your significant other will be proud. Plus, you’ll learn a lot about music composition. Make ‘em dance. Don’t just shuffle your feet. You play air guitar. Right? You beat out drum parts with your hands don’t you? Feel the rhythm and get started. *

12. If you don’t use Guitar Pro, buy the app, and learn the fundamentals. There are many online resources to help get you started. Guitar Pro is owned and sold by Arobas Music.

I’m going to open this up for a discussion on our Forum and I’m willing to bet that a week from now, many people will have experienced unexpected progress. Keep me honest. Comment about your progress on our Forum and suggest your ideas for moving beyond the comfort zone. Post your comment on the right now.

This article is instructional and not intended as a promotion. I chose not to include links to any of our lessons in this article for that reason. Obviously, we have many programs that can assist in mastering these suggestions.

Guitar instructor Doug Marks is the author of this article.

Doug’s Metal Method guitar lessons can be found here

* A disclaimer – some of these suggestions are enlightening and possibly fun but won’t yield miraculous gains. Don’t let that stop you from dancing the night away.