Finding Your Musical Path and Overcoming Musical Ruts


Q: I’m a sophomore in high school, and I’m the lead bass player in the jazz band. I feel I hit a brick wall, and I don’t really know what else to practice. I can play almost all of the music that’s given to me, and the pieces I don’t get right away I usually learn within the next few days. Can you tell me what I can do to get out of this rut? I am also going to CSSSA (CalArts’ Summer program), and I’m wondering if it will be helpful for me musically and career-wise.

A: Let me start with the second question. Further study is always good for you musically which, in turn, is good for your career.

Now with the crux of your first question.

There will be no shortage of moments in your life or career when you feel like you’ve hit a wall. We all do it.

This search (and frustration that goes with it at times) is the precise thing that will lead you to look for new and better challenges. And that is the only thing will give you the force necessary to knock that wall down.

The good news is that this is the direct result of you having internalized everything you’ve been working on so far. The bad news is that it can take a while to find new inspiration and discover that next batch of material that takes you to the next wall.

The key is to think of ways to challenge yourself in a new way. To inspire something new out of yourself.

Personally, this is when I go on a furious quest for new music, new melodies, new musicians to inspire. The task is yours to reach beyond what your school is giving you and find new material to add to your work load.

Here are some ideas to help you start your checklist:

  1. Scour YouTube and buy new albums. Look for music relating to that which you already know and love (YouTube is great for that). Look at the other musicians who play on the albums you love, and explore their catalogues.
  2. Take lessons (Skype or personal) from those you admire in the industry.
  3. Learn new melodies and new tunes. Pick a Stevie Wonder album and transcribe every bass line in it. Learn a Chick Corea head. Transcribe solos and learn to play them flawlessly.

Any and all of those things are sure to pique an interest somewhere and, when your interest gets piqued, jump on that thing and learn it inside and out. Turn it around and look at it from every angle. Internalize it.

I can’t show you the path because the path is different for everyone. But I hope this helps you begin your journey to find it.

Here’s another column I wrote about musical ruts too.

Readers, what’s your approach to breaking out of musical ruts? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo by Paul Jarvis

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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Leave a Reply to Kyle Smith Cancel reply

  1. I’ve jsut been coming out of a 1-2 year rut on the bass, played it for 7 years straight before that then all of a sudden became uninterested. So I learned some new instruments and now I’m back into it and better than I was before, try expanding your musical brush’s.

  2. I’d suggest finding new folks to play with. That almost always brings me out of the “rut” and gets me turned in a fresh direction. Damian (author) is right; fresh faces, fresh music; consider community bands, theater, anything to change your mindset, even if you make no money doing it. I’ve been doing this about 40 years. It becomes a “rotation” thing for me….when one flavor gets boring, try another. Good luck!

  3. New music, people and even instruments are great to get you out of a rut. Learning a new instrument may completely change how you look at the bass. A bit of reading may be a good idea too, there are great books out there on performance and approaching learning music. Victor Wooten’s The Music Lesson, The Musicians Way by Gerald Klickstein, Kenny Werner’s Effortless Mastery to name but a few.

  4. Try learning stuff that was written for a different instrument. A piece that was written for violin or flute or vocal melody for example. You just might find something to inspire your next direction on bass.

  5. Great article. I’d also like to add to the mix to if in a musical rut, put the bass down and do something else for a few minutes. Bike ride, bake a cake, or travel can help to get ur mind working in a new way to help with musical ruts. :)