The idea of being (or feeling) “stuck” isn’t usually included in our ideas about practice. When we see these luminaries of music, it’s easy to imagine they have no struggles, that music simply flows from them. But that’s not the case. Music is work. A labor of love, to be sure, but still, a labor. A labor fraught with error and the necessary correction, a labor in which the feeling of being stuck is common. Listening to Sting talk about being stuck, I thought of the Beethoven manuscript mentioned in The Practice of Practice. It’s covered with scribbled errors, and is clearly unfinished. It’s refreshing to see the errors of a Grand-Master musician.
Below, Sting talks about being stuck. Being stuck is one of the few constants I’ve found talking to great musicians about practice. Feeling stuck seems to be a feature of the struggle to get better, because good practice is all about tackling something unfamiliar; it can be difficult to see or feel progress, even when it’s there. Every one of the musicians I’ve spoken with about practice, when asked if they ever get stuck, says a variation of, “all the time,” or even “every day.” They all use a variation of the same thing to overcome that block. Creativity.
Creativity is an essential part of the process of practice. It might be that you practice by writing songs, like Erin McKeown, and so many others; it might be that you invent exercises, like NY Philharmonic trumpeter Ethan Bensdorf; it might be that you re-tune your guitar like Nicholas Barron; you might take a creative approach to the entire practice session like Ingrid Jensen; it might be that you simply change the lighting or take your shoes off like Rex Martin recommends to his students who are bored or stuck. Whatever you do to make practice interesting, I salute you. If you’d like to learn more about using creativity in your practice, check out The Practice of Practice (get 10% off by using the code LGSQC94V when you check out).
Here’s Sting performing and talking about how he overcame being stuck: