Sometimes when I play, I hear every tonal anomaly; I hear strings that are only one cent flat; and I feel imperfect rhythm shifts. In short, I have become hyper critical of myself. When this happens, I know from experience I have to push though the noise and find the groove. As soon as I stop trying to find the groove, the groove happens. I do not always realize the groove has arrived but I can see it in the faces of my listeners. Live performance blocks are one thing, but what if the well is dry in the studio? If you are a song crafter and struggle because of extended writers block, here are some things I do to get back on track that might be helpful for you:
Listen to others. I do not mean turn on the radio and passively listen. I mean seek out the musicians you admire. Then, listen with a critical ear and visualize your fingertips moving over the fret board as if you were playing. Expand from that. Take the movement someplace else. Begin to build on their ideas and launch into uncharted territory. Many successful sessions come from artists that draw from the roots of their mentors. Finally, keep it simple. Keep it pure. Keep it true to your emotions. Condition yourself to deliver; set your mind on success; then pull back and let the artist inside create music. One of the coolest complements I have ever received came from a restaurant server who said; “No one in the city has music that sounds like yours.”
Experiment. Sometimes when I am trying to find a new chord pattern that leads to a new set of chops, I browse reference books like the Guitar Grimoire for Progressions and Improvisation. I look for something new; I play it in my mind; and then I try it out by experimenting with different textures of rhythm and timbre. I add additional chords; turn the pattern around; start in the middle; and remove chords until a grove appears. When the grove appears, I capture it on my looper. Then, try it out with chops that fit the chords. Often, new stuff emerges.
Play with others. If you are still struggling, working with other musicians can be a solid way to break the dry spell. It may not be easy at first. There is the pressure to perform. There is the pressure to deliver the goods. However, if you can find the right group of musicians who are accepting and selfless in their willingness to share and work with others, it can help your confidence levels when creating music. Once the group begins to trust each other, you can obtain instant feedback on new ideas. Some of my favorite times in a group occur when I lay down a groove of rich rhythm chords and then listen to how others interpret and create leads on my chord structure.
Take a Break. Sometimes, I record what I have and move on. If it is not what I feel, but cannot get the feeling on the hard drive, I record what I have and walk away. It may be the next day, or even the next week before I listen again to the recording. Sometimes, on the second or third listen, I hear the missing link and the idea blossoms into a song. Sometimes I realize that the whole idea is flat and needs to go away. In the end, a little break helps me to become objective about the song.