Improvising With Restrictions



Improvising With Restrictions

By Zack Uidl

When most people sit down to practice improvisation, they just throw on a backing track and start just playing whatever comes to mind. While this is a good idea some of the time and great in certain situations, it definitely should not be the only method you use to practice improvisation. One of the best ways to advance your playing while practicing improvisation is to  give yourself a specific restriction. By doing this, it will force you to applyspecific techniques, you will think differently and become more creative, and it will expand your comfort zone.

When choosing a restriction, it should be something that will help you with something that you are having problems with or something that will challenge you to expand upon something that you are already getting comfortable.

In order to practice the exercises in this article it will be helpful for you to have some backing tracks to use for soloing.  I prepared several free backing tracks for you, which you can download from my website when you click here

Improvising Using One String Only

Improvising using only one string can be difficult, especially if it is over a longer section of music. The great thing about practicing with this restriction is it will force you to think differently and much more melodically.

Listen to the audio example for this restriction. Notice how the improvised lead guitar is using techniques to help maintain creativity. Things such as slides, bends, legato and picked notes are used to keep things interesting and fresh.

When doing this, solo for at least a full minute using one string only.  Then you can switch to another string, again, for at least a full minute.  Start with the high E string and end on the low E string. Since the lower strings are closer to the range of the rhythm guitar parts most of the time, it is slightly more difficult to solo using them.

Improvising Only Using Arpeggios

Many people struggle with applying arpeggios and sweep picking when improvising. This is mainly caused by two reasons. One, people begin improvising using only scales and get more comfortable with that. Two,
applying arpeggios uses a greater thought process rather than scales for the most part.

The reason it takes more thought power is you have to match the chord that is being played in the backing and play it as an arpeggio. For example, if a Bm chord is being played, you will want to play a Bm arpeggio using the notes B, D and F#.

It is also important to point out that when applying arpeggios, you do not only have to use sweep picking. An arpeggio is simple a chord played one note at a time, so there are many possibilities as to how you apply your
arpeggios.

When listening to the audio example for th! is restriction, notice how the arpeggios are played in different ways and use different rhythms.


Improvising Without Playing Two Adjacent Strings

You may want to prepare a different backing track to go with this restriction (or use one of the tracks you can download for free from my website) Improvising without playing two strings in a row can be very awkward from both a phrasing perspective but also from a physical perspective.  Soloing in this way really allows your guitar playing to have an exciting new sound where you are not thinking like a “standard guitar” player.  Most guitarists think very vertically meaning that they play scales and sequences up and down very much in order. Instrumentalists like saxophone players, pianists, and other instrumentalists do some very cool things with their phrasing due to the fact that they do not play things all in order like many guitarists do.


While listening to the audio example, notice how the phrases sound very different than “standard” phrasing. This is the result of the restriction that was put in place.

Other potential restrictions that you could try:
1. String Skipping

2. Specific Rhythm
a. 8th notes
b. triplets
c. quarter notes, etc.

3. Bending every note or every other note
4. Slide to every note
5. Using specific strings – Examples:
a. Only low E and D stringsb. Only G and high E strings
c. Only A and B strings
d. Only D and high E strings

Of course, you can come up with many other possibilities. When you do this, make sure it will directly benefit what you are either struggling with or are looking to take a step further.

If you haven’t yet downloaded the free backing tracks from my website, you can do so by clicking here
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I'm currently in the studio working hard on recording the music for my upcoming debut album.  More news and sound clips will become available in the coming weeks. 

Thanks for reading and I will see you soon!

Mike Philippov