I’ve Plateaued… Now What?
One of the most common questions that I am asked by musicians is, “How do I get better?” This question is typically coupled with a statement like, “I’ve plateaued…” or “I don’t know how to grow from here…”
My advice to people who ask this question is always the same. I’ll admit that it is a bit counter-intuitive, but it works.
The answer comes in two parts. The first part is a question: Who are you teaching?
I know. That question sounds crazy. “I am the one who wants to get better! Why are you asking me who I am teaching?!”
Here is the deal… the best way to grow is to teach. Our default tendency is to want to receive instruction for ourselves (in the privacy of our own homes through YouTube, if possible). This is a strictly consumer mentality. (It can quite honestly be indicative of a selfish mentality.) The irony is that we will actually begin to grow when we begin to invest what we have into someone who has less.
Are you surprised to hear this? You shouldn’t be. It is a Biblical principle.
Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full -pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” (Luke 6:38, NLT)
If you want to learn, start teaching!
On this note, here is an important tip to keep in mind: You are never too young to teach, and you are never too old to learn. I have found, when teaching others, that I really do have something to offer people who are older and wiser than I am. I also have a lot to learn from people who are younger and less experienced.
Helping someone figure something out for them often leads me to discovering other ways to do it, myself. They may not do it my way, but perhaps their way is better than mine. I have also discovered in the midst of preparing a lesson that I don’t really know what I am talking about. That’s okay! That forces me to figure something out before I am able to present it well to others! Do you see how teaching actually causes us to grow!?
The second piece of advice that I offer to people who desire to grow is simply this: simplify.
Our tendency as musicians is to want to be able to do all kinds of things, but we end up doing all kinds of things at a mediocre skill level. We become truly great at nothing. This typically happens because our desire to do all things causes us to take a lot of shortcuts, and we never truly learn how to do one thing well.
Drummers will add all kinds of fills to cover up the fact that they can’t actually keep a beat. Guitarists will be super busy on the fretboard to cover up the fact that they don’t actually know when to play. Singers will add vibrato and inflections because they cannot actually hold a note.
If you want to get better, if you truly want to grow, try this: focus on replicating exactly what is on the record. No extra fills. No variation. Exact replication. Really perfect the art of emulating what was played on the original recording note for note (no shortcuts), and you will be amazed at how other things will come easily. In the process, you will learn to make far better artistic decisions for the future, and you will truly become great at something.
Artwork provided by my good friend, Brooke Gehman, an authentic and wonderful man of God, devoted follower of Christ, and an amazing husband and father. Brooke is a gifted Worship Leader, an incredible artist, and a Potter by trade (check out his website).