Ever try to write a song or a bass line and nothing is coming to you?
Has that thought extended one layer deeper and you wonder why you’re playing right now?
Did a frustration begin to mount that you can’t think of anything creative and the thought of a blank musical page or an empty DAW file staring at you is driving you crazy?
So you put your bass down and walk out of your practice space and get back to whatever you were doing before you picked up the bass for the day.
If you’ve experienced this sort of feeling, you’ve likely experienced a creative rut. Ruts happen and they come and go. They’re never fun when they happen but when they’re over there’s a newfound feeling of inspiration and rejuvenation. It’s an exciting feeling. But getting to that feeling of rejuvenation can be a challenge that for some many never come – or come easily.
The next time you find yourself in a creative rut, feeling uninspired or feel like you’ve ‘finished learning’ on bass come back to this post and review these suggestions. These are things that have worked for me in the past and hopefully they can work for you as well.
Beating the Creative Block: 3 Suggestions for Breaking the Slump
1. Take Up Another Instrument
Counterintuitive to getting better at bass you’re probably thinking, but hear me out.
Ruts come from feeling bored on an instrument. You feel like you’re playing the same old bass lines, improvising over the same muscle-memory hardened patterns and licks and you don’t feel like you’re growing on the instrument. You’re just going through the motions.
Nothing shakes the cage quite like making you feel like a beginner again.
By exploring another instrument you’re back in the beginner position. The instrument is new, you know little to nothing about it. You’re forced to think differently and explore it like a beginner would first by getting it to not sound like crap and then work to get an idea out.
Let’s take learning guitar for example.
During one of my playing and creative ruts, I started to have a mild interest in guitar. I started playing around with an old beater guitar that I had purchased some time ago and plucked every so often but never became fully committed to learning. This was the time to dig it out again and give it a shot.
Naturally, chords were the hardest concept to wrap my head around being a bass player by trade for more than a decade. The only shapes I could make were power chord shapes and shapes that looked like things my guitar player friends made. But nothing sounded good out the gate. But what did sound passable was playing individual lines and notes. The hand strength that I had built up over years of playing bass made playing long, fast runs on guitar effortless. My picking hand was less than stellar at times but it was the most encouraging starting point I had to work from in this guitar journey.
So I started working from there. I began to focus on deliberate noodling on guitar with my iPhone’s Voice Recorder activated, recording primitive riffs and crude sketches of songs that I thought I could work into something with a bit more practice.
Eventually those ideas were ported and refined into Logic and low and behold, new ideas and, more importantly, new insights and new ways of looking at bass.
I found myself very eager to pick up the bass after playing guitar and working out song ideas starting from the guitar perspective. The major reason was that now I could hear a clear bass line in my head and needed it recorded ASAP. The bass lines weren’t my usual busy bass lines but more subdued and colorful bass lines; ones that truly supported what I was writing. That, in and of itself, was a different way of thinking: how do I achieve simple and colorful and make the listener admire the clear attention getter (the guitar line) but also turn their head, hear and appreciate the bass line?
My story aside, the bottom line is try exploring other instruments. The process of learning a new instrument both widens your musical knowledge and perspective but also refreshes your brain and gives you new insights and ways of thinking about your existing instruments of choice and I’m sure if you’re reading this, it’s bass.
2. Step Away From Playing
Sometimes the best way to move forward is taking a step back first.
For me, there was a time where a lack of creative interest in music and bass came from playing it too much in situations that I wasn’t excited about. Whether my interest was directly tied to playing too much bass or directly to playing it in situations I was less than excited about is anyone’s guess (probably a healthy combination of both) but I vividly remember a period of months where I never touched my bass out of pleasure or leisure mainly because I was so burned out from the instrument.
Rather than forcing myself to stay committed to bass and forcing myself to pick it up everyday, I just let it go. I accepted this feeling and distanced myself from the instrument and only picked it up when I needed to (which was maaaany times a week).
After that period of business was winding down and I started to leave projects due to lack of interest and time constraints equally, I noticed my interest for playing bass and writing music restoring. I was beginning to feel the bandwidth that was once used up by remembering schedules, remembering show times, set lists, practice schedules for projects that I was growing more and more discontent with begin to free up. In it’s place was a natural desire to want to play again.
With fewer external pressures on me, creativity began to flow again. I started recording and writing for pleasure again and having fun doing it. Moreover, as it turns out, I had built up a decent catalog of ideas that I was eager to get out that I had quietly buried in the back of my mind as I was working myself raw with other projects.
In this case, stepping away from the instrument actually made me more excited to play it when I had the chance to return to it.
3. Tend To Your Body, Sleep and Work Routines First
It might not be the act of bass guitar that’s burning you out. You may already be creatively drained and burned out by the time you get to your bass.
Americans are among the more overworked and under rested people among developed nations. According to a Gallup poll, 40 percent of Americans are getting less than the recommended amount of sleep each night (myself included), a belief that’s reinforced by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 61 percent of Americans work on vacation despite being advised not to and more than 50 percent of working Americans agree that an environment that was distraction free would be better for productivity and overall well being. These two reports alone don’t even tackle the realities that might also press one’s life including caring for young children, health complications whether with one’s self or with a close loved one and other events like debts, multiple jobs and more.
The point to all these statistical numbers is that it might not me the music that’s putting you in a rut. It could be lifestyle based.
By the time you actually want to play music and practice your bass, you might be too burned out from the other things in your life.
Depending on how important music is to your life and how good you would like to get and whether it’s meeting your goals or not, a lifestyle examination might be in order. According to the National Sleep Foundation, between 7-9 hours of sleep each night is recommended for optimal brain activity and focus each day. This number, for some might be more difficult to achieve, but for most, it’s a matter of shifting priorities and recalculating time spent doing meaningful activities versus goofing off.
Activities that have also been mentioned in this article fall into this subcategory. Activities like removing one’s self from their phone or putting it in Do Not Disturb mode, not checking work email when not at work (unless absolutely needed or your line or work requires this) and adopting a healthier living style.
This bullet point in this article is the most subjective as we all have different lives with different obligations with different levels of urgency. This is not my area to wholly dictate what should and should not be done. That is ultimately up to you the reader to determine what can and can’t be trimmed and attuned to remedy creative drains and musical ruts.
Creative ruts are tough to be in once you’re in them but the solutions for getting out of them are often in plain sight. The next time you find yourself feeling disinterested in bass, feeling uninspired or feeling like there’s nothing new to learn try some of the suggestions above. There’s always more to learn, more to explore and the way of making it happen is right in front of you.
- How to Get Your Musical Passion and Drive Back
- 14 Ways for Musicians to Beat the Creative Block
- When You’re Feeling Uninspired
- 29 Artists Talk About Breaking Out of a Creative Rut
- 7 Ways to Get Out of a Creative Rut
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