The Costanza Approach To Guitar Playing – Ignore Your Instincts

Sep 1, 2020Guitar Lessons

Following up on last week’s post, this post will look at another fun way to inspire creative new ideas for your guitar playing. I call this the Costanza Approach. (Remember when George Costanza decided to do the opposite of whatever his instincts told him to do?)

If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

Jerry Seinfeld advising George Costanza

The Concept

Put simply, this exercise is about ignoring your musical instincts and quite literally doing the opposite. This will no doubt lead you to some new musical territory. 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.

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

The Exercise

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 root notes on chord changes
  • Using only single note lines, no double stops or chordal playing
  • Repeating the same licks over and over (lack of vocabulary)
  • Stuck in one position or scale pattern

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

creative guitar playing - do the opposite

Improvise over the same tune or progression again, but this time ignore every impulse to go back to your old habit. A few examples…

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?

Or maybe you tend to stay in one position throughout your improvisation. Work on breaking out your position playing by employing some single string playing.

An issue that plagues tons of improvisers is lack of rhythmic variety and interest. In that case, maybe the opposite would be sticking with very simple note choices, but going all out with your rhythmic choices. Pro tip: a rhythmically interesting solo with dead simple note choices out-performs a rhythmically boring solo with advanced or “out” note choices.

Final Thoughts

Over time, The Costanza Approach 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.

Give this exercise a try and let me know how it goes for you.

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