Using restrictions to become more creative in improvising and songwriting

By Chris Glyde


Over the many years I’ve been teaching, the hardest thing for most people to grasp is how to improve a skill that isn’t exactly trackable. Skills like creativity seem to have most people at a loss.


First let’s define creativity.


Creativity: The use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.
This is a pretty solid definition, I don’t have many qualms with it. The only thing I would add to this definition is that everything you use doesn’t need to be new in creativity; often times it’s how you put things together that gives you a new idea. For example, cooking. Everyone is using the same ingredients, but in different amounts, different orders, leaving ingredients out and so forth.


This is the same concept for music and, actually, the ingredients concept is perfect for the next thing we’re going to talk about. The biggest problem for most people is generating these interesting ideas. The easiest way to make an original idea is to experiment with things you’ve never done before. How would you do this? With the concept of restrictions.

How music is like cooking

A restriction in music is like ingredients in cooking. You can mix these restrictions however you like, some you’ll like more than others, and from that, you will create something interesting. The point is, you need to have somewhere to start. If people experience writer’s block, in most cases, they started out with nothing. Turning nothing into something is a lot harder than turning 4 restrictions into something. Starting with nothing tends to box you into a corner of over-analysis. Too many options and too much thought. So, when you’re trying to be creative or break out of your shell a bit, the best thing would be to pick 4 elements.
These 4 elements can be anything: rhythmic figures you like, ornamentations you like, arpeggios you like, scales you like, chords you like, time signatures you like, theory concepts you like. The idea is that you simply pick 4.


For example:

Here’s a list of different restriction combinations you could use:

1) Power chords, 6/8 time signature, in the key of G Dorian, single notes and chords combined.
2) Major chords only, 16th note rhythmic figures, bends and vibrato
3) Secondary dominant chords, triplets, anticipations and arpeggios
4) Capo on the 4th fret, b3 blues note thrown in, double stops and slides
5) Open chords and power chords mixed, 4/4 time signature, slides and blues bends (two guitar parts in this section)
6) Non-consonant pitches, no 1 chord, 3 measure riff, no using the low E and A

So, these are all possible combinations and really the combinations are endless. The only thing limiting it is your own personal knowledge of music. Then you just have to take these elements and start playing. As you play you will work on combining these elements. I would be too distracted in the moment judging what you make because oftentimes it can take a little bit to get something that sounds nice. Just play and experiment, it’s supposed to be fun. Worry about judging and finding good material later.

If you apply this process, I can guarantee you will start creating interesting creative musical sections for songs. You will have a lot more fun improvising and you will constantly improve your ability to be creative.

Last Piece of Advice

Here’s the last piece of advice. When you find something you really like or a combination you really like, write it down. You may want to use it later and may not remember how to replicate the effects. Always keep a journal of the things you like.

—————————About The Author
Chris Glyde is an innovative guitar teacher, always in search of new ways to develop and teach his students. His guitar lessons studio is based in Rochester, New York. Contact him for more info.