This is Bob Hempker with today’s newsletter. Did you ever hit a plateau in your playing? It’s like a baseball player in a slump, we all get to the point where we think we aren’t learning anything new, where our playing isn’t improving and everything feels repetitious.
When everything feels like it’s the same thing you’ve been playing since the beginning, you’ve got to figure out how to play your way out of the slump. Sometimes it’s best to knock off your practicing for a few days, take off and go fishing or work on some hobby that will take you away from it.
It’s a tough thing to do deal with, especially if we’re making a living playing. Sometimes going and listening to a really great musician that we admire helps. They might inspire us to go a different direction than the way we’re going.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a steel player. Living here in Nashville, I can go listen to Paul Franklin or possibly go downtown and find Doug Jernigan playing on lower Broad. Of course, those of you who don’t live in Nashville don’t have this opportunity.
Listening to CDs is somehow not the same as watching someone play live. It’s just not as exciting and vibrant and not quite as inspirational, but if CDs are all you have, by all means listen to them as intently as you can.
When I was on the road and found things happening in the local venues, I always liked to take the time to listen and watch the local players to see what they were doing. I’ve seen people like Maynard Ferguson, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, sax player Don Minza and many unknowns that played their rear-ends off.
Watching these players had the effect of revitalizing my interest in my playing. When you go out looking for other players to listen to, try to find somebody who is better than you. Also, I’ve always tried to play with people who are better than me. I want to be drawn up to a higher level rather than be dragged down.
I’ll usually surprise myself and play better than I think I’m capable of playing in these situations. This can give you a real lift and be a confidence booster while inspiring you to go home and work on things that you want to improve.
Another thing you can do is to go sit in with a band that you normally don’t work with that plays songs that you normally don’t play. You’re looking to expand your way of thinking and the way you approach your instrument and the challenge of keeping up and fitting in with another group can do that for you.
One instance of this was when I sat in and played with a Dixieland band all night and we had a darn good time. I wasn’t completely satisfied with what I played but I was happy that I was able to fit in and the guys in the band were happy with what I played. Of course, I’m never totally satisfied with what I play but it’s actually not a bad thing to be a bit dissatisfied with your playing because that is something that can drive you to improve yourself.
If you’re standing still as a player, you’re falling behind. You need to always be trying to improve your playing in some way, otherwise you could fall into a rut that is extremely hard to get out of.
Baseball players that hit 300 or better are usually candidates for the Hall of Fame, but if you stop and think about it, they fail over two-thirds of the time. As a steel guitar player, you’re never going to be perfect, but that doesn’t have to stop you from striving to be that way. It’s the striving that counts.
I know I keep coming back to this, but you don’t know how much I wish that I would have had the CDs, tracks, tab books and all the things we have today for new players to learn from. I firmly believe that every player trying to improve himself should take advantage of these materials. Yes, you can consider this a blatant plug for the store, but buy these books, tracks and CDs, then practice, practice, practice.
If any of you have ways of breaking through when you’re stuck, I’d love to hear them and be able to share them with everyone else so don’t be afraid to email me back. You may be reading your email in the next newsletter.
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