Rutbuster: Ignore Your Musical Instincts

For this rutbuster, we're attacking the problem of stale guitar playing from an unusual angle - what you should stop playing rather than what you should start playing.

The process simply requires you to ignore your initial instincts when improvising, forcing you to go another route than usual.

This is a tricky way to practice, but extremely beneficial and quite revealing about your playing.

One thing that will definitely help is to record yourself improvising over a tune or progression you're very comfortable with. Listen back and pay close attention to your improvisational habits. Here are some things to listen for:

  • Lack of rhythmic interest or variety
  • Starting every phrase on the downbeat
  • Targeting only roots on chord changes
  • Using only single note lines
  • Repeating the same licks over and over
  • Stuck in one position or scale pattern

    This list covers many of the most common areas of concern for improvisers. Once you've listened back to your recording, narrow your focus to the single most prevalent problem you hear and start working there.

    Improvise over the same tune or progression again, but this time ignore every impulse to go back to your old habit. Perhaps you realize that you only target roots on chord changes. Look for that tendency the next time you improvise. Whenever you feel yourself targeting a root, stop playing. Figure out another alternative. How could you phrase around another chord tone?

    Over time, this exercise will open your ears and your mind to new sounds and techniques. And best of all, it's tailored to fit your individual playing style. This type of highly personalized practice ensures that you're making progress in the areas that have been holding you back.

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