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Lesson 151: Self-Imposed Limitations

The Idea

The idea is to decide to use just a few tones or chords. This will often more easily give you ideas and get you started.

This works for improvisation as well as for composition/ songwriting. You can think of it as trying to do more with less.

Different Types of Limitations

  • an interval
  • a motif and motivic saturation
  • certain melodic leaps only - for example a major second and a perfect fourth
  • a pentatonic scale
  • a scale/ mode
  • a few chords
  • a figure/ vamp/ ostinato/ riff

Thinking/ Working Inside and Outside the Box

To work with this kind of limitations is in a way like being inside a box. But, when you realize that you can work inside and outside this box, even at the same time, it gets really interesting. I talk a lot about this in my other lessons.

You can, for example have a pentatonic melody over harmony, that is non-diatonic to the key of the pentatonic scale. Check out

where I talk about this more extensively. This results in a mild form of poly-tonality with a feeling of the melody being in one key and the harmony in another...

2016 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.