For most people, the word plateau conjures up an image of a flat, elevated area, one with inclines above and below. A plateau can be a welcome resting place when climbing a mountain. On a plateau, we are not climbing, not making any real progress up the mountain. Instead, we are walking forward. Now think of this mountain as a metaphor for our musical journey. The plateaus become areas of rest — areas where we’re not really improving but merely coasting forward. Many advanced musicians find themselves on this musical plateau, this musical limbo. Here are some ways to get past the plateaus and continue climbing up the mountain of musical improvement.
1. Take Lessons if you’re not already taking them.
I know it may seem obvious, but many advanced players no longer feel the need for music lessons. Let’s take an advanced drummer, for example. This drummer may have taken lessons for several years and stopped because her teacher wasn’t particularly advanced. This drummer now knows her rudiments and all basic grooves and fills, but she’s not really improving and is stuck on this plateau. Advanced drum lessons with an advanced teacher could really take this drum student to the next level in her playing.
2. If you are taking lessons, consider finding a new teacher.
Let’s take another advanced drummer who is taking lessons but who finds he’s improving very much. He might be getting faster and tighter at what he already knows how to play, but he isn’t really learning anything new and exciting. This may be the time to switch to a new teacher.
A student can learn the basics from any talented teacher. Once the student is in advanced drum lessons, however, the differences in teachers become much more apparent. It’s important to find an advanced teacher for advanced drum lessons. It’s also important at the advanced level to find the style of teacher that really interests the student. Every teacher has something different to offer. Try switching it up!
3. Always be working on something.
If you are an advanced player and someone asks you, “What are you working on right now?”, you should be able to give a solid answer. If nothing comes to mind, this is probably the reason you are on a musical plateau. Besides advanced drum lessons, method books and instructional videos are great ways to find new things to work on. Whatever it is, try for something fresh and new that you wouldn’t normally work on!
4. Push yourself to the point of frustration — and beyond.
The best way to grow is to find what is really difficult for you and to work on that until you master it. That is climbing the mountain of musical improvement.
Sure, it’s very tempting to practice what you’re already good at. You’ll sound great, and it will feel great to hear how good you sound! However, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not practicing what you truly need to work on.
Keep in mind that if it’s not difficult, you’re not improving. This can be scary. It can be intimidating. But let me tell you: there is no better feeling than being able to play something you’ve struggled with and worked on for a long time. Trust me, it’s worth the journey!
5. Take inspiration from the greats.
When I’m feeling overwhelmed and unable to choose what to work on, I listen to music. I listen to my favorite drummers and hear what they are doing. This inspires me to work to be on their level. When I feel this inspiration, I am more likely to practice. What do I practice? I put on a song featuring one of my favorite drummers, and I try to figure out how to play it. If I come across something that’s beyond my playing ability, I come up with an exercise to practice so I can get my chops up to par with the song. Once I can play the song, I definitely know I am improving and once again climbing that mountain to musical success.